Meet a Member: Ben Okimoto, DVM

Dr. Ben Okimoto served as the Honolulu Zoo Veterinarian for over 30 years. He graduated from Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine in 1980. As well as caring for the health of the Zoo’s animals and promoting the Zoo’s mission of educating and inspiring Hawaii’s keiki, he mentored many young aspiring veterinarians along the way. With his permission, we have reprinted his memoir of his time at the Honolulu Zoo, originally published for Honolulu Zoo Society members.

March 24, 1988: My “Start Date” at the Honolulu Zoo 30 years and 3 months ago resulted from my selection as Zoo Veterinarian by Jerry Marr (Zoo Director), Walter Ozawa (Parks Department Director) and Dr. Allen Miyahara (UH Veterinarian). At that time I had no idea it would last for 3 decades.

I remind the zoo keepers that I have worked here longer than many of them have been alive. I am so grateful to all who have worked at the zoo for all their support for all these years. And I mean all the zoo staff, from the vet staff, the animal staff, commissary staff, grounds and maintenance staff, administrative staff, the Honolulu Zoological Society, Service Systems staff, the Front Office/ticket booth staff, and even the Security staff. They have all assisted and supported me in caring for the zoo animals, and I especially appreciate their support for those times when my efforts were insufficient or inadequate.

I was hired as an entry level Zoo Veterinarian to work under the guidance of Dr. Patrick Leadbeater. The City brought in Dr. Amy Shima from the San Diego Zoo for a couple of weeks to train me and to assess our zoo hospital. The City then sent me on an orientation/training trip for two and a half months to mainland zoos. I spent most of my time at the St. Louis Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, but I was also able to visit the zoos in Cincinnati, Lincoln Park in Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and the International Crane Trust. Later I spent a couple of weeks with Dr. Shima at the San Diego Zoo. All this exposure was very opportune training for me as I assumed the lead role of Honolulu Zoo Veterinarian in 1989.

Our zoo vet hospital at that time was a quaint small house on zoo grounds that I believe Paul Breese said was built in 1953. At one time that eventual zoo hospital was the home for the zoo curator and later zoo veterinarian. That veterinarian was Dr. Calvin Lum. Many years ago one of Dr. Lum’s son, Jory, was hired as a zoo keeper. Jory visited the clinic and pointed out to me that the surgery room used to be his bedroom. The other identical house built on zoo grounds originally was the home for the Zoo Director. When the curator’s home was converted to the hospital, the director’s home was converted to become the zoo keeper meeting and locker/shower facility. It is currently being used by the staff of Service Systems.

We were very lucky that in 2004 the City and the Zoo Society, along with individual benefactors (Mark Bogart) were able to fund the construction of a new zoo hospital. I based the floor plan on the design of the Miami Metro Zoo’s hospital, and the whole project including the buildings and equipment cost around $4 million. We moved into the new hospital in late 2005.

Since that time we have cared for many of the zoo animals in the new hospital. We have even assisted outside agencies in caring for non-zoo animals: Hawaiian bats, Hawaiian Monk Seals, Yellow Belly Sea Snakes, Brush Tailed Rock Wallabies, and several others.

There have been other non-zoo animals that we did not care for but had to interact with, most notably “Tyke” the elephant. There was also the live Cobra found at the airport, the live Cougar that was confiscated from a home in Hawaii Kai, and the live Fishing Bat found at the wharf, among others.

Thirty years is a long time to care for an animal. Inevitably and sadly it means that you will outlive many of the animals that you care for. This is felt most strongly by the primary zoo keepers who provide daily care for the years that they work at the zoo. But medical care providers can also develop associations, relationships, and even bond with individual zoo animals.

I would like to tell you about some of the zoo animals that I will never forget.

The reptile keepers will have to forgive me for saying that it can be difficult to “bond” with a reptile. But some reptiles have such a strong presence that they had an aura about them. “Goliath” our male alligator was such an animal. He didn’t move much and he often just lay on the grass or floated in the pond. But as you approached him, all he had to do was open his eyes and look at you and you immediately became aware that he wasn’t a floating log, he was a living dinosaur.

