By Juli Smith
This is a love letter. I didn’t realize that until it was half written but sure enough, that’s what it is, at its essence. It is so seldom that we have the privilege of entering into the life of another by taking special note of their big moments, threading them together, and adding a measure of insight into how one led to the next and eventually made a whole big life. Such sacred work this is, and I step reverently into it.
I have been asked to provide a glimpse into the life of a man who touches so many other lives through the work he does and most importantly, through the Being he is. It is, after all, our Beingness that makes the most lasting contribution through our lives. This man is Dr. Jeff Smith, DVM, owner of Vetcetera Animal Hospital, an integrative veterinary practice that opened last year in south Asheville.
He was the kid who had a fascination with how things work. You know the story: always taking apart one thing or another (but he claims he always got them back together with no leftover pieces)! This fascination is what led him, at a mere 15 years old, to restore an old, abandoned car (a ‘66 Datsun Roadster, for you car buffs). He said he wanted to be a mechanic. You might imagine the ruckus this caused for his family members, who were proud of turning out physicians now into the third generation. But he marched to the beat of his own drum. He worked for the neighborhood mechanic during high school and into college. He eventually studied aerospace engineering and was accepted to the prestigious General Motors Institute.
He felt a growing unease, however. For the poetically inclined, perhaps it was his destiny calling to him … Or maybe it was simply a growing disinterest in physics! Whatever the reason, he abruptly changed his direction, with the goal of graduating as quickly as possible.
Jobs were scarce for new graduates after the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987, and he accepted the first job he was offered, selling computer systems. He knew nothing about computers at the time but, true to form, he dove into learning all he could and eventually used this knowledge and understanding as a UNIX Systems Administrator (a.k.a. “computer guy”). This is where I enter the picture …
I have my own “winding road” story but two facts are important here: first, as much as I wanted to be a physician, more than that, I wanted to be a healer and thus launched into my own study of natural healing in conjunction with the allopathic model; second, my sister and her future husband were both graduating from veterinary school. This is the moment in the story when two important worlds collide in Jeff’s awareness: natural healing and veterinary medicine.
A benefit of training for a career at a “non-traditional age” is that you have a greater sense of self and the world in which you live, which provides a perspective perhaps otherwise missing. As Jeff progressed through vet school, we had front row seats to the many weaknesses and even failings of the allopathic model. We marveled at how a system that vows to “do no harm” actually leaves a wake of harm. And we set about brainstorming new ways and better methods.
Vetcetera Animal Hospital is the culmination of almost 20 years of visioning and re-imagining. We are part of a paradigm shift, one that is coming none too soon. At the forefront of our minds from the moment a client walks through the front doors with their beloved animal until the time they walk out is: what is in the best interest of this animal right now? We go to great lengths to make the experience as stress-free as possible, for healing cannot happen in the presence of stress.
We spent years researching floor surfaces, to minimize the fear some dogs have of slippery floors. We researched what paint color choices are most soothing to animals. Rarely do we have a cat or dog in a cold, stainless steel kennel – and if they have to be, we outfit it like they are kings and queens. We go to great lengths to keep these four-legged friends together with their people as much as we can. I have story after story about animals who are scared and disoriented after anesthesia, only to melt with relief upon hearing their cherished person’s voice and feeling their warmth surrounding them.
These are the moments, now in the flesh, that we relentlessly held on to creating. These are the moments when it all becomes worth it. Because these precious, beloved, divine beings that we pledge to Serve every day give, to each of us, the whole of themselves without hesitation or second thought. They allow us to see the best in ourselves. And they allow us to see the best in each other. I give thanks now to each of them for giving me this moment to step back and look awhile, from a slightly different vantage point, at Dr. Jeff Smith, the kindest person I know, who also happens to be my husband, friend, and partner!