It's not uncommon to see dogs barking and milling around at a vet's office. But at the West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic (3640 W. Esplanade, Metairie, 455-6386; www.gregrichdvm.com), the only dog on the premises is usually Dolly, a 7-year-old blue merle Australian shepherd owned by Dr. Gregory Rich. The clinic has specialized in exotics only (any household pet that is neither dog nor cat) since Rich purchased the practice in 1993.
Rich has been passionate about veterinary medicine for most of his life. "At age 12, my profession of choice was a veterinarian," he says. "And if I couldn't do that, it was a veterinarian. And if I couldn't do that, it was a veterinarian." His love for Australian shepherds is also long-standing. He's admired them since his vet school classmates introduced him to their pets of that breed. Rich's exotics-only clinic lends itself well to a resident dog; there are no cats to chase, and no other dogs laying claim to Dolly's turf. Dolly is always respectful of the animals in Rich's care.
"There is nothing that she's ever chased, nothing she's ever snapped or bitten at," Rich says.
Last December, the dog injured herself while playing and is required to wear a cast for another three weeks. A dedicated worker, Dolly has continued to come into work while recovering. She earns her keep by accompanying Rich into every exam room every day. She also lends a helping hand (or mouth) by carrying patient charts from the exam room to the reception area.
When Dolly conducts business with Rich in the back, another clinic mascot interacts with clients in the reception area: 6-year-old double yellow-headed Amazon parrot File Gumbo. File lives in the clinic round the clock and has the task of greeting clients. File loves communicating using his broad vocabulary. He knows basic salutations like "hello," "goodbye," and "go Tigers!" as well as songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." File also volunteers outside the clinic, accompanying Rich on visits to schools and Boy and Girl Scout troops to educate children about proper bird care. File enjoys taking time from his busy day to pose for pictures, which later get posted to his own Facebook page, where he has nearly 500 friends.
Dolly and File share a unique rapport. File enjoys playing little games with Dolly. "From time to time, File will drop food just to watch Dolly come scurrying to get it," Rich says. "File kind of messes with her mind." On the flip side, if Dolly is given a treat and File isn't, he will climb down off his perch to attack Dolly.
For clients, the two animals make for a fun and comforting visit to the vet. "It takes their mind off the illness their pet might (have)," Rich says. "It's always been fun for my clients when they come in to have something to talk to, and then we've got Dolly when they go in the exam room."
Dolly's favorite things...
Tug of war
Dressing up for Halloween
File's favorite things...
Talking to people
Any type of food