Tina Roggenbeck diagnoses an injured cat found by Len Revard of Saginaw at her Veterinary Health Clinic in Saginaw on Friday. Roggenbeck began a rescue organization called 'Angels Among Us, Inc.', a charitable arm of her clinic. (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
Saginaw— In 1992, when the local department store that Tina Roggenbeck had worked at for 19 years unexpectedly went out of business, she realized she didn’t have a college education, any skills outside retail or a plan for her future.
“It was devastating to her,” said her husband, Charlie Roggenbeck. “She came home and said, ‘What am I going to do now?’ ”
That’s when Tina Roggenbeck decided to start from scratch and fall back on her passion for helping animals.
“I decided to go back to school to become a veterinarian,” said Roggenbeck. “Even though it had always been in my mind, I thought at my age, 36 years old, it was silly thing to try to do.”
After nine years of schooling and 11 years working as an associate at a vet’s office, the Saginaw veterinarian purchased her own office. Now, Roggenbeck is one of 20 finalists for the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s “America’s Favorite Veterinarian” contest.
According to the foundation’s website, the contest “strives to spotlight veterinarians’ pivotal role in society as medical professionals in research labs, in public health and agriculture, and in government services and academia.”
Roggenbeck, now 58, said she was shocked to learn she was a finalist, chosen out of 700 nominees.
“I’m an ordinary person surrounded by extraordinary people who share my passion,” said Roggenbeck. “I’m still waiting for somebody to pinch me and wake me up.”
Roggenbeck and her husband of 36 years, a retired AT&T construction director and fellow animal lover, co-own the Veterinary Health Center clinic at 305 N. Center Road in Saginaw. They’ve also founded Angels Among Us Inc., a nonprofit for which Roggenbeck and the staff at the clinic provide their skills free and help defray the costs of medicine and medical supplies for people who bring in injured stray animals.
Part of that is a trap-neuter-release program that is helping to deal with the overwhelming feral cat population in Saginaw. Since October 2013, the program has sterilized 367 cats.
“There’s not a lot of growth in this area right now, and there are a lot of colony caregivers,” said Roggenbeck. “I want to be able to do something for these people.”
Shared love for animals
The Roggenbecks live on a farm in Bridgeport with their two horses, four German shepherds and 23 — soon to be 24 — cats. The orange and white office tabby, Dylan, needs extra care and will be coming home with them soon. Every animal is a rescue and every animal has a story.
Like Knickers the race horse.
When Roggenbeck was doing an externship at a equestrian clinic while in vet school, her husband was very clear with her.
“I told her when she went to do the program, don’t come home with a horse,” said Charlie Roggenbeck.
But then Knickers came in. Her handlers had given her a vitamin slurry before racing but had put it down her windpipe instead of her esophagus. She aspirated and got pneumonia.
The vet said she should be put down, but Roggenbeck begged to work on the horse, offering to pay for the horse’s medicine and expenses with her husband’s checkbook.
“The chances of her living were not good, but she lived,” said Roggenbeck. “I came home with a horse.”
It’s all part of a belief that both Roggenbecks have, and the reason their partnership both in marriage and in business has been so successful.
“It’s a shared love,” said Charlie Roggenbeck. “We both subscribe to the belief that animals are creatures of God and need that respect.”
On Thursday, Len Revard of Merrill came to Roggenbeck’s office with a year-old cat he had found hiding under his car. He noticed the cat’s pelvis jutted, and he couldn’t walk at all.
“I had to do something,” said Revard, who decided to call the cat “Cabrera” after Detroit Tigers player Miguel Cabrera. “I couldn’t just leave him.”
It’s a philosophy that matches Roggenbeck’s own. She gave the cat X-rays and discovered he was hit by a car, breaking a leg bone so close to his hip, it’s displacing his pelvis and preventing him from being able to move or hunt for food. She recommends amputating the leg. Revard says he’s already fallen in love with “Cabby” and will keep him after the surgery.
Cabrera’s surgery will be paid for from the Angels Among Us Inc. foundation, because he is a stray. The cat, as though realizing he got lucky, purrs constantly and lovingly head butts Revard and the rest of the staffers at the office.
“He is so grateful,” Roggenbeck said to Revard. “He came to you for a reason.”
Revard, who has three other cats, says he was caught off guard by the level of compassion at the Roggenbecks’ clinic.
“I’ve never been to a vet’s office where today’s experience has happened,” he said. “A vet tech, Lori, gave me a hug and thanked me for saving him.”
Roggenbeck has had to learn to balance her desire to help all animals with the need to keep a business running. She says that is due in a large part to her husband.
“He handles the business side and lets me do what I need to do,” she said. “I was blessed with a second chance and there are a lot of animals out there that need a second chance. If I can give that, then that’s all I want to do.”