Dr. Mara Howard

When I was little (prior to the age of five) and adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I immediately would say “a princess.”  I was in love with all the Disney fairy tales, with my absolute favorite being Sleeping Beauty.  I played dress up with frilly pink gowns and an old tiara my aunt gave me from a long-ago pageant.  After my parents finally broke the news to me that being a princess wasn’t a “realistic” long-term goal, I then decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian so I could spend my life “playing with puppies.”  In all the years since, my love of Disney princesses and my life goal have never wavered.

I don’t have a childhood memory that doesn’t involve my family’s miniature dachshunds.  I would submit our poor animals to dress up games and role-playing with my baby cribs.  After seeing all the forest animals love and help Cinderella and Snow White, I spent months convincing the ducks, turtles and fish in our backyard pond to eat out of my hand.  My parents went along with my dream, with miniature turtles, an iguana and various fish living in our house over the years.

Realizing the allure of veterinary medicine can be very different than the reality of all the responsibilities the job entails, my parents started encouraging me to volunteer to see every facet of the profession I wanted to enter.  Over the years, I volunteered at the Florida Humane Society, our local small animal practice, the Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park, the local horse track and a marine mammal facility in the Florida Keys.  My time volunteering was illuminating into the hardships that veterinarians must face; and while puppies are only a fraction of the job, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. 

When I was in middle school, my resolve to be a veterinarian was tested in a very personal way.  After a lifetime on chronic medications, my family’s miniature dachshund Harpo was diagnosed with kidney disease.  I can remember sitting with my mom in the doctor’s office, listening to him explain how it was impossible to predict how much time he had left and his values were already indicative of a very progressed disease state.  At the time, many of the options that are currently available weren’t options.  I vividly can remember giving him fluids under his skin on our kitchen table; as the weeks went by, the number of fluid sessions grew to once a day.  Despite everything, Harpo continued to decline, and in the end as a family we had a discussion about when to let him go and stop his suffering.  It was through this experience that I realized that while the perks of being a vet were great, helping people through the rough patches is an even more important part of the job. 

Throughout the years, my priorities have changed.  I have switched from wanting Dorothy’s red slippers to patterned Danskos.  I spend my time in the work uniform most similar to pajamas (scrubs) instead of playing dress up in pink frilly dresses.  My two dogs, Lola and Zoey, have sweaters for when it snows instead of being stuck in a baby crib in dolls’ clothes.  My happiest pastime, cooking, involves more than just cookies and cupcakes (most of the time).  But despite all these changes, to this day when I am asked what I do, I will reply “play with puppies.”