Some birds can live for a long time. “Abby” our Abyssinian Ground Hornbill is in his forties. I think “Abby” is intelligent enough to recognize individual people. He will frequently come up to the exhibit fence when people are nearby, but he seems to actually interact with you the more often and the longer you “know” him. Recently he was brought up to the hospital when he was soaked and very disheveled. He was stressed and not very responsive, but after a while he reacted to me when I called him over to stand in front of a heat lamp.

Many years ago we had a female Crested Celebes Macaque named “Gabby”. She was very responsive and friendly, often turning her back up to the fence to have her back scratched. Every year I had to dart her to sedate her for her annual examination. This would stress her in the beginning of the procedure but she would eventually just place her hind end up against the fence, like saying “go ahead, get it over with already”. All the primates recognize me as the person who darts them, but “Gabby” was different. She was the only primate in my 30 years here who would forgive me. Always within a couple of days of darting she would be friendly to me again and would present her back for scratching.

“Pandji” was the greatest tiger I have known. He was our male Sumatran tiger who had a medical condition with his esophagus. One of my veterinary technicians at that time actually helped to hand raise him when he was a cub at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. His benign disposition was a great help to us when we were treating him here because at one time he was unconscious for over two days. One of my colleagues, the late Dr. Phil Kau, inserted a jugular catheter into his neck vein and we had him on an IV drip continually, until he woke up. We had to quickly remove the catheter and exit his sleeping quarters. Although he was aware of our presence inside his sleeping quarters, “Pandji” made no aggressive moves towards us. Later it became evident that he had developed a severe problem with his esophagus. Dr. Kau and I diagnosed it as a stricture in his esophagus, deep in his chest, at about the level of his heart. There was nothing else that we could do for him. Another colleague, Dr. Jim Scoggin, referred a human Gastroenterologist, Dr. Bill Hartman to assist us. Dr. Hartman brought down all his own equipment, all his staff, and they treated him surgically, as best they could with human equipment. “Pandji” did okay for about a month, and then he got sick again. Dr. Hartman came down and worked on him again, and again, and again, for several months. As he modified his procedure (there were very few references in the literature to treat this condition) “Pandji” lasted longer before he needed treatment again. Eventually Dr. Hartman’s treatment lasted a year and we would only need to call him in whenever we did “Pandji’s” annual exam. Dr. Hartman saved “Pandji’s” life when veterinarians could do no more for him. Throughout this time of multiple immobilizations “Pandji” was compliant, cooperative, and dignified.

“Apollo” was the greatest lion I have known. Where “Pandji” was compliant and quiet, “Apollo” could be feisty, angry, and very dangerous. “Apollo” was the only animal in my 30 years that I was afraid of. There were several other animals who were also dangerous and worthy of great respect, but unlike other animals, “Apollo” was not dangerous because he was afraid or anxious or stressed. He was dangerous because he meant to be. When he needed to be darted for sedation he was not afraid. He wouldn’t try to run away, no, he would charge me. He would jump up on the fence, roar loudly and bite the chain link, crimping the links with his canine teeth like the fence was made out of plastic. When a full grown male lion does that 2 feet away from your face and you are standing there alone, besides putting your faith in the almighty you put your faith in the chain link fence. As “Apollo” got older and slowly came down with big cat old age problems like cataracts and kidney problems, his attitude, persona, and reaction times slowly changed. He became like a feisty old man in a nursing home, diminished from his youth, but still having regal character inside him.

“Kruger” was the greatest rhino I have known. He was also the biggest rhino I have known, albeit that was because he was overweight. But as huge as he was, and with his massive horn, he was still quiet and gentle. As he got older, we determined that he was having kidney problems. We could not reverse his kidney problems and we were limited as to what we could do to treat him. One of the medications we gave him was supplemental IV fluids. We did not have a containment chute big enough to restrain him. But “Kruger” was so calm and gentle that he would allow me to stick large needles into his ear veins to give the IV fluids. And so without any physical restraint he would line up next to a fence, let me insert the needles, and just stand there for the fluids to flow in, so long as someone kept feeding him apples and produce. We did this multiple times. One time we had at least two IV lines flowing and he stood there for a couple of hours to allow several liters of fluid to go in, all the while happily munching away on apples. “Kruger” also liked to get scratched, he had a soft spot at the base of his neck.

