New Year for the Animals: An interview with Dr. Mark Froimovitch

Beginning in the evening of August 17, 2023, the Jewish people will celebrate Rosh Hashana La’Behemot, the New Year for the Animals. It is one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar and while its practice has changed over the millennia, its significance has not. 

Think of the chicken on your Shabbat dinner table, the milk in your coffee, the leather in your sneakers, or the dog sitting at your feet. Ask yourself: How do animals impact my life? What are your relationships with animals? If you start paying attention to the products you rely on every day, and the joy you receive from your pets, you will see how much you rely on domesticated animals. 

Some use this day to consider the deep relationship between humans and animals of all kinds. The holiday can serve as a chance to remind people of tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the prohibition against unnecessary cruelty to animals. Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot is a perfect day to start conversations about animal welfare and if your new family pet should come from a breeder or a shelter.

Like most Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot, has ancient roots in the Torah. Similar to Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, it was a time for farmers to take an accounting of their flocks and was the birthday for all animals. In modern times, we honour this holiday by thinking about how animals impact our lives in all ways and how we can make the animals in our care are living their best life. 

Outside of the immediate family, the most important relationship any domesticated animal has is with its veterinarian. In the Outaouais, Dr. Mark Froimovitch founder of the Veterinary Clinic of the Gatineau Hills/ Clinique Veterinaire de la Gatineau, has been treating all types of animals in our community since 1979. The E-Bulletin was able to chat with Dr. Froimovitch and talk about his long and successful career on the eve of his retirement.

Animal Wellness Clinic: Mark and Ira Froimovitch
with Elder of Nunatsiavut and her dog

EB: What is it that you love about animals?
In most cases they are innocent, selfless, and trying to please their owners. To enjoy being a veterinarian in a practice you need not only to love animals but also to love working with people, including staff and clients, and respect the deep relationship families have with their pets.

I knew when I was 13 that I wanted to be a vet and I’ve never looked back. I attended the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and began my career caring for all species of domesticated animals and exotics.
As time went on, veterinary medicine became more specialized and I stopped treating large animals and exotics and focused on small animals, mostly dogs and cats.

EB: How do you honour each patient’s unique identity and personality when you are treating them?
I honour them by understanding their behaviour and reactions in a clinical environment and trying to ease their tensions and decrease anxiety in the animals and their owners. 

Sometimes if an animal is clearly too nervous to have an appointment, we will reschedule, and I will offer tips to help them be calm and sometimes medication to help the animal feel more at ease. We aim for the appointment to be “fear free” meaning that we want both the pet and the owners to have a good experience and try not to create a distrust of the clinical environment.

Years ago, we just treated the animal anyway and were less concerned with their feelings. I think this is a very positive change; that we treat every living being with respect.

Mark Froimovitch and son, Ira,
Arriving in Nain Labrador for Animal Wellness Clinic 

EB: What can we do as pet owners, animal lovers, friends/family of animal lovers to make sure that all animals live healthy happy lives?

MF: They need a lot of love and attention, proper diet and the right amount of food, exercise, and training to help them adapt to different situations. In addition, my relationship with the parents is critical. I think if you're gentle, show concern, and listen to what the parents have to say they are more likely to hear what you are trying to teach them and will take your advice.

Many parents have questions about their pet’s behaviour. Behavioural science has moved from a philosophy of dominating the animal to training with reward and praise. It’s an advantage of the broadening of veterinary specialities. I can refer them to a behavioural expert. While I can give some advice, I have come to rely on my colleagues to provide additional support and education.

Dr Froimovitch and Falcon at Raptor sanctuary

EB: On Rosh Hashana La’Behemot, how can we celebrate the way animals enhance our lives?
They play such an important part in family life. They are always trying to please us. Therefore, they should be given what they need to be happy and healthy. 

If your family is thinking of getting a pet, whether that be a gerbil from the local pet shop or a rescue dog or cat, it is important to do your research. Read up about what you're getting into, and the responsibilities involved. What does proper care look like? What can we expect in terms of behaviour? Will they be a family pet or cling primarily to one person?  Make sure that the pet is good for your lifestyle and available time. And remember, a pet could be a 15+ year commitment.

So much of the care is emotional as well as physical. I believe people miss something when they grow up without pets. They play a very important role in the family.

Running a spay/neuter animal health clinic, Nunatsiavut (Nain)Labrador

EB: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
My family currently has two dogs. They are both rescues and required a lot of training to get them over their past traumas. Being a pet owner is very rewarding and being a veterinarian can be the most rewarding profession of all.

If anyone is interested in considering veterinary medicine in the future, I’d recommend they spend some time shadowing a vet or volunteering at an animal hospital. It’s a great way to look inside the profession and see if it’s for you.

After all, we are all in this for the animals!