Dr. Marlena Jan- Staff Feature
Dr. Marlena Jan loves living in Santa Rosa because it reminds her of growing up in a small village in southwestern France.
“I love it here and don’t want to live anywhere else.” She hunts for culinary mushrooms in the forests here, just like she did growing up in French wine country. Dr. Jan signed up for a local mushroom foraging class when she first moved to Santa Rosa. Her ever curious mind wanted to explore her new surroundings. “Now I know how to find so many more varieties than I did growing up, like matsutake, black trumpets, candy caps, hedgehog, chanterelles and so many more.” Her vibrant curiosity also led her on the winding path to her forever dream job of being a vet, and her childhood fascination with living in the US.
Dr. Jan’s first experience with a pet was with her childhood Boxer Brick. “He was the most loving dog. I could do whatever I wanted to him: pull on his ears or tail. He would have fallen off a cliff for me.” Although her parents had a large yard that they could play in, there weren’t many wild animals around. Only when she moved to Seattle, Washington for her IT job did she first interact with wild creatures. At the time, her daily life involved managing a company’s relationship with Microsoft, which meant writing white papers, testing terminal servers and computer configurations. “It got boring,” she recalls, so she decided to volunteer at a wildlife rehab facility.
There she cared for wild sea birds, bears, raccoons, squirrels, and hummingbirds. Dr. Jan mucked out their enclosures, fixed broken wings, and fed the recovering animals. During this volunteer experience, she took care of a tiny squirrel that sparked her aha moment. “The first time I fed the baby squirrel, she latched onto the syringe of milk and started nursing. Then I realized I’d always wanted to be a vet.” Dr. Jan decided to completely change careers. She was in her early 30s, with an MBA degree and a stable tech job. But she went back to vet school to follow her heart. “I have no regrets.”
In preparation for her career change, she took the required three years of prerequisites like organic chemistry. By the time Dr. Jan entered vet school in 2005, she was committed and ready. “Going back to school as an adult was very different,” she explained, “the motivation is fully there.” Although vet school was grueling, it was fascinating for Dr. Jan. She worked at the intensive care unit at the university where she helped with all the treatments and administered medicine. One snowy winter’s day in 2008, a fellow student found a kitten lost out in the cold. Dr. Jan kept the kitten in her lab coat pocket as she did her internal medicine rounds. “She was meowing and interacting with everyone, she was super tiny.” Meet Chamade the cat. Chamade means racing or pounding, like that of a heartbeat. And the two have been companions ever since.
The advice she gives to all pet parents is to make sure to have health insurance for their pet. “This site is great to compare plans.” Dr. Jan also recommends yearly wellness visits for each pet. For folks who have exotic or pocket pets, she advises folks to learn about their pets’ particular care needs (feeding, temperature, humidity etc.) here. “Most of the issues in these species come from husbandry mistakes,” she explains.
Dr. Jan dotes on her two cats, Chamade and Chatouille (which means ‘tickle’ in French). Chatouille, adopted from the ASPCA, is the classic “dog in a cat’s body” and is always at the door when Dr. Jan comes home. Chamade, on the other hand, is a classic cat’s cat. “She’s very independent and a great cuddler when she decides to be.”
Before Covid, Dr. Jan joined an ecstatic dancing group every Sunday morning in the park. The group can still meet up, just in a more spatially distant format now. Two years ago, she found ecstatic dance and got “totally hooked.” She loves dancing and building community. When Covid restrictions ease, Dr. Jan would like to start learning ballroom dance. She also relishes hiking, even when it's not for the purpose of mushroom foraging. Her dream is to one day hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Dr. Jan usually visits her family in France every year or every other year too.
Of course, we wanted to know if she prefers French wine over California’s wine offerings. “I still prefer French wine but Zinfandel is delicious here in Northern California.” Dark chocolate is her favorite treat, “I’m eating Valrhona right now,” she laughed.
Dr. Jan is artfully weaving together a life that nourishes her. Her effervescence and passion for her career and interests is an invigorating addition to our Santa Rosa Veterinary Hospital family. Bienvenue and welcome Dr. Jan!
Written by Roxanne Darrow - 4/7/21