“Kihei Iki” and “Kihei Ha ehu ehu” were two of the most unique animals I have ever cared for. They were two Hawaiian Hoary Bats that we were able to keep alive for 3 and 5 years respectively. As federally listed endangered species, no one can keep Hawaiian bats. But if they are found injured and deemed non-releasable then they were turned over to us for care. I have developed a tremendous interest and respect for all bats, but especially for our Hawaiian Hoary Bat (‘Ope’ape’a). At a bat conservation field workshop in Arizona they cautioned us to always handle hoary bats with leather gloves because they will bite hard. But I have found that Hawaiian Hoary bats are much more gentle and calm. They quickly acclimated to captivity and I could daily feed them mealworms with my bare hands. They also liked to be stroked on top of their heads and would doze off after eating. I was pleased to give testimony in support of Senator Sam Slom’s bill to name the ‘Ope’ape’a as the Official State Land Mammal for Hawaii.

As much as these animals have meant to me, and as much as I have come to respect the people that work here, there was something more that kept me working here. That was my belief in the zoo itself. Soon after I started working here I pondered why the zoo continued to exist, what was its justification. I concluded that its purpose was for conservation education for the children of Hawaii. That was the justification, and because of that the zoo existed, and because of that it justified keeping these exotic animals in captivity, and because of that it justified me being here to take care of them.

Meet Your Board: Eric Ako, Executive Vice President

Dr. Eric Ako has served as the HVMA Executive Vice President since 1987. Over the past 30 years, Eric has grown the HVMA annual conference into a wonderful resource attracting well-known speakers and attendees from all over the world. In serving Hawaii’s local VMA chapter, he has advocated for legislation benefiting and strengthening the veterinary profession and our ability to care for Hawaii’s animals and protect human health.

Eric Ako also opened The Pet Doctor veterinary clinic in Kahala in 1987, where he has treated companion animals with a special interest in avian medicine. Seeing the needs of the smaller outer islands, he extended his veterinary services to Lanai, and offers regular veterinary care including spay/neuter surgeries to Lanai residents several times a month. He also serves as the veterinarian for the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.

Relief Vet Listing

Are you a relief veterinarian offering services on one or more islands in Hawaii? One of the most common inquiries we get is how to find relief veterinarians. Add your name to the relief vet listing so practice owners/ managers can utilize your services. It is free with your HVMA membership and easy to do. Go to  https://hawaiivetmed.org/classifieds/place-ad/ and add your information so people know how to find you! Ads expire every 6 months, so don’t forget to renew them to keep them active.

RVT in Hawaii FAQs

WHAT DOES THIS LAW DO?
This is a title protection law only. Meaning that, as of July 1, 2018, only people who have registered with the state of Hawaii can use the title veterinary technician, vet tech, CVT, LVT, or RVT.

This includes on name tags, websites, business cards, etc. All staff members can perform the same tasks, but in order to use the title “veterinary technician”, he or she must be an RVT in the state of Hawaii.
Visit https://hvta.org/rvt-in-hi-faq/ for more details.

I AM A VETERINARIAN. WHAT DOES THIS LAW MEAN FOR ME?
For eligible employees to grandfather in, you’ll check off skills and hours on the Hawaii Experience Verification form and have it notarized. Eligible employees will need 5 years practical experience in Hawaii to sit for the Vet Tech National Exam.

Your employees can still do all the skills and tasks that they’ve been performing, but until they register in Hawaii, they cannot use the title “vet tech” or “veterinary technician”.

WANT TO HELP YOUR STAFF BECOME RVTs?
Awesome! The VTNE is a challenging exam, and you can help prepare them. Quiz them, ask them to do drug & fluid calculations, include them in your complicated cases, help pay their fees, and encourage them to attend HVTA’s study sessions.
Visit https://hvta.org/study-sessions-vtne-prep/ for more info.

