Meredith Kennedy has enjoyed working with animals all her life. Her experience includes working with the state veterinarian in Zimbabwe, where she collected samples at ostrich ranches and crocodile ranches; working at Meserani Snake Park in Tanzania; and with the World Wildlife Fund in a conservation project for Changuu Island’s Aldabra Giant Tortoises off the coast of Zanzibar. She now works full-time at Long Beach Animal Hospital,. Kennedy lives in Long Beach, with any number of cats.
Q: You seem like more of a cat person than a dog person.
A: It’s funny that you say that. I absolutely love dogs. It’s just that the way my life is, I can’t give them the attention they deserve.
Q: But you do love cats. How many do you have?
A: I’m not sure. There’s one on my shoulder right now smooshing himself against the phone. I initially thought I’d just get a couple of bottle babies and nurse them and give them back. Now, I guess I have about 14.
A: Well, I’m not keeping them all. I’m adopting three of them out tomorrow, but then I’m getting two more. I work with Southern California Siamese Rescue, so most are Siamese and Siamese mixes that are just found on the street. Probably half of them are from Tijuana. They find these orphans, and through phone calls and tweets they end up at Southern California Siamese Rescue.
Q: How many permanent cats do you have?
A: Two. One’s a rescue and one’s a tiny little midget runt that’s tried to die a couple of times. Once you put so much work into an orphan and spend so much effort into keeping them alive, it’s hard to let them go.
Q: You spent a lot of time in Africa. Did you work on exotic animals over there?
A: I was in Africa for 10 years teaching wildlife conservation, which is more about dealing with people than animals. Although I took a group of students to an ostrich farm in Botswana and the owner of the farm had an ostrich in a paddock with an injury under its wings. He was trying to show us and he was struggling with the ostrich and the ostrich accidentally kicked itself in the head. They have these big claws and it tore off the skin on its head. I told the owner that I’m a vet, so he got some suture material. The birds are unbelievably strong. It took six students to sit on it to hold it still, and another student was holding its head. The ostrich eventually calmed down and I stitched it up and it jumped up and everything was fine.
Q: And Tanzania. I read that you did some work there, too.
A: I had some friends who started the Meserani Snake Park in Tanzania. I was there when a fisherman had found a nest of baby crocodiles near a village, and the villagers didn’t want them near. So I went on a two-day Land Rover trip to collect the baby crocodiles. I got a bucketful of 12 baby crocs, just a couple of days old. They were about 10 inches long. We drove back and I had to sit with them on my lap so they wouldn’t stress out. At the park, they had built an enclosure for them. They were too small to eat meat so they had to feed them insects, so at night they set up these floodlights to attract insects, then they put up big fans to blow the insects down to the surface of the water where they were eaten by the crocodiles. I went back to the park about 15 years later and they still had six or seven of the crocs and they had started reproducing, so they were having their own baby crocs.
Q: You’re a grandma!
A: Yes! It was great seeing them continuing to reproduce.
Q: And so now you’re doing work with slightly less exotic animals. Cats. Dogs. And whatever’s running around in people’s backyards.
A: At Long Beach Animal Hospital we have a policy that we treat all wild animals for free. Our No. 1 priority is to return them to where they were found. Otherwise, we send [them] out to a rescue group. There are rescue groups for possums, raptors, raccoons, turtles and tortoises. One of the things we’ve done here is make prosthetics for turtles and tortoises who have had a leg chewed off by a dog. The turtle might be fine, but it only has three legs, so we glue these things on, think of a drawer pull — something round and smooth, and we glue that on to the bottom of their shell so it doesn’t drag. We do that on a regular basis.
Q: So I suppose you get a lot of parents bringing in injured birds and things they find lying around?
A: My favorite was a baby iguana named Lizzy. It was a pet and these kids had it outside playing with it and someone ran over it with a skateboard and it ruptured and its insides were on the outside. The kids were crying and they were going to have a funeral for it because it looked dead. In the middle of the funeral, Lizzy popped up.
Q: That’s something everyone fears at a funeral…
A: So these kids talked their dad into bringing it to a vet, so here are these big-eyed children with Lizzy in a shoebox. I took him into surgery to try to fix him. We carefully cleaned everything, got his insides back inside and sutured him closed from his left front leg to his back right leg and put him in an incubator.
The problem with iguanas when they’re under anesthesia is their metabolism is so slow that they might have just one heartbeat every minute, so it’s hard to tell whether it’s dead or alive, which sounds weird. So the dad called to ask how Lizzy was and I said that the surgery went well, and the next thing was the dad and the kids showed up and they wanted to have their picture taken with the vet who saved Lizzy and I didn’t want to tell them that Lizzy might be dead. I got him out of the incubator and we took pictures with this limp thing and I was thinking “please don’t be dead.”
A couple of hours later Lizzy was fine and they put him in a shoebox and went home. After that they sent me pictures: Lizzy’s first cricket, Lizzy’s first bowel movement, things like that. It was very sweet.
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