Perseverant Vet: Working on the Pandemic’s Front Lines to Care for Ann Arbor’s Animals

Compassionate Care Animal Hospital Michele Forbes
Dr. Michele Forbes with her patient and friend, Spike. Photo courtesy of Compassionate Care Animal Hospital.

As an employee at Ford Motor Company, Michele Forbes frequently met people looking for a car. Then, one day in 1997, while visiting one of the dealerships, she crossed paths with a little puppy in need of something more – a family, a home, and medical attention.

Michele felt such a connection that she adopted the dog (whom she named Spirit), moved to a pet-friendly building, and arranged the necessary care. In the process, she also found her calling. Inspired by her new best friend and the doctors who treated him, Forbes left her job and returned to school to become a veterinarian.

Today, she serves as co-owner of Compassionate Care Animal Hospital. The clinic hosts approximately 9,000 cats, dogs (and the occasional rabbit) each year. Forbes’ efforts to assist animals extend beyond her role as their doctor. Through Spirit’s Legacy Fund, she raises money to help families with financial need pay a portion of their veterinary bill.

Dr. Forbes spoke with author Greg Forbes Siegman (no relation) about her passion for animals and the obstacles she has overcome to care for them.

Ann Arbor Family (AAF): Tell us about your first dog.

Dr. Michele Forbes (DMF): I got her on my fifth birthday. She was a miniature schnauzer. I named her Tasha. She lived with us for many years. We were very close. I would sit in her dog bed with her and read to her.

AAF: When you returned to school to study veterinary medicine, did you consider being a doctor for people instead?

DMF: Never. Not for one minute. I am humbled – especially during the current crisis – by human healthcare professionals, but this was always my calling.

AAF: How does your work differ from human healthcare professionals?

DMF: One of the primary differences is our patients cannot verbalize their maladies. We need to rely on their responses to examination and diagnostics to detect a concern. Pets don’t talk, but they definitely communicate. We just have to learn their language.

AAF: How has the pandemic impacted your clinic?

DMF: As “essential workers”, we have been working the entire time. To do that, we’ve had to reinvent the way we practice medicine – working with skeleton crews, wearing full PPE and doing virtual visits in some instances – and we’ve had to review policies and adjust protocols on a daily basis. At times, it has been exhausting and overwhelming, but we are grateful we can help.

AAF: The pandemic is not the only major obstacle you have faced in recent years. In 2018, you lost your home and everything you owned in a fire. What did you learn from that experience?

DMF: I learned two main things. First, we don’t always get to choose the experiences that shape our lives, but we do get to control what we make of them. Second, take time every day – even if it is just five minutes – to appreciate the people and pets in your life.

AAF: When families decide to get an animal for the first time, what factors should they consider when deciding the type and breed to adopt?

DMF: Many people start with small animals, thinking they’re easier, but those can be very labor-intensive creatures with a steep learning curve to understand their habits, diets, and needs. It’s best for families to consider a checklist of questions, including: What is the family lifestyle? Are we homebodies or do we like to travel? Are we looking for a friend to cuddle with or one to train for marathons with? How much time do we want to spend caring for the pet? Do we have children? Questions like these can help them determine the best fit. And layered on top of these factors is just the pure kismet of animals who cross our path. In magical situations, the pet picks us and we grow together.

AAF: When a family surrenders their dog or cat, does that impact the animal on an emotional level? Do they experience emotions like grief and loss?

DMF: We know pets experience grief and loss. If a loved one passes away, for example, they continue to search for that companion. I believe they also absolutely experience those feelings if they are surrendered.

AAF: Through the fund you started, you raise money to help cover a portion of the veterinary bill for cats and dogs who need medical treatment. You describe that effort as one that also helps people. In what sense?

DMF: When a family with limited resources receives financial help to get medical care for their dog or cat, it means the family does not have to consider surrendering that pet just because they cannot afford life-saving veterinary care when sick. That doesn’t only impact the animal. It impacts the humans in that family, too. Pets are important family members. Our bond with them makes us better people.

Compassionate Care Animal Hospital. 2200 S. Main Street, Ann Arbor. 734-436-0455.