THREE PATHS TO RVT
1. If already credentialed in another state: transfer VTNE scores, send license verification to DCCA.
2. If graduate of an AVMA accredited vet tech program: pass the VTNE with HI as your state.
3. Alternate Path (aka “grandfathering”): available now through July 2021 for on-the-job-trained technicians with 5+ years of experience in Hawaii, need notarized form from veterinarian, pass the VTNE with HI as your state.

For more information, see the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) Vet Tech page.

Sam Geiling, RVT
President, HVTA
Windward Community College
Kaneohe, HI

Meet Your Board: Aleisha Swartz, President-Elect

Dr. Aleisha Swartz graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. After beginning her career in small animal private practice, Aleisha transitioned to shelter medicine in 2010 and since that time has worked with a variety of shelters, rescues, and spay-neuter programs.

Aleisha currently serves as the Outreach Veterinarian with the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine to work with shelters across the country to increase their lifesaving capacity by supporting implementation of best practices, managing outbreaks of infectious disease, and maintaining an online resource library for shelter professionals and the public. She seeks to improve the level of care for animals in shelters and those living in the community.

Despite working for UW, Aleisha is still very happy to call Hawaii home! She enjoys working from home when not traveling and continues to pursue opportunities to make contributions locally on Oahu. Aleisha has volunteered on the board of the HVMA since 2013, serving as an Oahu delegate and Vice President in an effort to give back to the local veterinary community. As the incoming HVMA president, she hopes to find ways to add more value to membership and increase member engagement.

Open Nominations 2018

HVMA Board Member Elections 2018

President-Elect
Vice President
Secretary
Treasurer
Hawaii County Representatives (2)
Maui County Representative (1)
Executive Vice-President

More information about board positions may be found in our bylaws. You may also contact the nominating committee or any current board member if you have further questions.

Please submit your nominations to nominating_committee@hawaiivetmed.org by September 1, 2018.

Elections will be held at 1 pm on Saturday November 10, 2018 during our HVMA 65th Annual Meeting at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel.

In Remembrance of Timothy Lau, DVM


Devoted husband and father and beloved island veterinarian, Dr. Timothy S.Y. Lau, 83, died on March 31, 2018 with his family by his side. Known to many as “Tim” or “Timmy” but known to most as “Dr. Lau”, he was born in Honolulu on August 1, 1934 to Chun Kwong and Pui Lan (Chang) Lau and married his college sweetheart, Violet Lee, in 1957. Dr. Lau attended St. Louis High School and the University of Hawaii earning a B.S. in Animal Husbandry. He brought his multitasking skills with him to Ohio State University earning a Master’s degree in Animal Science while producing twin sons and to Iowa State University earning a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine while producing two daughters.

Kalihi Pet Clinic opened its doors in 1965 at Kalihi Shopping Center. The early years found Dr. Lau holding down two additional jobs. With a heavy dose of caring and compassion, Dr. Lau’s practice grew along with his popularity. After 40 years in Kalihi, Dr. Lau moved his practice to its current location on Beretania Street in Moiliili where it continues to serve the community. Regardless of the location, his clients all remember the jam-packed waiting rooms, how quick and thorough he was, with great stories and a smile tossed in for good measure. He was a man in his element. After fifty years, he finally retired at the age of 80 from his lifelong passion.

Being a veterinarian may have defined much of his life, but he was so much more to those who knew him. Generous and thoughtful, he always had a soft spot for someone in a tight situation or someone just starting out and struggling to make it. Aside from his veterinary practice, his interests included physical fitness, martial arts, volleyball and golf. But his family always came first. He is survived by his beloved wife of 60 years, Violet, his sons, Keith (Jasmin) and Kent (Gwen) Lau, his daughters, Stacey (Ian) Zwicker and Allison (Ryan) Mau, four grandchildren, Taylor, Morgan and Ian Welsh and Jared Lau, and siblings Merton (Claire), Lester (Gloria) and LaVay Lau.

