Deer, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes are common animals seen while living in Redding. For Dr. Lucy H. Spelman, a veterinarian, the array of wildlife in Redding was an inspiration for her career in zoological medicine.
Dr. Spelman grew up on an old farm off Long Ridge Road in Redding.
“We had our own menagerie. We had domestic pets but we also had guinea pigs, cockatiels and goats,” she said. “But I always loved elephants and kangaroos. I found myself always thinking, [what] if I can help animals in the wild. Maybe at the age of 10 I knew I was going to be a zoo and wild animal vet.”
Dr. Spelman has a strong memory of going to the zoo when she was a child and seeing the sparse exhibits the animals were in.
“I saw a polar bear and the space wasn’t big enough. It looked unhappy. I got it in my head that we need to help animals, and that’s been my motivation,” she said.
After graduating from medical school in 1990 and passing the board in zoological medicine in 1994, Dr. Spelman has been working with wild and exotic animals.
The majority of Dr. Spelman’s later education has been learning from mentors and other zoological doctors.
“There might be a little more than 150 people who have similar training [as I do],” she said. “It’s very much of a mentorship. There are so many species of animals there is no way to learn them all, so you work with groups of people who already know a whole lot,” she said.
Dr. Spelman said there are probably only a couple of thousand people in the world who do all the range of work that she does and will do, but there is a smaller group who have the academic history that she does.
“The thing that’s so great is that I’ve had so many great mentors so that now I try and teach younger vets if they want to go that route,” she said.
In addition to being a zoological doctor, Dr. Spelman teaches at Rhode Island School of Design. She teaches the art of communicating science in the history, philosophy and social sciences department and teaches biology of animal-human interactions.
Dr. Spelman is also a published author based on experiences in her career.
“Part of vet medicine is writing your history and medical records and putting it in a narrative,” she said.
While talking to her mother, who was a published adult fiction writer and children’s author, Dr. Spelman got the idea to do a book of zoological stories.
She approached her friend Ted Mashima, a fellow zoological doctor, about co-authoring a book. She said he had the same idea.
“We wrote about cases and animals and people who took care of animals, and my mom read them and helped me,” she said. “She encouraged me.”
“I know about the cases, understand medicine and I felt my writing was strong enough and I went for it,” she said.
Dr. Spelman and Dr. Mashima wrote The Rhino with Glue-on Shoes: And Other Surprising Tcrue Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients.
“It took a while to put the book proposal together, but I’ve been writing ever since. It might be in my genes a little bit,” she said.
Dr. Spelman also wrote the 2012 Animal Encyclopedia for National Geographic.
“I loved doing this project,” she said. “I have worked with a lot of the animals in the book, so I had something different or interesting to say.”
Of all the adventures and cases that Dr. Spelman has had, she said the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project was the most challenging.
“I lived in Africa for three years,” she said. She helped a rare species of mountain gorillas that are “critically endangered.”
Part of helping the gorillas also has to coincide with understanding the people and environment around the gorillas, Dr. Spelman said.
“The health of everything is connected,” she added.
This belief correlates with what Buddhists practice, and that is why Dr. Spelman is speaking at the animal blessing on May 18 from 1:30 to 3 at the Do Ngak Kunphen Ling (DNKL) Buddhist Center in Redding off Putnam Park Road. Rain date is May 19.
People of all faiths are invited to the animal blessing that will be under the spiritual direction of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Jampa.
The animal blessing will include prayers for the protection, health, long life, and future path to liberation for the animals. There will be activities for the whole family, including games, crafts, petting zoo, and drawing for animal grooming, CDs, books, toys, and gift certificates.
This is Dr. Spelman’s first animal blessing, she said.
“The best part about the job is working with people who love animals,” she said. “I’m excited to participate.”
For more information, go to dnkldharma.org.