Farewell to Dr. Thomas
Veterinarian leaving Molokai after 5 weeks serving the community.
By Léo Azambuja
It has been said that all that is good doesn’t last; and confirming this, Molokai’s only veterinarian is leaving the island.
Molokai residents – and their pets – have suffered long enough without a permanent veterinarian established on the island, until Dr. Sterling Thomas decided to come over and help out. And that he did with his heart, staying here for five weeks, attending to pets and performing around 50 spay or neuter procedures on cats and dogs island-wide.
But time has come for Dr. Thomas to be with his family in Oregon. He is leaving Feb. 14, just in time to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his wife. He said his experience on Molokai has been nothing short of wonderful, the people here have been very nice and really took the time to make him feel welcome.
Dr. Thomas said he might come back for a couple more weeks, but that will probably be by the end of April or beginning of May.
However, not all is lost for Molokai’s pets in need of tender care, and spay and neutering – Dr. Eileen, who has been coming here from Maui for years may resume practice on Molokai. Dr. Thomas also said that a veterinarian from Oahu, Dr. Tom, may start a practice on Molokai every Sunday.
Other short-term alternative includes a woman veterinarian from Oregon who has volunteered to come to Molokai for one week in March and one week in May, according to Dr. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas said the facility in which he has been working is well equipped and kept, despite not being set for full-scale surgeries. He praised the hard work of Molokai Humane Society board members, which resulted in acquiring the land lease and the facility. With continued proper care, the facility will be able to accommodate the practice of visiting veterinarians, he said.
The need for a permanent veterinarian on Molokai is still dire. Dr. Thomas said he wishes he could have done more. “I haven’t had a slow day,” he said, noting that he even worked on a few weekends.
“There is a six-page-long list of people that I can’t get to,” he said, explaining that those people won’t be able to get their pets spayed or neutered by him.
Perhaps the biggest downside of Dr. Thomas stay on Molokai was the number of puppies he diagnosed as infected with the often-lethal parvovirus. Sadly, he said he saw 15 puppies in four days that were either dead or dying from parvo infection. Since treating infected animals requires hospitalization, and Molokai has no facilities capable of that, “once a dog here gets it, it’s pretty much a death sentence,” Dr. Thomas said.
Parvo is a relatively new disease. It comes from a mutating virus, and was first discovered in Australia in 1979. It has since spread to all four corners of the world. Symptoms often include diarrhea and vomiting.
The parvovirus is transmitted through feces of infected dogs, and humans do not get the disease. The virus can remain dormant for years before hosting itself in an animal. Puppies are the most susceptible to the disease, since they are still building their immune system.
Dr. Thomas said he was sad to witness so many infected animals in such a short period of time. When he worked in the mainland, he would see one or two animals a month that tested positive for the disease. He said the disease can be prevented with proper vaccination, and educating the population about dos and don’ts.
Although it’s sad to see Dr. Thomas leaving, he brought some light to pets and pet owners on Molokai. He continues to serve the community by actively looking for solutions to the island’s shortcomings regarding a lack of proper veterinarian care.
With good planning, he said it is financially possible to make a living as veterinarian here. He said he is also trying to figure out how to minimize the spread of parvovirus on the island.
Mahalo to Dr. Thomas for his time spent here. Special mahalo to the former board members of Molokai Humane Society, who worked relentlessly in providing better care for the island’s beloved pets. A huge welcome to the new board members, who will have the task of continuing the hard work of former ones. Finally, a special farewell to the Dr. Thomas, who did so much to help the community.
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