‘Patron saint of pets’ celebrates more than five decades as a veterinarian

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Denver veterinarian Edward Garcia, known as the “patron saint of pets,” will be honored this weekend for his charitable dedication to helping animals during a career that spans more than five decades.

Garcia, 83, graduated from Colorado State University’s veterinary program in 1961, and officials think he is the first Latino to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the school.

Since Garcia began veterinary practice, he has been known for a commitment to providing care regardless of an animal owner’s ability to pay. At the same time, he has helped introduce to Colorado veterinary services that now are industry standards.

‘Ahead of his time’

Drs. Jeffrey Mullen and Mike Ley, also CSU alumni and co-owners of Seven Hills Veterinary Hospital in Aurora, worked for Garcia at his North Metro Animal Hospital in the late 1980s.

“He was really ahead of his time with the North Metro Animal Hospital,” Mullen says of Garcia. “He opened it as a 24-hour hospital and had a variety of affiliated docs who could come in and do surgery there.

“He’s been a fixture in the area these many decades,” Mullen adds. “He has no plans to stop practicing, and is seen by those in the area as the kindly doc who is always there for the local pet owners.”

Reduced rates

Garcia received his “patron saint of pets” nickname from a Denver TV news anchor in 2000 because of his reputation for reducing prices for clients who cannot afford veterinary care.

That approach continues, says his daughter, Theresa Garcia, the self-described “president, CEO and floor-mopper” at their practice, the Denver Holistic Center. “Yesterday he removed more than 15 kidney stones from a dog named Taco and greatly reduced the fee,” she notes.

Appropriately enough, the Saturday event celebrating Garcia’s career is a fundraiser for a nonprofit called Pets For People, which he and his daughter founded, and for Colorado Puppy Rescue, which accepts puppies from area animal shelters and holds weekly adoption events.

$10 vaccinations

Garcia donates his time so the two organizations can offer $10 vaccinations and exams at the time of adoption. The two nonprofits also work with at-risk kids to help them see the value of community service.

Garcia, who grew up in the Five Points area, recalls developing an interest in medicine as a young man. But he considered medical school out of reach, in part because of cost.

“Nobody thought about college,” he says.

Military service

He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, and started taking college coursework in Denver thanks to the GI Bill. But it wasn’t until he studied bacteriology at the University of Maryland — and worked in a livestock sanitary lab with an aunt who was a virologist — that he became interested in treating animals. A former cavalry colonel who ran the lab suggested that Garcia pursue a veterinary career.

“He took a shine to me, saw I was comfortable around animals, and encouraged me to go to vet school,” Garcia says, adding that the colonel even recommended him to the dean of what is now CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Garcia recalls the encouragement he received from Dr. Kenneth Smith, a longtime professor and clinician at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, who was impressed with Garcia’s surgical skills.

‘Great experience’

“It was a great experience,” Garcia says, noting that he remains friends with some of his CSU classmates. “I met some great guys.”

After graduating from CSU, Garcia worked at and later bought the Copeland Animal Hospital in Denver. He opened the North Metro Animal Hospital in the early 1970s. In addition to being the first 24-hour veterinary clinic in the area, its innovations included live-streaming video cameras that allowed clients to monitor their pets. He sold the hospital about five years ago and now practices at the Denver Holistic Center.

The celebration of Garcia’s career, which will include a silent auction, will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bonacquisti Wine Co., 4640 Pecos St., Denver. For more information, visit http://col.st/C7Nap.