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Archive Orthopedic Surgery 2019

Fixing Stray Pets to Help Them Find Loving Homes

Q&A with John Keating, MD, SFOA, a "human" orthopedist with a heart for helping animals.

DOG'S BEST FRIEND John Keating, MD, an Atlanta-based orthopedic surgeon who created Surgeons for Strays, a nonprofit dedicated to healing injured, homeless dogs and cats, with Little Junior Parker, a former patient and current family member.

You created Surgeons for Strays to operate on injured, homeless dogs and cats for free. How did you get involved in that mission?
My wife’s friend is a vet, and one day he called to tell me he had a stray dog with flection contractures of the front paws. The dog was full of life. He couldn’t bring himself to put her down, and asked if I could help. I called renowned veterinarian Dr. James Cook of the University of Missouri and asked him how to fix the dog’s defects. He told me, I performed the surgery and the dog was adopted by a wonderful family. Since then, saving sheltered animals has become my passion.

How do you find the time and energy to help animals?
I couldn’t do it without the help of our hospital’s wonderful orthopedic residents. I wish you could see their reactions the first time they help me fix a dog or a cat. They get a chance to help good souls and that reminds them of why they got into medicine. I was once asked if the program makes residents better surgeons. No, I said, it makes them better people.

Why has your program inspired so many people?
There are many reasons. One Christmas Eve, my chief resident and his father and brother, who were both orthopedic surgeons visiting from Germany, teamed up to fix a dog with a crushed pelvis. I called the resident the next day and told him to buy his family lunch on me as a way of thanking them for their help. He politely declined, telling me the surgery was a gift to them. He said his father, who was the most stoic man he knew, had teared up when they were heading home after the operation. I have an idea why. During the procedure, the father had looked over at me and said it was his only chance to operate with his two sons.

Can you apply the lessons learned during the animal operations to performing surgery on humans?
Absolutely. Fixing animals involves creative, improvisational problem solving. We repair fractures without the use of a C-arm, making do with K-wires, Steinmann pins and sterilized locking plates I’ve removed from human patients. It’s incredible fun and reminds us surgeons that we can think and operate at the same time.

What’s next for you and your mission?
Physicians and facilities from across the nation are contacting me to find out how to launch and run similar programs. That’s incredibly heartening. I’m going to run out of gas at some point, and don’t want efforts to help injured and unwanted pets to end with me. OSM

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