For most pet owners, a trip to the vet is not a big deal. But try adding in the logistics of living on an island to the trip and it can quickly become very challenging, costly and time consuming. Packing up your cats in the carrier, leashing your dogs, navigating a steep ramp at low tide, getting aboard a lobsterboat, the mail boat, the ferry, or even worse, a plane. You get the picture – taking your pet to the vet can be nearly impossible for some islanders, to say nothing of the added stress put on the animal.
So when Dr. Margaret Shively began arriving by boat offering veterinarian services to island communities, life became a lot easier for pet owners. Dr. Shively’s floating practice, known as Dockside Veterinary Services, has become very popular with islanders and their pets. The 39-foot H & H vessel Seakeeper is captained by Dr. Shively’s husband John Williamson. The couple transforms the boat into a floating veterinary office and exam room twice a summer in July and August. They leave their homeport of Kennebunk and embark on a four-day trip visiting the islands of Isle au Haut, Frenchboro, Swan’s Island, Islesford and Great Cranberry. For several hours, Seakeeper is tied up to the town float on each of the islands visited. At each of the stops, Dr. Shively offers routine veterinary services, mostly treating dogs and cats, but she will also leave the boat to tend to goats, sheep and other large animals if needed.
When Dr. Shively is not cruising Downeast aboard Seakeeper, she operates the Kennebunk Veterinary Hospital, a facility with three vets on staff. She has been a doctor of veterinary medicine for 27 years.
She and her husband have owned their boat Seakeeper for seven years. “We began spending vacation time boating in Blue Hill Bay area and thought maybe we should try to do a vet practice on the water,” said Dr. Shively. “We figured out a route that worked for us.” The floating veterinary service is in its third year and growing. When they first began, they would arrive on the islands and were not always busy, but they continued to come and have now built up a reputation and continuity in the service. Many of the clients and animals seen by Dr. Shively this summer had been aboard the boat during one of her previous visits. Islanders are appreciative of Dr. Shively and her practice and she is building trust with them and their animals.
On a recent visit to Swan’s Island, Seakeeper arrived about an hour ahead of schedule and found pets and their owners already lined up and waiting to be seen. On an August 19 visit, more than a dozen cats and dogs were examined and treated for a variety of conditions. The waiting room, a large town float adjacent to the ferry dock, was busy with cats and dogs coming and going and islanders enjoying a social visit while they waited their turn. Year-round residents Carolyn and George Stanley brought a cat and a dog to be seen by Dr. Shively. Carolyn Stanley commented, “It’s amazing. Dr. Shively is so polite, nice, and everything is so well organized and clean. Her husband is so wonderful and helpful with the animals.”
Another Swan’s Island resident, Laurel LeMoine, and her daughter Nevora were waiting to have their Bernese Mountain dog, Duncan, examined along with their two Balinese cats, Mason and Mr. Hobbs. Laurel explained how one of the cats, Mason, had gotten loose in the cabin of the Seakeeper at his last visit and quickly found a place to hide. According to Captain Williamson, “The cabin of the boat is now cat-proof.” A cabin door towards the stern of the boat is closed and all the spaces in the interior have been modified to prevent a cat from hiding once it is out of its cat carrier for the examination. Small dogs are also examined inside the cabin on the boat’s exam table, but larger breed dogs are often examined on the stern deck of the boat where there is more room for Dr. Shively, the animal and its owner.
Dr. Shively sees animals for a variety of reasons; routine vaccinations, skin issues and nail trimmings are among some of the most common occurrences. Blood tests for heartworm, common tick diseases, feline leukemia and feline aids are available onboard the floating clinic and take only a few minutes to get results. Simple procedures and neutering for cats, which takes about 20 minutes, are also offered to pet owners.
Pete, a toy poodle belonging to Belinda Doliber, was one of Dr. Shively’s Swan’s Island patients. Pete suffers from SARD, sudden acquired retinal degeneration, and wears a bright yellow collar with “I’m Blind” imprinted on it in case he gets lost. Pete’s owner Belinda explains, “Pete spends the winters on our boat in the Bahamas and he loves being on a boat, so it’s great for me to be able to take him to a veterinarian who does her thing on a boat. It’s such a nice thing having Dr. Shively come to the island and take care of Pete so that we don’t have to go to the mainland. It saves us time and money not having to take the ferry off-island.”
Dr. Shively advertises her veterinary services by sending laminated posters to the island communities a few weeks ahead of her visit. She says, “I get as much out of the visits as the community gets. The clients are wonderful, very patient and so nice. Their animals are always so well behaved.” About his wife, Captain Williamson says, “She lives and breathes vet care.”
Donna Wiegle is a freelance writer living on Swan’s Island.