“I may smell like pig!” Alison Martini Meyer tells me, laughing, when I’m moved to hug her goodbye after a visit to her vet clinic in Silver Spring. At her generous invitation, I’ve transported a sick and dizzy and can’t-walk rescue kitten from a shelter in Baltimore. “We’ll keep him here and run tests,” she says calmly, walking quickly through the clinic in jeans and flats. The pretty brunette 40-something works here half the week and spends other weekdays at home on the nearby range of western Howard County tending land and animal and little child. Her loaded life’s super inspiring to an animal lover like me, who wants to help critters in need but does so only in small doses.
For Alison’s farm-dwelling family of four, life’s all about caring for animals all the time — and they wouldn’t have it any other sometimes stinky way. Alison and her husband, Greg Meyer, are both practicing veterinarians raising their kids, Grace, 10, and Will, 8, to respect and nurture all animal life. The kids help their folks manage a vast menagerie of both pets and livestock born with a range of quirky personalities and, in some cases, challenging disabilities.
“We have adopted close to 30 cats (the 16 we have now – Tom, Mittens, Otto, Leroy Johnson Jr., Lucy, Noah, Mr. Boots, Marmalade, Smiley, Silver, Haggis, Tater Tot, Templeton, Toonces, Tucker, and Flounder), three dogs (Buddy, Atley, and Dinky – all Parvo cases that owners couldn’t treat), and one horse (Amos, pulled from the New Holland auction from a meat pen). Of the cats, Lucy lost an eye due to severe infection, Tucker lost a front leg due to three dogs ripping it off, Flounder has cerebellar hypoplasia. People have given us injured or found ducks, geese, chickens, an old blind sheep… I think it’s so important for kids to have a pet something to take care of and have responsibility for – even if it’s a fish.”
In addition to the dogs, cats, ducks, geese, and chickens, the family farm is also home to 16 alpacas, four llamas, five more horses, two donkeys, 10 goats, four sighted sheep, 16 pigs, cattle (three), a pair emus, a pair of rabbits, quail, three pet birds, and one peacock.
They raise chickens, lamb, and pigs for personal consumption.
“I believe I have raised my kids with a sense of compassion, empathy, responsibility, and an understanding of the cycle of life,” Alison says on the subject. “It’s particularly important because we do raise some livestock for consumption – my kids understand the concept of respecting all living creatures and treating them with dignity. As a family that eats meat, it’s important for us to know where our meat comes from and above all how the animals were treated – our animals have lots of space to move, good food, and lots of attention.”
Alison and Greg met at the National Institutes of Health in 1991 when he was a young man in vet school and she was there post-college researching and gearing up to apply to vet school. They now co-operate the Marymont Animal Hospital in Silver Spring, a clinic his father founded.
“[When we met] we worked for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – Surgical Lab Animal Medicine section and helped to perform research procedures/surgeries on sheep, rabbits, etc. After that summer, we continued our relationship – long distance ultimately for six years. The year he graduated, I started vet school at the same place – Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine.”
While the two vet farmers share big compassionate hearts in common, Alison says she’s more of a cat person and Greg’s got more of a soft spot for dogs. But they both treat all kinds. One pet owner brings his duck to their scenically situated clinic; the vets also count bunnies, birds, and guinea pigs among their clientele.
“We both specialize in small animals: primarily dogs and cats, as well as ‘pocket pets’ – rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, gerbils, etc.,” Alison says. “Greg has more interest in poultry and sees a fair number of ‘pet’ chickens. Besides dogs and cats and other small creatures, I actually have a strong interest in small ruminant medicine: goats, sheep, llamas, and alpacas. I also love surgery so I am the primary surgeon at the practice.”
Alison admits it can be tough to juggle family life, farm life, and the vet practice. It helps that she goes in part-time and Greg does the same.
“I do spend more time at home managing the farm,” she says, “but [wherever I am] pretty much my life revolves around animals.”
Kids Grace and Will are both very involved in 4-H, through which they raise and show a variety of animals at the county fair each August. Grace has already announced that she wants to become a vet like her mom and dad.
“[The kids both] come to our clinic often and have seen us do many things, including spays, neuters, amputations, and C-sections,” Alison explains. “Grace usually comes to work with me on Saturdays and entertains herself — she has her own little space/’office’ and helps clean tables, organize things.”
Thanks to their hands-on farm experience, the kids are not easily shocked by anything that happens at the clinic but are fairly well adjusted to the reality, beauty, and drama of animal existence, with its ups and downs so similar to our own as people.
“This year the kids got to witness many births on the farm – a litter of 14 piglets born on one of the coldest nights in January, twin lambs were born in February, and twin goat kids in May!” Alison says.
In other uplifting news, both vets always keep in residence at the clinic a number of unwanted animals with absolutely no other place to go, many of whom require deep professional care. Prime example: the crippled kitten I brought in, who seemed to have been born with a serious neurological problem.
“Yes, there is always some number of ‘residents,’ particularly cats, some birds,” Alison says. “Some of the cats have certain conditions that require ongoing care – diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, cancer.”
By the way, the formerly “dizzy” rescue kitten, “Buster,” is now running and playing like a 100 percent healthy little cat and living with my husband and me in Baltimore. Call it a feline miracle: After a few days’ rest at Marymont, he simply snapped out of his physical trouble.
I asked Alison if she has a favorite human or animal patient anecdote from the clinic. So many flashed to her mind, including a client who misunderstood how to administer Laxatone therapy to her cat. Laxatone is a Vaseline-like substance that cats take orally to ease hairball trouble. But this client thought she was supposed to rub the entire contents of the tube all over her cat’s fur. That was one sticky, pissed-off cat. But, as with every other animal crisis Alison juggles all day long, the vet farmer took the event in stride, with an easy sense of humor to go with her natural concern.