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Dr. Debby Moss Hoffman Berry: Healing the Animals

Checking in with New Trier alumni before the 40th year reunion in September.

After high school graduation, New Trier West alum Debby Moss Hoffman Berry entered University of Illinois as a Japanese major. She had spent her senior year in Japan as a Rotary exchange student.

The problem was, she had become fluent in the language so it took her only two years to complete the major.

Debby’s childhood dream was quite different: She wanted to become a veterinarian.

Earlier: Read more "You Did WHAT?" alumni profiles.

“Being a vet is just something that I absolutely always wanted to do but never actually thought I would,” Debby said.

But Debby switched gears and reconsidered her future. She decided to pursue veterinary school. A job in a vet’s office sealed the deal.

“I loved the science classes, who knew?” Debby said. “I really enjoyed learning a different way of studying.”

However, before starting her career, Debby needed to do one thing. “I just really like L.A.,” she said. “I moved out here about three minutes after graduation, it was May 20, 1979.”

Los Angeles has proven to be a very good place for Debby. She celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary and has two grown daughters. She also is the owner/veterinarian of a thriving animal hospital, Tarzana Pet Clinic. It has been a growing project for many years, and Debby said it has finally been completed.

“We’ve hopefully built our final building, unless there’s an earthquake,” Debby said. “I love everything about being a vet. I love the patients. I have a wonderful staff. I love my clients (most of them). And we have a beautiful facility. It’s just the most enjoyable thing to do with your day.”

Debby has one other full-time vet working at the clinic and another who works part-time.

“I know how to be a better boss,” she said. “I’m much more comfortable with being a vet and, at this point, I’m comfortable with the niche we’ve developed.”

Being a new vet is not unlike being a new doctor. You are the one who has to cover the emergencies that happen outside regular office hours. “When I first started, we would take emergencies almost every other night, getting phone calls all during the night and every other weekend.”

Along the way, Debby encountered some unusual patients, mostly those of an animal trainer for motion pictures and commercials. 

“We worked with chimps; we worked with orangutans; we would do health checks on giraffes. It sounds a lot more fuzzy than it actually is. It’s enough to know dogs and cats and pocket pets. But I really don’t know giraffe diseases and I don’t do birds at all.”

For all the joy and satisfaction of healing animals, there is a darker side to the job. “The hardest part is handling people’s grief when we have to put an animal to sleep. Most of us own a lot of animals throughout our life. We just got our 12th dog since I was an adult, and English bulldog, our fourth bulldog.”

Looking at her career choices, Debby is satisfied. “Pretty much, when I was 12 and envisioned being an adult, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. I feel unbelievably lucky. Other people work hard all their life and it is still not their passion.”

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