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Dr. Mary Allen – an ED/Story

Everyone has an ED/Story. What was learning like for you? Was it easy, or were there challenges? If there were did you figure out on your own? Or did you have help?

Well this ED/Story reveals how sometimes the pathway to successful learning and living is NOT found where we expect.

Dr. Mary Allen – doctor of veterinary medicine – started out in southern California in a family that valued education. Both parents were highly educated, her father going on to be a college professor. So it’s no surprise that young Mary and her siblings were encouraged by their parents to learn, and were often exposed to enriching and extended experiences. Though a home with high expectations, it was also a home full of understanding and tolerance; which is why her parents supported the young often shy Mary when she found success in high school sports.

She excelled in the physical aspects of sports but was drawn to the organization of a team – how, in order to be successful, a team has to work together, support one another. It’s a concept that was instilled early in Dr. Mary and runs deeply to this day.

By 14 she was working part time in a veterinarian’s office cleaning out kennels, and early on in high school she began training dogs. She went on to college taking all the appropriate courses for getting into veterinary school. She applied to Davis and eventually got in.

…and I thought, there it is there’s the story – but it wasn’t the whole story, it wasn’t the ED/Story.

Early on in her higher education, young, shy Mary learned about – and avoided making – a common mistake people who wish to work with animals make: They think, “I’ll work with animals because I DON’T want to work with people”. But of course in almost ALL aspects of veterinary medicine or any kind of animal care, there is an equal amount of time with people as there is with animals. This learning curve for Mary was accelerated by a chance yet pivotal association with Bonnie Bergin, the inventor of the concept we now know as “service dogs”.

Answering an ad for “working with dogs” while she awaited her acceptance to Davis Veterinary School, Mary joined the Canine Companions Program founded by Ms Bergin – which trained dogs for people with disabilities. Mary was a natural, having generally
worked with animals and specifically, trained dogs. But these were dogs FOR PEOPLE – so the people had to be trained as well.

…and it’s here Mary learned her most valuable lesson about people and animals. She was training people with physical challenges – everything from injuries to CP to MS. She had been an athlete and a person for whom working with dogs came easily – but not necessarily so for the people she trained. Mary had to step out of HER box. The use of sports analogies or various training references – just wasn’t going to work with people for whom those experiences were not relatable. She would have to change her approach – she would have to abandon what was comfortable.

That was profoundly realized for Mary the day one of her supervisors, an accomplished and successful manager, had to get to the 2nd story of the training center – to a dedication organized for her. Only problem was, she was wheel chair bound. The staff organized and got her very heavy motorized wheel chair up the stairs. But it was left to Mary to get her supervisor to the 2nd floor – so Mary carried her – the very act bringing her a sense of reconciliation about this kind of service and the connection there would always be for Mary between the care of animals and the care of people.

We started to talk about the day to day running of her practice, when a thoughtful look came over her face and she stopped me. She asked, “Tell me, will kids from the county hear these ED/Stories?” I assured her I HOPED SO and she went on – she said she wanted students, teachers, and parents to know that work with animals is not necessarily (as she put it) a “college calling”. She went on to share data and reflection from one of her heroes, Temple Grandin (Mary had a hand in a recent county appearance by the educator and activist) who maintains that learning is NOT JUST in the classroom – that mentors, internships, and other alliances are just as valuable and effective – and how determining early on what TYPE of learner a student is makes the most of their learning or education.

…and it occurred to me as she spoke that she really could have been – perhaps really is – a teacher. She instructed people on how to partner with service animals that she had a hand in training and even in her practice feels it’s her duty to share and mentor.

Finally on the subject of her practice she talked about welcoming graduate students into the practice as they often expose her and her staff to updated protocols and procedures. She also expressed a willingness to bring in a partner or associate BUT (back to working as a team) THAT person would have to be a good fit with HER staff, for whom she has deep regard and is fiercely protective.

We did briefly touch on the challenges facing all business owners and professionals these days – compliance with regulations and the like…and I had a momentary panic attack! WHAT WOULD MY DOG CHARLIE DO WITHOUT HER?!

I had to ask —“you’re not going any where are you? I mean…you’re gonna be around for a while are you…?”

She smiled and said, “The other day driving home from work, I saw a flock of wild turkey in one field and roaming deer in another and I just stopped my car on the road to look.”

“Why”, she said, “would I ever leave that…?”

…and that’s an ED/Story