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Meet New York City-based veterinarian Wendy McCulloch

Finding a small niche IN THE BIG CITY

Bette Flagler interviews Wendy McCulloch – a ‘restless soul’ whose desire to help animals took her from caterer to veterinarian.


BETWEEN THE COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest, the past few months have been unusual for New York City. For Wendy McCulloch, who was born and raised in Gisborne and studied at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, there’s never been a busier time for her Manhattan-based, house-calls-only veterinary practice.

With millions of residents in lockdown and veterinary services following guidelines similar to those of New Zealand’s Alert Levels 3 and 4, Wendy’s services are in high demand. During the height of the crisis she wore full personal protective equipment, coveralls and booties, and required her clients to leave her to examine their animals alone. When euthanasia was required, she typically sedated the animals and left the room so that their owners could say goodbye to their pets as they slept; Wendy administered the euthanasia with clients observing appropriate distancing. She never stopped working and did a lot of triage; things that could wait, did.

Wendy’s business model is straightforward: it’s her, her Chevy Tahoe and a remote assistant who answers phone calls and undertakes clerical tasks.

“I’ve had a driver, but during COVID-19 I don’t want anyone else in the car,” she says. “I don’t want to risk their health by going in and out of people’s houses and, because I can’t control their contacts, I don’t want to risk clients’ or my health. I’m also much more nimble if I work on my own.”

A lot of people in New York don’t drive, and schlepping pets to a veterinary practice is no easy task at the best of times. As a result, much of Wendy’s client base comprises people referred from veterinarians who don’t make house calls – and yes, she refers clients back for procedures she can’t do in the home. Likewise, after-hours and emergency cases are referred to the appropriate clinics.

Each of Wendy’s appointments is for 45 minutes to an hour and she has a strict policy of receiving full records in advance, and she allots time before appointments to read and summarise the notes. “The beauty of my approach is that I get to see patterns that I might not notice during a 15-minute consultation. I like to be as efficient as possible, so I do a history and timeline and recount the pet’s history back to the client for verification. Then we get to the ‘what’s the issue today?’ question.”

She has two shopfronts: HomeVetsNYC is for day-to-day veterinary care and Pet Requiem is for at-home euthanasia. “There are overlaps between the companies. For example, I’ve gone out to euthanase a geriatric cat who hasn’t been to the veterinarian for a long time. The owners thought it was time to put the cat down, but in fact they were hyperthyroid so I suggest we treat the animal instead. On the other hand, I have euthanased a family’s dog and then I’m the veterinarian they call when they get a new puppy.”

Becoming a veterinarian was not a straight path for Wendy. While she initially considered enrolling at Massey University’s veterinary school, she didn’t fancy her chances of getting in when she finished school in 1978. Instead she went to the University of Otago and studied at the then School of Home Science. “We were the militant year that lobbied the university to change the name

Wendy sees mainly dogs and cats, and is deft at catching, restraining and treating cats solo. “I spend a lot of time in bathrooms wrangling cats. It’s like playing the game of Twister.” Her long consults allow time to teach about healthcare and nutrition.



from ‘home science’ to ‘consumer food science’,” Wendy recalls.

Her first job was in the laboratory at Corbans Wines, and this was followed by a stint in the company’s sales and marketing team. Next came a ski season at Mt Ruapehu and a catering job on a film. A self-described ‘restless soul’, Wendy went on to train as a teacher, landing a job in Palmerston North, where she didn’t know anyone and the kids terrified her. But the training and experience got her a ticket to teach home economics in the UK, where she eventually met a caterer who offered her a job working on rock tours. She subsequently toured with Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and the Bee Gees.

“It was really hard work and we did long hours. The caterers are the first in and the last to leave. It was great training for being a veterinarian,” she laughs.

It was also really good training for not being star-struck by the rich and famous of New York.

“When I was on a veterinary school break, I was asked back to London to cater the rehearsal for the Concert for George – a memorial concert for George Harrison. It was coordinated by Eric Clapton and all these famous people – Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne from ELO, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty – were there. To them, I was the lunch lady making Eric Clapton a bacon sandwich.”

While touring with the Bee Gees Wendy met, and then married, guitarist Alan Kendall. During a break between tours they were in Florida and she started rescuing cats. Alan put it to her: if she was so worried about the strays, why didn’t she do something about it? Inspired by the veterinarians at a practice at which she volunteered during the summer – and knowing that touring wasn’t her ‘forever job’ – Wendy decided to apply to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. After 18 months of cramming to get the required credits, she began her study at the age of 40.

