‘A Culture of Compassion’

When Geri Naymick learned that a memorial gift had been made to the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) in memory of her cat Cocoa Puff by the team at Oregon Veterinary Clinic, she was beyond moved.

“I was so touched, because it really changed my focus,” she recalls. “You go through this whole grieving process, but you want the memory to be positive.”

For more than 20 years, Oregon Veterinary Clinic has honored patients upon their passing with gifts to the SVM’s Companion Animal Fund. The positive feelings that Naymick experienced are exactly what Jim Stevenson DVM’00 and his colleagues hope to inspire through donations to the fund.

Photo: cat Cocoa Puff
Naymick’s cat Cocoa Puff.

“We have clients who come in with their animals over long periods of time and these gifts are just one thing we can do to show that we recognize their good care of their animal companions,” he says. “It shows clients we care and it continues the animal’s life a little bit.”

Stevenson co-owns Oregon Veterinary Clinic with Rachel Orvick DVM’00. The clinic’s six veterinarians are all alumni of the SVM. The Companion Animal Fund’s mission — to support a range of health care studies to advance the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases that afflict companion animals — resonates with these alumni. “As graduates, we’re very supportive,” Stevenson says.

When a gift is made to the Companion Animal Fund, the recipient is notified of the donation through a letter from the school’s dean, Mark Markel. Clients have told Stevenson that learning of the gift and its impact in their animal’s name holds special meaning. “They’ve maybe gotten over the acute pain of the animal’s loss and it makes them feel good that some bit of good came out of their pet’s passing,” he says.

For Naymick, the clinic’s gift in honor of Cocoa Puff inspired her to think more broadly about her own legacy and that of her animals. She has since included the SVM in her will, driven by the “culture of compassion” that she says she experienced with Cocoa Puff at UW Veterinary Care. “When it came to looking at my will and estate, I thought what can I do that would have a lot of meaning? I wanted to have a positive memory and legacy, and I think that’s what this gift is.”

After Cocoa Puff developed heart complications in the summer of 2017, he was referred to UW Veterinary Care’s emergency and critical care unit, where he required overnight hospitalization. As a retired pharmacist with extensive experience in health care facilities, Naymick was struck by the patience, kindness, and expertise exhibited at the teaching hospital.

“I worked in a hospital and I know what it means to connect with and care for patients, but here I saw it in a different context,” she says. “I saw so much compassion on the part of the vet staff and I saw the gratitude that people had for the care.”

A few specific gestures, such as being able to return to the hospital with a familiar toy for Cocoa Puff to provide comfort during his stay and a reassuring call from a veterinary medical student early the next morning still stick out in Naymick’s memory. “It meant so much,” she says.

“When it came to looking at my will and estate, I thought what can I do that would have a lot of meaning? I wanted to have a positive memory and legacy, and I think that’s what this gift is.”

Following several months of treatment and palliative care in coordination between UW Veterinary Care’s Cardiology service and the Oregon Veterinary Clinic, Naymick said goodbye to Cocoa Puff in fall 2017. With her medical background, she says she was reassured by the innovative, evidence-based approach she encountered at both clinics and she is proud that her estate gift will help train future generations of veterinarians like Stevenson and his team.

“When the school was treating Cocoa Puff, I had so much faith in them,” she says. “And the fact that my vets had a connection with the vet school, they were able to provide that same kind of high-quality, cutting-edge treatment. I really saw the expertise and clinical judgment.”

Stevenson has been honored to learn of occasions where Companion Animal Fund gifts have triggered additional generosity.

“We give these small gifts frequently that over time accumulate,” he says. “In some ways, it helps multiply itself; certainly in Cocoa’s case it did. And the best benefit is that the Companion Animal Fund uses that money in really good ways to further veterinary medicine.”

Meghan Lepisto

This article appeared in the winter 2019-20 issue of On Call magazine.

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