‘I Love Being a Vet’

“I love being a vet,” says Dr. Don Woodman, owner of Northwood Animal Hospital and regular contributor to Destination Tampa Bay magazine. “It requires the broadest knowledge base. I have to be a dentist, psychologist, and surgeon. In fact, I have even had to be an orthodontist once when I worked with a tiger cub who had cleft palate surgery at All Children’s Hospital.”

While caring for pet dogs and cats are his primary concern, Dr. Woodman finds plenty of variety in the other animals he cares for. At the time of our interview, he was trying to rehabilitate a pet African tortoise the size of a silver dollar whose owners had not been made aware that it needed plenty of light to survive. He was keeping the tortoise under a UV light in hopes that it would recover.

“Often people buy exotic animals but don’t know what they need,” he says. “This kind of tortoise can get as big as a car’s tire if it is properly cared for. The problem is usually not with the owners but with the people who sell the animals.”


Treating Exotic Animals a Specialty

Dr. Woodman is regularly called upon by the Pinellas County Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Seminole to deal with all sorts of animals—exotic cats, tigers, leopards, cougars, raccoons, otters and other exotic animals. In fact, in the wildlife community he has gained quite a reputation for working with tigers and other large cats.

The week before his interview, Dr. Woodman was called upon by the owner of a circus to treat a tiger suffering with pneumonia.

“I had to x-ray a 450-lb. tiger, and I almost couldn’t fit him in my x-ray machine,” he smiled. “I gave him a shot of antibiotics, and he should be just fine.”

Although small animals are his more usual patients, Dr. Woodman has probably sedated more large exotic cats in Florida than most vets see in a lifetime. He has sedated more than 300 of them in the last five years.

“I guess people get to know that I have had experience with tigers and other large cats, so they call on me when they need help,” he says. “It’s all part of the job of a vet hospital—to love animals, and to love the medicine and to relate to my clients.”

Among his other recent unique “patients” are two screech owls, the second smallest species of owl. Because they have broken wings, they are not releasable, but Dr. Woodman and his wife Susan take them to area schools on occasion. Otherwise, they have become part of the Woodman menagerie, which includes eight cats and a dog as well as a black lab “foster dog” named Shadow, who lives with them while waiting to train to become a seeing eye dog. Their two sons also love the animals, but neither of them plans to become a vet.

The other extreme of owl also is part of his collection of animals. He keeps a Eurasian Eagle Owl in the lobby of his office.

“Most people think it’s a stuffed animal,” he says. “That is until he opens his eyes or turns his head.”

The Woodmans’ own black Labrador named Shirley is a celebrity of sorts since she visits area elementary schools and sits patiently while youngsters read aloud to her. Susan Woodman is almost as dedicated to animals as her veterinarian husband and works with him daily at the animal hospital.  She often takes Shirley to school and is trying to find others whose dogs might be suitable for this purpose.


Choosing Florida and Northwood

After graduating from veterinary medicine school at Virginia Tech’s Maryland campus in 1995, Dr. Don Woodman took a job at a Clearwater Animal Hospital to return to Florida, where he had done undergraduate work in Sarasota. He and Susan moved to Safety Harbor to raise their sons (and their menagerie) and eventually began to look for a practice to buy.

He looked at all sorts of practices, but things didn’t work out. A drug lab representative mentioned to him that Northwood Animal Hospital might be for sale since Dr. First Name Flady had recently lost two friends who died from heart attacks and wanted to have more time with his family. They talked, and the rest is history.

Unlike most such transactions, the two veterinarians still get along famously. Dr. Flady still comes into Northwood one day a week and fills in when Dr. Woodman needs help.

As for writing his “Your Pet Matters” column for this magazine, Dr. Woodman says it has brought him many favorable comments and some new patients as well.

“One of the biggest compliments came after I wrote about anesthesia for pets during surgery,” he says. “Two medical doctors who are anesthesiologists came in with their animal and praised me for what I had written. That made it all worthwhile.”