Like many other vets and vet techs in the area, I started my career in veterinary medicine at the Rowley Memorial Animal Hospital on Bliss Street in Springfield. The hospital of course no longer exists, but in its day Rowley was an extraordinary place, a place that many of us loved, despite its deficiencies (which were many).
The hospital building itself was . . . let’s not mince words . . . a dump. Built in 1929, it was dark and cramped, with low ceilings, small barred windows, and yellowing walls. The floor was cracked linoleum or concrete. The cages were mostly wooden with wrought iron bars. And the basement, it was scary. But the work we did . . . that was magic . . . all due to the incredible, dedicated people who worked there.
Rowley was the poor sister of the MSPCA hospitals. Angell Memorial (the flagship, in Boston) got the lion’s share. We all complained about the old equipment, the crumbling wards, the stifling communal office, the poor pay. We got visits from the suits in Boston, promises of repairs, along with clucking about our bottom line.
So we made do with what we had . . . and the place worked magic. It worked because deep down we loved the place. The cabinets at the nursing station and the pharmacy may have been battered, but they were always stocked with whatever we needed. And the surgery . . . Dr. Joe Stoyak was chief of staff and a surgeon, one of the best in the world. He made sure that, whatever else we might not have, we had the best surgical equipment around.
The nurses were some of the best and most dedicated I have ever worked with. And what a crew of doctors we had! Some were attracted by the mission of the MSPCA, some by Dr. Stoyak’s reputation, some (like me) by the Internship program. For whatever reason, many of the most talented, smartest vets I have known came through Rowley.
It was a great place for a young doctor to learn. The case load was enormous, ranging from the totally down-at-the-heels street person with an ancient shepherd dying of mammary cancer to the socialite referred from out of town with her poodle needing total hip replacement.
During my first year, I lived upstairs in the hospital and got to see and do most everything. During the day, as a budding surgeon, I scrubbed in on case after case with Dr. Stoyak or Dr. Mike Frost. At night I fixed up injured strays . . . pinning and wiring broken legs, replacing proptosed eyes, draining abscesses, debriding and suturing gaping wounds. I got in trouble for this late night work on strays. “There is no funding for it,” Boston said. Dr. Stoyak would call me into his office, shake his head, and then go on to explain how I might have pinned the leg better.
Rowley was renamed MSPCA-Western New England and moved to a state-of-the-art new building on Union Street in 1998. Nine years later, however, the MSPCA closed its Springfield facility (which, thankfully, became home to Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society several years later).
The original Rowley building has been torn down bit by bit to make way for a parking lot. I haven’t been by there in a long time, so I don’t know if any of it is left. I don’t think so. But what a great place the old Rowley was!