In Search Of Self

Julie Porter writes about J. Brooks Slaughter II’s contribution to the veterinary field beyond the regular call of duty.

J. Brooks Slaughter II, DVM

All photos courtesy of Dr. Slaughter

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, were a turning point for America, and for thousands of Americans. J. Brooks Slaughter II, DVM, was one of them.

Dr. Slaughter watched from his Lutherville, Md., office as the World Trade Center in New York City was targeted by terrorists who brought down the corporate headquarters of financial services firm Morgan Stanley, where he was a securities principal and first vice president.

“I had, in a 15-year career, achieved a lofty perch in the industry,” he writes on his website. But the attacks “made me realize it was time for a more loving way to make a living.”

“I saw the buildings collapse while watching CNBC,” he says. “Glued to the station, which appeared in a corner on my computer monitor, I immediately started calling clients. I needed to inform them of the news, and assuage any fears that their assets would disappear.   I was managing over $20 million.

“On the other line was a long-term client who expressed dismay and anger that I was unable to process her mortgage paperwork due to the collapse the towers. I realized it was the beginning of the end for my love of the securities industry.”

And so it was back to veterinary medicine for Slaughter, and another interesting turn in his life path.

Slaughter began his undergraduate studies at University of Maryland College Park, and transferred to Tuskegee Institute during his junior year. When he graduated, he didn’t want to practice veterinary medicine. Instead he saw his role as a scientist, and accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at Michigan State University in comparative cardiovascular pathology.

After his fellowship, he began work on a Ph.D. in comparative pathology at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Slaughter, whose father was the first African-American chancellor of the University of Maryland, was married, teaching anatomy and physiology to nursing students, and taking graduate courses. Eventually,  his professor lost grant funding, he started a business marketing to and educating clients on the importance of investment and money management,” he writes at his site. 

But as he climbed the corporate ladder at First Union Securities, now Wachovia Securities, and Morgan Stanley, he began to think back.

“I missed veterinary medicine tremendously,” he says. Then the Sept. 11 attacks  changed his world. The attacks and subsequent confusion in America “told me I had enough. I needed a simpler, less dramatic lifestyle and profession.”

He left the brokerage industry, moved to a farmhouse in Hagerstown, Md., and worked to complete his book “Brother in the Bush.” Published by Agate Bolden in 2005, it recounts his struggle to find peace after fatally shooting a drug-addicted intruder in his Baltimore row house. It also chronicles his travels, including trips to Africa and Europe, in 15 “galleries” of his photos.

His work as a skilled documentary photographer can also be seen at his Brooks Photography website.

The book got its start in 1998, when he accompanied wildlife photographer Boyd Norton on a month-long safari to Kenya and Tanzania, which became “the adventure that changed my life.” Norton suggested that Slaughter could combine his knowledge of animals and photography to lead his own safaris via Brooks Photography.

The trip altered his views of the continent, and of himself. For years, he had based much of his own self-image on historians’ views of Africa, or notions about Africa gleaned from television and movies. He wanted to see Africa for himself “and form my own opinions,” he said.

“I thought I was going to Africa for the animals,” he wrote in the book, “but it was the people who changed my life.”

“It’s easy to paint a mental picture of a continent based on news and headlines that conform to political and corporate agendas,” he says. “For me, one of many life-affirming experiences occurred in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. There I watched three Maasai warrior herdsman walk their dozens of goats down from the lip of the crater to graze on the lush grass below. Set on photographing these part-time warriors wielding spears, I pointed to my camera, requesting permission as I walked up to greet them. 

“After dancing around them with my Leica camera for five minutes, searching for the right angle in the harsh sunlight, the man in the center gestured to me to come closer and asked, `So where are you from?’ Stunned into silence that he spoke perfect English, I blurted, `America.’ To which he responded, `Yeah, that I know … where in America are you from?’

" ‘Baltimore, near Washington, D.C.,’ I stammered.  ‘D.C.,’ the man wearing a shuka, the red and black robe of the warrior tribe, thoughtfully replied. ‘I haven't been to D.C. since the ’70s.’ For 10 minutes, with my mouth open, I stood learning from a man who had earned a Ph.D. from Oxford University in philosophy.”

Slaughter dedicated the book to his great-grandfather, who was a slave. Of the trip, he wrote: “I left America with the baggage of a black man and returned … a man.”

As Slaughter worked to complete the book, a friend suggested that he return to veterinary medicine. Studying as many as 10 hours a day, he “took three years to relearn veterinary medicine, from the bottom up,” he writes at his website.

He took a management position with Banfield, The Pet Hospital, opened its Largo, Md., branch and managed the Alexandria location becoming a student of sorts–learning the business side of veterinary medicine.

He listened to clients’ needs and realized the value of client-friendly hours. He saw that pet “parents” want to be educated as to how to keep pets well, and how to make the best financial decisions when pets need care.

He was back in the saddle, and opened his own Baltimore practice, Camden-Inner Harbor Veterinary Services in Baltimore  while still helping out at a busy area Banfield location.

Additionally, he’s using his photography skills in another new venture: teaching veterinarians how to incorporate digital photography in their veterinary practices, via an online course at the Veterinary Information Network. More than 150 veterinarians, worldwide, signed up for the first course, he said.

“What we learned from a class this size is that attendees come with a wide breath of knowledge, and that for future offerings we should to break the course into two sections: beginning/intermediate and advanced.”

“In a recent VIN conference call, we decided how to organize the two courses for the spring/summer with multiple instructors to provide more one-one-one 'hands-on' interactive training,” he said. “We will be discussing exam room, treatment room, surgical, radiographic and microscopic photography. Camera basics and archiving, storage and preparing images for magazine and presentations will be covered.”

His current veterinary practice is client-friendly. Slaughter makes house calls and meets with new clients at their homes to develop a wellness plan. He believes that clients are pressed for time, and that veterinary professionals need to respond.

“I concentrate on seniors with geriatric pets, city dwellers who prefer not to drive and pet parents with multiple pets who see traveling and waiting in a busy hospital a daunting challenge,” he says. “Many Baltimore-area practitioners and emergency hospitals have me on their speed dial for compassionate at-home euthanasia.

“In the next few years, I envision certified veterinary pet practitioners will travel to vaccinate, triage, photograph and image pets in clients’ homes. Veterinarians working remotely will direct in-home diagnostics and, if necessary, refer these pets and their owners to specialists or 24-hour urgent care facilities.”

On a recent day, he went to the home of an older pet owner and set out a wellness plan for the client’s overweight Labrador – exam, dental cleaning, weight control. The owner, who had found it difficult to bring the dog for vet visits, was significantly appreciative.  “He told me, `No one has ever come to me with a plan before,’ ” Slaughter said.

He acknowledges that the road here hasn’t been conventional. “My life, in particular my life post-medical school, has been all about risk-taking and accepting challenges,” he said. Any regrets or choices he’d rethink?

“No, not at all,” he said. “Deepak Chopra shares: `If life can be a series of perpetual surprises, that’s the most joyful experience you can have.’ ”


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