Climbing the ladder Dr. Lana Watler, DVM

Likely the first thing one notices when entering Dr. Lana Watler’s Cayman Animal Hospital on Old Crewe Road is the cheery and bright atmosphere.
That impression is followed closely by the realisation that dozens of animal-themed knickknacks are decorating every available space on countertops, walls, shelves and window ledges. 
Typical items include ceramic dogs, embroidered pillows declaring “A dog’s heart is in its tail,” and yellow signs warning “Caution: tails wagging ahead,” along with jokey art depicting obese cats, along with some more sentimental items.
Indeed, occupying prime wall space are colourful paintings of two of Watler’s own pets, the recently deceased and sorely missed cat, Pepi, and cute and cuddly pug Charlotte, which spends some of her days at the clinic keeping the staff company.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that the paintings were done by my husband,” says Watler.  What a sharp eye might also notice is that Pepi the cat bears a striking resemblance to another cat netting prime wall space, Pam the Persian.
Pam was Lana’s childhood pet and her inspiration for becoming a vet.
“I loved that cat, and it was going to the vet with Pam that made me think this was something I would definitely like to do,” says Lana.
As a plaque on the wall explains, the hospital is dedicated to Lana’s father, the late Keith Burns Watler, a Lower Valley native who with Lana’s mother ZelmaLee Merren, moved to Quebec, Canada, in the 1960s for a career with the Canadian Air Force.
An animal lover, he was “a devoted father who encouraged me to achieve my dreams and taught me the value of education,” the dedication states.  But the hospital is also dedicated to Pam, “a dear pet of 21 years who showed me compassion, unconditional love, and the power of the human-animal bond.”
The youngest of six children, Dr. Lana spent much of her childhood in Canada, but returned to Cayman in 1979 with her parents and attended John Gray High School (known in those days as Cayman Islands High School).
Her father’s encouragement to excel academically did not go unheeded. Dr. Lana was the first student to graduate from the school with all A’s.
This achievement set her up for entry to the University of Toronto, where she studied molecular genetics and molecular biology.
But she wasn’t all nose to the grindstone. One summer trip to Europe proved fateful – on a Greek island she met a young man named Gordon Rowell. The spark was lit, and after a stint living in his native England, the couple moved to Canada where Dr. Lana began working in vet clinics in Toronto to gain the experience she hoped would gain her admission to the Ontario Veterinary College.
Her husband, of whom she is clearly fiercely proud, was, and still is, her rock, she says. “I would not be where I am today, that is for sure.  For one, he believed in me and supported me through all my years of vet school.”
Those years passed swiftly and with a lot of work, but Dr. Lana was able to make it all worth it. Again, she was a top student, this time in spades.
Recipient of the Andrew Smith Memorial Medal for placing first in her class overall in clinical proficiency and scholastic ability over her entire college career, as well as numerous other awards, she was once again able to live up to her father’s educational inspiration, becoming the first Caymanian to earn a DVM.
Her passion for Veterinary medicine was ignited, along with the decision to move back to Cayman.
Once back in Cayman, Dr. Lana served as a veterinary officer for the Department of Agriculture, where she worked with all types of animals and coordinated animal control. Her next position was as a staff vet with Cayman Veterinary Associates, where she gained valuable Cayman-specific experience.
“You really need to get some local experience to be able to figure out that for instance, a cat might be sick because it has heartworm, something that is very rare but definitely can happen,” she says.
Then came the opportunity to open her own practice in 2000, which grew quickly and moved to its present location in 2003.
Along with three certified veterinary technicians, two more vets have joined the Cayman Animal Hospital: the effervescent Dr. Angie Grater, and newest arrival Dr. Colin Manson, who brings much welcome surgical expertise to the practice.
“He’s like our own Dr. House,” says Dr. Lana, laughing as she refers to a popular television doctor who can figure out the most complex medical mysteries.
“Now thanks to Dr. Colin for the first time we are able to do the kinds of surgeries in Cayman that pets would have had to travel off-Island for.”
It seems that now more than ever the practice is able to meet her commitment to nurturing the human-animal bond and helping pets live longer, healthier lives.
And that commitment stretches to Cayman’s humans as well. Cayman Animal Hospital has taken on an active role in the Chamber of Commerce mentoring Cayman programme.
Dr. Lana is proud to show off one of her technicians, Dionne Scotland Rivero, who while making strides in the veterinary profession is also showing promise as an award-winning amateur photographer.
Dr. Lana says she is glad the decision to come back to Cayman was made, as she has been able to give back to Cayman.
She certainly also delights in the opportunity Cayman affords her to spend time with her family. It’s no secret Dr. Lana’s passions extend beyond being a vet to being a mother and she’s clearly devoted to her two children Madeline and Matthew.
“I’m a family oriented person,” Dr. Lana says. “I just want to spend as much time with my kids and my husband as I can.”
Above all Dr. Lana’s character as a caring person shines through as she offers a behind-the-scenes tour of her practice.
Pausing in front of some of her patients, she looks around.
“I just love being a vet,” she says. “I can’t think of anything else I would rather do. It’s who I am.”