Faculty Spotlight: Marcella Ridgway, VMD, MS, DACVIM (SAIM)

May 17, 2019 / Practitioner Updates

Tell us about your background

[Dr. Marcella Ridgway]I’m originally from Pennsylvania, specifically a somewhat rural area near Sewickley, a small town near Pittsburgh that is very much like a slightly larger version of Monticello, Ill. I grew up with German shepherds and horses and knew from early childhood that I wanted to be a veterinarian; I had a large collection of stuffed toy animals to which I ministered before maturing to work with the real thing!

After completing an undergraduate program at the Pennsylvania State University and veterinary training at the University of Pennsylvania (a.k.a. “Not Penn State”; and yes, I am a VMD, not a DVM!), I came to Illinois for a small animal rotating internship at the University of Illinois. I stayed to complete a small animal internal medicine residency. And I have remained in Illinois since, first in private practice for 10 years, then returning to the University of Illinois as a faculty member.

How did you become interested in internal medicine?

I have always found all of veterinary medicine to be interesting, and it was very difficult for me to decide on one specialty focus. I actually went to vet school intending to work with horses then, while at Penn, was drawn to pathology, ruminant medicine, and small animal surgery. I pursued a small animal internship with a vision for specializing in surgery but ultimately chose small animal internal medicine.

I was attracted to this field by the diversity and complexity of the cases (every day a different medical adventure), the integral applications of physiology and pathology in our work, and, to a great extent, the enduring relationships with the dogs and cats and their owners that are established in the course of treating often-chronic medical conditions.

What are your special interests?

Within the specialty of small animal internal medicine, I have particular interests in liver and infectious diseases and in special health needs of working and performance dogs.

I also have a number of interests outside of veterinary medicine. I am a search-and-rescue K-9 handler in the discipline of trailing and currently work two dogs, the experienced K-9 Lindy and the novice K-9 Bing.

My dogs and I also train in obedience and agility and compete in obedience, most notably Rally obedience, in which we have achieved national rankings every year we have competed. I am active in shelter dog rescue, participating in networking, evaluation, transport, fostering, training, and placement of dogs needing homes, especially border collies/border collie mixes.

All of my own dogs have been rescue dogs. I am also active in prairie conservation and am the steward of a local seven-acre prairie restoration in Savoy, Ill.

You’ve been at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for several years:  tell us about a favorite case of yours.

Several years, yes! 26!

I don’t like the idea of “favorites” when thinking about cases – we are all so dedicated to providing exceptional care to all our patients. There are, of course, some that stand out as especially memorable cases but, over “several years,” there have been so many patients and people highlighting my career, I wouldn’t want to pick.

I will say that, generally, the most memorable and meaningful cases are those where the patient, the family, and the veterinary caregivers have worked diligently together as a team, pitching our efforts against a serious medical problem. Sometimes we have won, sometimes not, but we have come away knowing we have given everything to achieve the best possible outcome and with a connectedness born only of shared devotion, struggle, and resolve.

If I am pressed to pick just one case, I will have to pick my own dog, Bing, who became critically ill at the end of 2018. With fervent dedicated support of the veterinarians, technicians, and students here, he fought through what often seemed hopeless conditions to gradually recover, never losing his sweet cooperative demeanor or his obvious appreciation for all involved in his care. I guess it all works out, because I think he would “pick” me, too!

You have a great pull towards opening your home to dogs, particularly those black in color. What draws you towards these pets?

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until my third dog that I recognized that I had a “type” – medium to large black dogs with medium-long hair and some feathering, an appearance referred to around here as a “Ridgway dog.”

I am really not sure what in particular it is about them that draws me, but clearly something does. I am pretty consistent; often, people ask if my dogs are littermates or related. (They are not – they all come from different shelters in different years, related only in the sense that they are dogs.) Few people can readily tell my dogs apart from each other, which I find surprising since they seem so different to me.

Once, another rescuer came to my home to pick up a dog being transported to an out-of-town foster, saw my dogs, and exclaimed, “You’re running your own black dog rescue!” I guess I am.

The strongest pull as far as the dogs I take in is a dog needing to be saved, that needs to find a place to go…or else. I believe myself to be particularly good with helping shy/fearful dogs – these dogs are often not attractive to potential adopters but I see in them a wealth of potential happiness. More recently, I am also routinely drawn to black-and-white border collies – I joke that they are the ‘accent pieces’ in my black dog pack.