After 11 years with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, Dr. Patricia Canchola is moving back to private practice.
On Nov. 13, the longtime veterinarian announced in a video posted to the Humane Society’s Facebook page that her last day at the shelter was Friday, Nov. 20.
“I have had the opportunity of a lifetime to work alongside some of the finest shelter veterinarians on the planet, a wonderful support team and everybody in the community who has supported me, supported this Humane Society, and all of the donors and benefactors that have made that experience memorable and unforgettable,” said Canchola — known affectionately as “Dr. Patti” — in a tearful video message.
Canchola said she will leave the shelter with souvenirs: lifelong friendships and three “cheerful chubby Chihuahuas” named Roberto, Bonita and Ginger.
But the thing she’ll miss most, she said, is saying goodnight to all the shelter animals.
“She would constantly send me pictures of her in the cages with the animals because she just loved to tuck them in at night and make sure they all were okay,” said Humane Society spokeswoman Gretchen Pressley, who worked with the veterinarian for eight years.
Now in her 30th year of practicing veterinary medicine, Canchola said she wanted to be a veterinarian since she was a child, often times bringing home stray animals.
“I can always remember walking home from school and encouraging strays to follow me home. I would be lucky to keep them or we would find an owner for them,” Canchola said.
She recalled imitating being a veterinarian, making a game of it with her father, who would take one of the animals and “come see” Canchola with a pretend sick or injured pet.
“He would come see me and we would go into this room, and I would take popsicle sticks to get [the animals] all bandaged up. Then we would go into another room and do vaccinations and at the end of it I would check him out with a little toy cash register,” she said. “It’s funny that after all these years that’s where it led me.”
In 1990, Canchola earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Early on in her career, she worked in private practice and eventually opened up her own. She began working for the Humane Society in 2009 after she was forced to close the clinic she had opened less than a year earlier.
That transition from private practice to shelter medicine opened her eyes to the need in her community, she said.
“Once I got into shelter medicine the biggest difference was realizing what goes on in my own city in regards to the number of cats and dogs on the streets,” Canchola said. “I was presented with cases of extreme neglect and abuse, and that was traumatizing, to say the least.”
But she didn’t let it deter her, instead taking an active interest in tough cases.
“I realized that I get to be the one on my team who gets to do whatever needs to be done to help these animals. So it went from traumatizing to full on excitement to be their voice, to be their advocate and to do whatever was needed to make them healthy and whole again,” Canchola said.
She also took veterinary forensics courses so she would be better trained when examining abused or neglected animals, she said.
At the Humane Society, she performed between 3,500 and 4,500 spay and neuter surgeries each year, in addition to 200 other surgeries a year treating animals with trauma-related injuries, masses, broken bones and other injuries. She was responsible for caring for about 5,000 animals at the shelter every year and understands the importance of ensuring people know how to properly care for their pets, Pressley said.
“When I first started at the shelter I was overwhelmed by the number of animals coming in who couldn’t afford basic health care. I thought, ‘Maybe we can do something about that,’” Canchola said. In April 2011, she opened the St. Martin’s Well Pet Clinic and that December opened Amazin’ Amos Pet Food Pantry, both nonprofits, to help pets and pet owners in need.
“She really loves the community she serves and she knows it’s not just about the animals,” Pressley said.
Canchola’s hard work and dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, she was chosen from nearly 200 nominees as the American Hero Veterinarian at the Hero Dog Awards Gala in Los Angeles.
And even though she will miss working at the Humane Society, Canchola said she is looking forward to returning to private practice.
“I never got over losing my practice and it was always at the back of my mind,” she said. When the pandemic hit in March, Canchola found herself with extra time on her hands, so she began taking up relief shifts at a local private practice. Her work there reminded her how much she enjoyed it, she said, and it was a matter of time before she was offered a permanent position.
“I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will,’” she said.
Soon, Canchola will begin working at Pets and Friends Animal Hospital in Pueblo, but she is still happy to come back to the Humane Society and visit.
“This is my second home, my second family. It’s a small town and I live just right across the street from the shelter, and they’ve already promised me they’ll send me photos of the animals tucked in at night,” she said.
“It has been such an honor working with Dr. Patti. We know whatever practice she joins will be incredibly lucky to have her as we were for all these years. She always has a home here at HSPPR,” Pressley said.
Canchola’s parting words expressed her gratitude.
“I want to say thank you to everybody,” she said in her farewell video. “I love you all and I will miss you terribly.”
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