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Animal Farm

Feb. 1, 2000
When patients book an appointment in Fresno, Calif., apparently the hip thing to do - if they love animals - is to ask for the Dalmatian Lady. If you`re manning the desk while the regulars are out to lunch or sick, the clues are pretty obvious.

Are hygienists fond of their pets? We guess so.

When patients book an appointment in Fresno, Calif., apparently the hip thing to do - if they love animals - is to ask for the Dalmatian Lady. If you`re manning the desk while the regulars are out to lunch or sick, the clues are pretty obvious.

"I have their photos hanging in my operatory, and they make a great conversation piece. Quite often, patients request the `Dalmatian Lady` when booking their appointment," said Carrie Harwood-Sager.

Harwood-Sager has three Dalmatians. "Sometimes that can be two too many! But we love them and have photographed them numerous times."

She`s not alone in happily photographing pets. RDH has received many photographs from readers who coaxed the nonhuman members of the family to pose. The odd exception was there were no cats in the photographs submitted to the magazine.

By the way, although we wouldn`t be overly surprised to find a videotape of 101 Dalmatians in her home, Harwood-Sager, who has practiced for seven years in the Fresno area, pursues other adventures that arouse a patient`s curiosity. For example, she is painting a mural of a tropical rain forest on a wall in her home. The mural is likely a memory from her pasttime of traveling, which includes her recent wedding to her husband, Scott, on Rarotonga - one of the Cook Islands.

Other dog lovers pictured in this issue include:

- Tracy Lee Laber of Peru, Ind., poses with Charlie, her four-year-old Yorkshire Terrier.

- Melissa Carter of Garden City, Ga., poses with Casey.

- Amy Stritikus of Nashville, Tenn., poses with Gracie, a Golden Retriever puppy.

- Teri Ann Wilson of Virginia Beach, Va., poses with her husband and one of two dogs in the family.

Laber tells an interesting story about the house that Charlie is poking his head out of in the photograph. She writes, "These pictures were taken in early September at my parents` 160-acre nature preserve near Rockfield, Indiana. The preserve includes several buildings and an old timber frame house built in the early 1800s. We enjoy walking the trails here, going through the historic house, picking wildflowers, and hunting sponge mushrooms."

Laber is a recent addition to the profession. She worked as a cosmetologist in Texas for a few years before moving to Indiana. After a brief stint as a dental assistant, she enrolled in dental hygiene school, which required a commute of 140 miles a day to South Bend. Licensed for a year now, she works out of two offices and substitutes on Fridays.

"Substituting gives me the opportunity to grow socially and build a great rapport with the dentists," she said.

Stritikus, who is married to a pediatric dentist, wrote, "When I`m not cleaning teeth, I like to spend my days off with Gracie, my five-month-old Golden Retriever. Since we both love the outdoors and exercising, we make great companions."

Wilson did not bother to identify the breed or names of her dogs, probably because she wanted to write RDH about another member of her family (which includes a young daughter, Madison).

Wilson wrote, "I am currently working in a large office with three dentists and a staff of 20. Included in that 20 is the person responsible for my choosing dental hygiene as a career - my mother. She has been working in the same office as a dental assistant for 12 years. I love going to work every morning and knowing my best friend is waiting there for me."

Going for a ride

Although it should not be any great surprise that hygienists are fond of horses, RDH just hasn`t received many letters and photographs from equestrians - until this year.

Martha Cox of Webberville, Mich., has discovered that dental hygiene and horses complement each other perfectly. She wrote, "The smile on my face is a result of the flexibility my job offers. I show my horses in the summer and, therefore, travel quite often. The ease with which it takes to find a temporary (hygienist) - combined with the flexibility of my employer - are two factors that enable me to participate in my summer sport to the degree that I do. I would be unable to show these magnificent animals pictured here if it weren`t for the wonderful world of hygiene."

Cox offers the perspective of someone who knows the difference. A 1989 dental hygiene graduate from the University of Michigan, she briefly left the profession to try nursing.

"I made the mistake of leaving hygiene once and soon found myself disillusioned and unhappy," Cox said. "Now that I`m back, I plan never to leave again! You see, when one is happy on the inside, it cannot help but show on the outside. True happiness enables me to put more into my job, and it shows in the rapport I strive to establish with each patient."

RDH believes Cox. Although we also believe in the idyllic lifestyle of our next equestrian, Corinne Evans Opeka, we have to admit we`re a little envious.

"We own a 40-acre farm in Nottingham Township in Pennsylvania," Opeka wrote. "On our farm, we have fruit orchards, flowers, vegetable gardens, a large fishing pond, and horses. I enjoy gardening, fishing, and running, but my favorite hobby is horseback riding."

A 1986 graduate from West Liberty State College in West Virginia, Opeka said she has been riding horses since she was three years old. She owns the white Arabian featured in the photograph.

Lori Weekley, a hygienist in Brandon, Miss., for three years, sent RDH a photograph of "my old buddy, Skip." As is the case with Opeka and Cox, Weekley credits the profession for the flexibility provided to enjoy horseback riding. But she and Skip give something back to health care.

"Skip and I occasionally volunteer rides for unfortunate children, such as ones who suffer from cancer or other debilitating diseases."

A breed apart

Our assumption here is that it`s quite illegal to have a koala bear for a pet. So any implication that that`s Karen Woodruff`s pet is not intentional. But we thought it was a cute photo, and we were touched by the letter she wrote to RDH.

It was a handwritten letter, and she spent the first two pages explaining why she`s wildly in love with Oregon ("snowboarding high in the Cascades," and "windsurfing on the mighty Columbia," for example). We discover that she`s a 1981 grad of Mount Hood Community College and works five days a week.

Then she writes, "After practicing several years, I lost my older sister, a registered nurse and mother of two, from a cancerous brain tumor when she was only 29 years old. Besides the heartache and trauma of losing a loved one, I also realize that life is just too short not to do the things we love doing."

Well said. Afterwards, apparently, the "international travel bug" bit her. Her itinerary (handwritten, remember, on notebook paper) included descriptions of destinations such as Greece, England, Tibet, India, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia. We presume she became friends with the koala bear at the latter stop.

The dolphin, too, is not an actual pet. Mary McAvoy sent us the photograph of the close encounter with a dolphin in the waters off Cozumel last summer.

McAvoy is a Philadelphia resident and a 1968 graduate of Temple University`s School of Dental Hygiene. She wrote, "I have been satisfying my love for travel throughout my career, thanks to paid vacation days." She has been on nine cruises, as well as driving tours throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The parrot, however, is a pet. Scarlett resides in the Gena household in Boca Raton, Fla. Donna Gena is a six-year veteran who said dental hygiene has "allowed me to take care of my son (Dustin) on my own."

Gena continues, "My son and I live a very healthy and busy lifestyle. The beach is less than a mile from our home. We were fortunate to see John Glenn go up in the shuttle at Cape Canaveral. My son was in awe. We visit the Keys quite often and have seen some of the most beautful sunsets ever."

RDH thanks these readers for giving us a glimpse of their personal lives. Next month, we`ll share some letters and photographs from readers whom we found to be particularly inspirational.

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Carrie Harwood-Sager

A hygienist`s best friend

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Tracy Lee Laber

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Teri Ann Wilson

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Melissa Carter

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Amy Stritikus

Time to ride

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Corinne Evans Opeka

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Lori Weekley

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Martha Cox

A breed apart

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Mary McAvoy

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Karen Woodruff

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Donna Gena