After graduating in 2004, Wendy completed an internship at New York’s Animal Medical Center, the world’s largest non-profit veterinary hospital. “It’s a big hospital in a metropolitan area – you see stuff you might never otherwise see in your life,” she says. “It’s run like a big ‘human’ hospital, with attending doctors, residents and interns; we rounded twice a day as you would in a human facility. It was a fantastic way to hone my clinical skills.

“When I finished there, I knew I didn’t want to start my career working for a small practice. I wanted to continue working in a busy teaching hospital alongside specialists practising the latest medicine and researching the latest therapies.”

Wendy next practised clinical and emergency medicine with Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals in New Jersey, and realised she didn’t want to work inside a building all day. She launched a house-call service for the hospital as a community outreach initiative, and managed it as


ON 12 MAY 2020 a giraffe was born at Ukuwela Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It was the second birth since giraffes had been reintroduced to Ukuwela in November 2017, and a sign that Wendy McCulloch’s pet project was succeeding.

The story began when Wendy Hapgood (a New Yorkbased Australian banker) and John Steward (an advertising executive) set up the Wild Tomorrow Fund, a registered wildlife conservation charity. The fund aims to raise money to fight poaching – particularly of rhinoceros – in South Africa, and currently protects more than 900 hectares of nature reserve.

Wendy M joined the Wild Tomorrow Fund board after meeting Wendy H through her work as a veterinarian. Several years earlier, Wendy M had seen how endangered species can thrive when given enough protected space while she was hiking across Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.

In 2017 the Wild Tomorrow Fund learned that a piece of land surrounded by wildlife reserves, and that linked iSimangaliso Wetland Park (South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Phinda Private Game Reserve, was about to be sold to a pineapple farmer. “I mentioned it to a few people, and we were able to come up with enough funding to start the ball rolling,” says Wendy M. “We made a deal with the landowner to buy the land, re-wild it and turn it into a reserve; over four years that piece of land became the Ukuwela Conservancy.”

The conservancy (along with neighbouring reserves) protects important ecological areas. The hope, says Wendy M, is to buy more land and combine with an 80,000-acre neighbouring

conservancy and create a land bridge that will allow animal access and open an ancient migration route to the 300,000- acre iSimangaliso Wetland Park. To that end, the Wild Tomorrow Fund has purchased a second piece of land, Mfuleni Conservancy, to help close the land bridge.

“We also support the community,” says Wendy M. “We’ve built a school, we hire rangers, and we’ve hired a group of women who call themselves the Green Mambas to remove non-native species from the land.”

The fund is bringing in animals to repopulate the areas and collaborates with other local parks, to fund, for example, a helicopter and veterinarians to aid rhinos who are at risk of poaching. “The rhinos are much safer if we take off their horns; it makes them less attractive to poachers.”

The fund also supports scientific research and employs zoologists and entomologists, including those who discovered the Phinda button spider in 2018. This was the first widow spider to be discovered in 28 years and is potentially the largest.

Funds are raised through donors, annual galas and other events. In 2017 the fund received US$100,000 as a result of the biggest ivory bust in New York State’s history: a Manhattan antique store had been selling illegal elephant ivory.

This year the COVID-19 pandemic has required a different approach, including a virtual fundraiser that raised US$60,000. Visitwww.wildtomorrowfund.org to learn more about the fund and register your interest in a post-COVID-19 volunteer trip.

she would her own business – tracking expenses and income and ensuring its viability. She later attended a symposium on home euthanasia at the University of California, Davis and in 2009 launched and marketed Pet Requiem – a veterinary house-call service providing veterinary care and inhome euthanasia as a separate company. Two years later, having proven to herself that a house-call-only practice was sustainable, Wendy moved to New York and set up her businesses.

Wendy’s is not the only house-call practice in the city. She sees her fair share of famous people’s pampered pets, but hasn’t limited herself to that market. “Some veterinarians here are



referred to as ‘celebrity vets’. Many clients with means have cleared out of the city for their country houses and have taken their pets with them. So while those veterinarians are not seeing as many patients, I happen to be busier than ever. I’ve lost some seasonal clients but taking on clients of local clinics under quarantine restrictions has made up for it.”

Wendy left New Zealand more than 30 years ago, but Gisborne is still her tūrangawaewae. She’s considered setting up a house-call-only business in Auckland, but now is not the time to leave.

“I have a love-hate relationship with New York. My dream is to have a little place at Wainui Beach. I’m a frustrated surfer girl at heart.”

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