A whole different animal

After several life-changing events, John Slaughter left the dog-eat-dog world of finance to find more meaningful work as a vet

May 13, 2008|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,Sun reporter

Five years ago, John Slaughter had his fingers on the pulse of the stock market.

One day last week, the one-time stockbroker's fingers were: inside the ear of a rambunctious retriever in Glen Burnie; seeking a vein on the leg of an aging beagle mix downtown; and wrapped around the giant muzzle of a Great Dane in Hampden.

For Slaughter, the path from workaholic investment counselor to house-call veterinarian was prompted by a series of defining moments -- some that came in blinding flashes, as when he shot and killed an intruder in his rowhouse in 1993, some that seeped in more slowly, as with the knowledge gained during his trips to Africa.

In 2001, he faced another round of those moments: first, the collapse of the World Trade Center, which took with it the headquarters of the investment firm he worked for, Morgan Stanley. Then, amid the surfacing of corporate scandals, came the dawning realization that his priorities needed changing, chief among them his choice of career.

"I couldn't take it anymore," said Slaughter, a vice president for Morgan Stanley when he quit. "I wanted to go back to a little more loving profession."

Three years later, Slaughter -- son of John Slaughter, the first black chancellor of the University of Maryland -- fulfilled his deferred childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian.

He's Dr. Slaughter now -- connecting with a new breed of clients, and in a far deeper, more human way.

"I was a hard-charging businessman -- quick, quick, quick ... in and out ... `Ten thousand shares of AOL? OK. No problem.' You know, a typical stockbroker," Slaughter, 48, said as he readied for a road trip this month. "Now I go in. We sit down. We have some tea. We talk about their dog. It's not all rush, rush, rush."

Slaughter, who works three days a week for the Banfield Animal Hospital in a Bowie PetSmart store, devotes the rest of his time to his private practice -- one based entirely on house calls.

His first stop on the road trip was Glen Burnie. His medical bag in hand and a 50-pound bag of prescription dog food slung over his shoulder, Slaughter was met by King, a portly retriever mix due for a semiannual wellness check.

King's owner, a widower whose medical problems keep him from driving, is just the kind of client Slaughter and an increasing number of mobile vets are looking to serve.

"I don't know if it's a trend. They've always been there. But now there's a recognition of the market -- pet owners who don't want to wait for an appointment and are willing to pay for someone to come to them."

The demand is likely to increase, as schedules become tighter, baby boomers become senior citizens and people become ever closer to their pets.

"Pets have become as important to some people as child X, especially when child X has moved away from home," Slaughter said.

He gave King a heartworm pill, a flea-and-tick treatment, treated an ear infection and cautioned his owner to stop giving him treats.

A sound, a shot

Seconds after Slaughter shot and killed an intruder in his Ridgely's Delight rowhouse in 1993, his phone rang. It was a client, seeking advice on her portfolio.

"I can't speak now, I just killed a man," he told her.

As described in his book, Brother in the Bush, published in 2005, Slaughter -- whose house had been burglarized about a month earlier -- was working in his study on the third floor when he heard a knock on his door. He ignored it.

Then he heard glass shatter. He ran down a flight of stairs, grabbing his shotgun. He had purchased it for hunting, but, living downtown, he kept it loaded and handy. He waited at the top of the stairs. When a man appeared, holding something shiny in his hand, Slaughter fired.

After the shooting, Slaughter began getting knocks on his door. Some wanted to congratulate him. He was "slapped on the back as if I'd just hit a home run," he wrote. There were threatening phone calls, as well: "Bang, bang, you're dead," one said. There were suggestions he run for office or serve as a sort of anti-crime mascot.

"I didn't want to be the `vigilante stockbroker,' " he said. "I found myself really learning about what was important. Once you see that life can change that quickly, in 30 seconds, you stop taking things for granted."

For years after the shooting, Slaughter had trouble sleeping. He sought therapy. His income dropped by half. He packed a pistol everywhere he went.

Police, after investigating, decided no charges would be filed, but Slaughter wonders whether the outcome would have been different had the black burglar's white partner been the one he shot.

Building a business

Slaughter weighed 230.2 with Tippy, 187.4 without her, making the beagle-mix 42.8 pounds.

Slowly building his mobile practice, he has bought some equipment -- such as a portable ultrasound machine -- but still relies on a human scale, client in his arms, to weigh animals.

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