Community gathers for ailing veterinarian

A pet owner signs a banner to leave words of love and gratitude for Dr. Tracy McFarland. Michele Lutes/The Signal

Where meows generally fill a space of healing, tears and whimpers crowded the room. A bell jingled as pet owners, void of their furry friends, made their way through the front doors.

“She is our fearless leader,” said Jennifer Ries, practice manager for vet office The Cat Doctor and Friends. “This is her life, her dream and her passion.”

The office’s staff held down the fort for Dr. Tracy McFarland, a woman who inspired them to give care to those without a voice and a whole lot of moxy.

Dr. Tracy McFarland opened The Cat Doctor Inc. in 1994. She is known by pet owners to be more than a veterinarian. Courtesy photo.

“Tracy is still at home, and we are hoping we have longer than what we probably do,” said Ries. “It is very sudden.”

What set Friday afternoon apart from typical days was why people traveled to the vet without their pets. The barrage of visitors gathered to leave last words for McFarland, who they described as more than their veterinarian.

McFarland began her fervor for felines in 1994 when she opened up The Cat Doctor Inc. The practice was crammed into a cozy unit tucked away in a Newhall strip mall near Wayman Street and Lyons Avenue.

The office quickly outgrew its location and in 2006 moved to a 4,400-square foot building on Bouquet Canyon Road. In the new Saugus location, McFarland’s dreams for a full-service pet hospital flourished.

For 12 years, people shuffled in and out of the office, each seeking the doctor’s approach and ambition and, moreover, her impartial support on the darkest of days, Ries said.

On Sept. 4, time became the focus for the woman known for her round-the-clock ability to practice feline medicine to her highest potential.

“That’s when we got news she had advanced stages of gallbladder and liver cancer,” said Ries.

McFarland was hospitalized Sept. 4 and sent home 10 days later on hospice care.

“What a privilege it has been to welcome your cats to our family, I have loved every minute,” said McFarland in a Thursday evening Facebook post. “I wish I could tell you personally how much each one of you mean to me.”

The woman, known affectionately as Dr. Tracy, is considered a “work mom” to Dr. Melissa Waller, who recalls McFarland’s steady ability to go above and beyond for her patients and staff.

“It’s a big set of footprints to fill,” Waller said. “She’s provided not only medical care for the kitties, but emotional care for the people of Santa Clarita when they’ve needed it.”

“She’s the one I look towards when I have a question or when I’m facing something that I haven’t seen before,” Waller said. “She’s my mentor.”

Known for personally lifting people to their goals, office staff members agreed with Waller and said McFarland often counsels them.

“She is one of the most patient, kind people and boss that a person can have,” Ries said. “She has allowed me to take my career to heights that I’ve never expected.

“Just yesterday when I was talking to her and thanking her she said, ‘Make sure you pass on your knowledge to somebody else.’”

When no other option is available, McFarland aids pets over the rainbow bridge, a point affirmed repeatedly on the vet’s Facebook page.

Clients Janet Lackey and Dennis Alves said she saved their cats’ lives, and she cares more about animals than the bottom line.

McFarland’s team plans to open the office to accept messages of love and gratitude Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Ries said.

The veterinarian who relishes in the time of year when the leaves turn colors, now lays warmly in her bed near a window, where she is excited for autumn to come Saturday.

“The Cat Doctor and Friends will continue my dream of providing honest, compassionate care with integrity,” McFarland said. “I’m at a point in my life now that God is calling me home.”


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