Dignified Pet Services presents ‘People in the Neighborhood’
Dr. Alicia Zambelli loves her job caring for the cats and dogs of Portland suburbanites. Still, some of her fondest memories are from practicing livestock medicine in east Africa.
“It was ‘here’s a cow with an eye tumor! Want to help me anesthetize it in the field and remove the eye?’ And so I said ‘okay!'” laughs the tall, ebullient vet from Murrayhill Veterinary Hospital. “It was a great learning experience on so many levels, but also to realize just how lucky we are, and how fortunate our pets are.”
The pets she treats are lucky indeed, because Alicia was born to be an animal doctor. “Not too long ago my mother found these index cards I made in like, first grade, all glued up on this string,” she says. “[They say] ‘I am born,’ ‘I will have a pet store,’ ‘I will be a vet,’ ‘I will get a horse’ – which was my obsession—and ‘I will die.’”
While the pet store hasn’t yet materialized, at 13 Alicia was already an old hand at cleaning kennels and walking dogs for a husband and wife vet team in her home state of Maine. The couple also allowed her to observe surgeries and exams.
“Those years were formative for me,” Alicia remembers. “So I could understand what it was like to be a veterinarian. It’s a people business as much as an animal business.”
Indeed, Alicia seems to be as gifted in interacting with humans as with animals. “I love working with people,” she says. “It’s hard to get me to stop chatting!”
Not that you’d want to. The mother of two — daughter Sophia is 11, and son Giacomo is 9 — did much traveling in the developing world before settling down in Portland many years ago. In addition to east Africa, she spent time in Uganda, Zaire, and Nepal, which she describes as the “best use of my student loan money ever.”
While working on a Hopi reservation in Arizona, Alicia was drafted by her best friend to ride shotgun on a road trip to Oregon. “I was such an east-coaster — I couldn’t have found Portland on a map,” she says.
Once they arrived, that same friend encouraged Alicia to stay. Eventually she began working at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, where she met her husband Shawn. Seven years and a baby later, Alicia says she decided it was time for a day job, and Murrayhill was among her top choices.
“DoveLewis was amazing; rewarding, so educational,” she says. “As a referral institution it gave me the opportunity to see cases from all over the metro area, and I had so much respect for Murrayhill.”
Working days gives Alicia time with her family, which includes an “ancient and cranky” one-eyed Jack Russell Terrier named Trevor, a 7-year-old Rottweiler/Great Dane cross named Mateo, a sweet old cat named Mao, six chickens, and a fish.
“When you’re a vet, you have a house full of lovely reject animals,” she says affectionately.
In addition to her menagerie at home in NE Portland, was one more off-site pet that was an absolute must-have: “My daughter is afflicted with the same animal disorder I have, so she has a large pony. And even though I’m a tall person I unabashedly ride this pony!”
She does so in well-worn fuchsia-flowered rubber boots that, along with Dansko clogs, Alicia lives in during the week. “It would be unfair if I gave myself a more glamorous shoe,” she laughs.
Her bucket list? A journey to Africa or East Asia with her family. “More travel, and to share it with my kids,” she says.
Until then, Alicia is content sharing car-time with her kids while shuttling them to and from school and activities. In fact, chauffer duties provide a guilty pleasure familiar to many parents of school-age children: “I know all the lyrics to far too many pop songs,” she laughs.
An accomplishment almost as impressive as removing a bovine eyeball on the African savanna.