Honoring Compassionate Care and a Mother’s Memory

When the veterinarian who cared for Richard Magnus’ five exotic pet parrots unexpectedly passed away in March of 2020, he was justifiably worried about finding somebody who could handle his beloved birds with the same level of expertise and compassion he’d grown accustomed to.  After all, veterinarians who specialize in exotic species are not easy to come by and Dr. Pete Sakas was not just any other veterinarian – he was a nationally renowned expert on avian medicine and owner of the Niles Animal Hospital, a small animal clinic outside Chicago that was routinely recognized for excellence under his leadership. Magnus knew he had a challenging search ahead of him.

But Richard, an archeologist by training, knows how to find what he is looking for. A lifelong devoted animal lover, Magnus decided not to let distance deter him from getting the best care for any of his animals (he also has dogs). He decided to expand his search beyond the Chicagoland area where he lives to include all of Illinois, and then, not finding what he was looking for, to surrounding states. But it wasn’t until one of his pet birds, Hector, required immediate medical attention that he finally found the person he’d been looking for at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Dr. (Grayson) Doss was absolutely stellar, not only because he took so much time and was so thorough in examining Hector but because he treated him so gently,” Magnus recalls. “I decided in that moment that UW would be our veterinary home from that point on.”

Hector, a yellow-naped Amazon parrot, holds a special place in Magnus’ heart. He was one of two birds that Magnus brought home from Nicaragua in 1975 and has been a constant companion to Magnus ever since. So when Dr. Grayson Doss, clinical assistant professor of zoological medicine at SVM, helped Hector regain his waning health and vitality after suffering various health issues related to high cholesterol, Magnus started searching yet again, but this time for a way to show his gratitude to SVM for saving Hector’s life.

As an alumnus of Yale University and a lifelong academic himself, Magnus says he appreciates the value of higher education and academic medicine, and decided to create an endowed scholarship at the SVM to help aspiring veterinarians realize their dreams and hopefully one day provide the same level of care that both he and Hector received when they needed it the most.

“I am convinced that Hector would not be here today if not for the expertise and compassion of Dr. Doss and others at UW Veterinary Care,” Magnus says. “I was just so impressed with how we were treated, and I think the approach to care that we experienced is one of the reasons that the UW Veterinary School has been able to propel itself, in a relatively short period of time, from not even having a vet school to being one of the best in the country. That’s pretty incredible and tells me that they are doing something right.”

Next year, the Virginia Bookwalter Magnus scholarship, named in honor of his mother, a devoted animal lover and 1939 UW graduate, will be awarded to non-Wisconsin residents who want to study at the SVM.

“My mother passed away 25 years ago, but she absolutely loved Hector, so what could be better than giving to the university that helped Hector, as well as other animals, and also happens to be the place where my mom graduated from.”

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