Funeral service will be held on Monday May 14, 2018 at 5 pm at Diamond Head Mortuary Chapel 535 18th Ave Honolulu. Viewing from 3:00 pm until the time of service. Private burial. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Hawaiian Humane Society. Arrangements Provided By: Diamond Head Mortuary

Hawaii Pet Expo May 12-13, 2018

Volunteers Needed!

The Hawaii Pet Expo is sponsored and organized by the HVMA and will be held from May 12-13th this year. It has been an annual event for over 25 years and is FREE and well received by the public, with an average of 10,000 people attending each year.  The purpose of the Expo is to promote responsible pet ownership and strengthen the bond between people and their pets through educational displays, live animal demonstrations, and the latest in pet services and products.  The HVMA is looking for veterinarians who will promote our profession in a positive manner and educate the public on the need for professional veterinary care. If you are willing to volunteer your time to promote our profession and interact with the public, please sign up!

  • HVMA Booth: Veterinarians will be on site to guide visitors through our booth featuring The Year of the Dog, as well as answer questions from the public.
  • Make and Take (Kiddie Craft) Booth:  Assist kids and their parents with making finger puppets and other paper crafts to take home.  Keep booth clean and organized.
  • Greeters:  Pass out programs and poop bags at the door.  Help to direct traffic in and out of the Exhibition hall.  Smile and welcome people.
  • Information Booth:  Help direct people to exhibits, answer questions, make announcements, store lost and found items, collect food and monetary donations for the Hawaii Food Bank, prep poop bags, run errands, coordinate volunteers, and help clean up pet messes that are reported or seen.
  • Show Marshals:  The “Poop Patrol”.  Patrol Exhibition Hall and grounds outside, picking up pet messes.  Empty overflowing trash and cigarette bins outside hall and transfer to dumpster in back.  The good thing about show marshaling is that you get to walk around the hall and check out all the exhibits, although you are supposed to be working, not shopping during your shift!  We always need a lot of show marshals.

Click here to sign up online.

Saturday and Sunday the shifts are as follows:  9:30-12:00 am, 11:30 to 2:00 pm, and 1:30 to 4:00 pm. Please indicate your t-shirt size (M, L, or XL) at sign up to receive a  Pet Expo t-shirt. Name tags will be provided. Vets are encouraged to wear lab coats or smocks to identify themselves as veterinary professionals.

 

Volunteers should sign up online or by calling Ohana Vet Hospital at 845-1762. Paper sign up sheets may be faxed to 848-1632.

Happy New Year 2018

Aloha HVMA Members,

Hau’oli makahiki hou! We are glad you are a part of our veterinary community here in Hawaii. Membership registration is open, so please renew your membership at https://hawaiivetmed.org/membership/

Your HVMA membership allows us to help support you in your professional life. We seek to keep you informed on current events and provide legislative advocacy on issues pertinent to veterinarians in Hawaii. We provide members-only online content including classified ads, job postings, relief vet listings, and an online directory of member clinics. At our annual local conference, we bring in top-notch speakers and offer discounted registration to all current members. Through our organization, you will find networking, volunteer, and leadership opportunities.

Please let any of your new colleagues know that 2017 DVM graduates qualify for reduced membership dues ($50) in 2018, and 2018 DVM graduates receive complimentary HVMA membership in 2018. You do not need to be an AVMA member to be apply for HVMA membership, and if anyone needs help finding sponsors, just contact us. Please also notify us if you have reached the golden age of 65 and have 20+ years paid dues to qualify for Life Member status (membership dues waived).

We enjoyed seeing so many of you at our conference this past October, and hope to see many more at our 65th Annual Conference from November 8-11, 2018. Save the date!

As we continue to work to make the HVMA more accessible and relevant to its membership, please bear with us through the changes as we move to digital communications, and send us any feedback, suggestions, or interest in volunteering at contact@hawaiivetmed.org.

With warm aloha on behalf of your HVMA Board,

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM