She is young, forceful, keyed up and married to her profession first. Here’s a tiny look into Dr Shivani Tandel’s life, and the fascinating animal kingdom, much beyond the ordinary

There are none quite like Dr Shivani Tandel, and a visit to Phoenix Veterinary Speciality Clinic in Prabhadevi will give you a glimpse and more of what we refer to. If a day in your life goes by without something new learned, it best be called a day wasted. And if learned and applied to the finest of your abilities, then it is a day conquered. For this small and exotic animals/avian specialist, there are several of the latter, where new challenges are faced head on and knowledge stored like a power bank to charge you through the thing you love doing most.

Must get pretty tough for you doc, we wonder aloud, especially with her newest prized treasure to take care of, her nine-month-old baby girl. “Yes, sure is, which is why I had to scale down from my previous 24/7 schedules and work only from 10 am – 2 pm six days a week. I am a workaholic still, but can no longer do the same hours or stay overnight at the clinic. Evening is time kept for referrals if any. Wednesday is outdoor day at aviaries, firms, NGOs, etc, and Thursday is at Happy Tails, Dr Umesh Karkare’s clinic, where the more complex surgeries are performed. All small surgeries are at my clinic, dentistry as well. It’s a balance and I’m content,” begins Dr Shivani as the first in a long line of patients to keep her on her toes arrives – a minute, rescued Red-Eared Slider turtle. Approximately two years, on the road to recovery with the need for sufficient sunlight, to prevent stunting in this semi-aquatic species, as the doc explains and cares for another set of turtles, Bitsy and Hazel, brought in for nasal discharge.

Thus begins our day with the exotics and more as Tarzan makes his way in next. A three-year-old abandoned parrot with a liver condition that has been treated by Dr Shivani since the very beginning. “He enjoys soan papdi,” she laughs. Bittoo the Ring-necked Green parrot cocks his head in attention, perhaps aware of the vaccination that awaits him shortly. What captures the attention however, is a pair of Cockateil parrots brought in by their frantic parent due to the deep wounds sustained by both in a case of ‘boys will be boys’. In a household of all male avians, we learn, the Cockateils cannot control their raging tempers and the doc is left with two cases of nasty head gashes with the accumulation of dried blood that has to be left untouched – just a dab of disinfectant – to avoid the exposure of the connective tissue beneath the scalp, and the high possibility of contracting an infection. “Keep them separate,” she advises and administers the requisite painkillers to the parent to follow at home. “This is why it is such a challenge each day and I have no complaints. I always knew I wanted to pursue a different field of veterinary science and wildlife was my calling.” So to establish herself as the liaison pan India for the Association of Avian Veterinarians, USA was a significant achievement that had her visiting the US every year and gaining valuable experience. However, not for four years now, since marriage and motherhood came a knocking.

It is absorbing, exciting, the work that a vet would be called to do. With one of the tiniest patients for the day, a near two-month-old rescued Fruit bat, Athena, the doc verifies the same as she narrates, “When Gayatri Sarang – a dear friend who runs her baking service Bombay Baker and helps in wildlife rescues – brought the bat to me, I realised the necessity of mother’s milk for it to survive. Lactating mother that I am, duty beckoned and Athena is getting stronger by the day, medical treatment and personal care apart.” As it turns out, Gayatri tends to such cases often and once treated, attempts are made at re-homing them in the wild which can be a daunting task if they are not accepted back into the fold. Another of the tiny lot is a Lovebird with a leg fracture that the doc treats with utmost precision keeping the attention in the room rapt. Post anaesthesia and a successful repair, Goldie was kept under mandatory observation till the effects began to wear off and her anxious folks were allowed to take her home. Quite a sight to see a bandage almost as big as the patient and a woozy birdie wobbling about. Looking back, it was certainly a smart move for Dr Shivani to hone her skill in wildlife and avian care, even having taken up a couple of internships at the Dubai Falcon Hospital post the set-up of her clinic in 2009.

She revisits that time, “2004 is when I graduated from Bombay Veterinary College and 2007 was when I completed my Masters in Veterinary Science in Gynaecology. Post which I began working with Dr Karkare and consequently set up my clinic. I immersed myself in farm visits to Delhi and other cities to learn the trade first-hand. Dubai followed and shortly after, USA, with observationships at University of Florida and UC Davis in my fortune.”

It’s been a long journey in a short span of time for the assiduous doc, a journey which even involves a serious threat to her life back when she would shelter rescued birds in her clinic itself and spend hours in their midst. This led to the development of a condition known as Bird Lung Syndrome wherein exposure to the droppings of the avians posed a danger to her health and resulted in reduced rescue work. Yet the show must go on as Dr Shivani calls in her next case, a trio of guinea pigs – Toby the mum and Ezra and Phoebe the kids – in for general checkups and a gender identification as well. Tough to say, exclaims the doc as the mini ones are just about 20 days old. By the looks of it, Phoebe would need a change in name! Next up is another Red-eared Slider female, 15 years old and named Dhirubhai! Dhirubhai was put on the nebuliser to treat respiratory distress while the first canine patient, Nova the GSD pup was put under steam inhalation for a cold. “We do not believe in forced treatment here at the clinic,” Dr Shivani explains. “Along with my assistant Neha Patil, we ensure we care for each patient with as gentle a hand as we can offer.” This we are witness to yet again with a pair of rabbits, suffering from deep abscesses on the cheek. With each swipe, the doc cleans out the wounds and applies the suitable ointment as Chakulya and Rani just sit tight. A common occurrence in rabbits, we learn.

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All in a day’s work, the doc takes a breather and talks to us about future plans, family and Shivani Tandel minus the ‘Dr’. Time off includes hours with her baby, husband (a wildlife photographer) and two birds and two dogs at home; yoga, and a lot of reading. Having accomplished her MSc in Conservation Medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 2015, she informs us of her eventual goal to work in wildlife conservation policy making. “A busybee, that’s me, someone who has never travelled on pleasure, not even on my honeymoon,” quips Dr Shivani as the last patient enters – Voshkie, a rambunctious Lab verified as an emotional therapy dog, ready to take his first flight soon. With that, it’s a wrap!

This article was published in the May-Jun 2016 issue of Dogs & More magazine and reprinted here with permission from the publisher. 

Photos courtesy Dogs & More magazine. 

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