P&H: Inspirational Women: Dr. Nicole MacLaren

Dr. Nicole MacLaren with an Asian Lynx, his first time on snow, at Deer Valley, Utah

Dr. Nicole MacLaren with an Asian Lynx, his first time on snow, at Deer Valley, Utah

We are excited to announce that several times a year Patina & Hue will be featuring a woman who we find completely inspirational! This month we are talking with Dr. Nicole MacLaren. Nicole is a dear friend and an inspiration in a million ways. She is a seemingly tireless mother, philanthropist and athlete who has channeled her passion for animals into her profession as a Veterinary Ophthalmologist. We met when our youngest children became friends in nursery school and we have enjoyed a close friendship since. Like all who know her, I find Nicole to be an inspiration; setting the bar a little higher for each of us while touching the lives of everyone she comes in contact with. I asked her recently if she would share a few stories about her love of animals and her philanthropic work.

Q: Nicole, I love the photos you have shared with me over the years where you are helping domestic as well as wild animals. When do you remember first being aware of your deep connection to animals?

A: “My Mum has several stories she loves to tell that took place when I was quite young. One of them happened when I was a toddler, I was upset about something and she later found me with my arms wrapped tightly around our feisty Arabian Stallion's front leg. The stallion had a fierce temperament and could typically be found stampeding around the corral. When she found me with the stallion she was quite alarmed to see how close I was to him and was also amazed at his calm. Another story, at 6 years old I was often recruiting my 5-year-old sister to help me rescue any animals that might be in danger on our farm. Our dogs would dig up the mice nests and my sister and I would follow them in order to save the babies. My Dad was less then charmed when he discovered we were working on saving the mice in my 'Mouse Hospital'  that nested in the hayloft! Later the rampant mouse problem in the barn was pinned on me but I didn’t let that stop me from the goal of saving as many of them as I could!"

Dr. Nicole MacLaren examining a baby African Blackfoot penguin after performing cataract surgery.

Dr. Nicole MacLaren examining a baby African Blackfoot penguin after performing cataract surgery.

Dr. Nicole MacLaren with Search and Rescue Dog Gunny

Dr. Nicole MacLaren with Search and Rescue Dog Gunny

"Losing our beloved family pet, ‘King’ stands out as one of the significant life changing events in my childhood. My Dad and I were snowmobiling one snowy winter day to check the fence line on the highway in front of our farm. King raced to follow us and a car came out of nowhere and hit him. I saw my Dad cry for the first and only time in my life. Dad wanted to take me home and then go back for King. To this day I think about how we possibly could have saved King considering the sophisticated ER and ICU we now have in our hospitals. Experiences like this led me to my profession as a Veterinary Ophthalmologist."

Q: Nicole, I was wondering if you could tell us more about your work with Service Animals?

A: "Yes,  as a partner at Eye Care for Animals, we support a program that offers free eye exams for registered service animals. Veterinary Ophthalmologists nationwide donate their time to this cause in conjunction with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. It is such an important program and I am grateful we can help in this way. We have a short video that tells more about our involvement and how service dogs have personally touched our lives."

Dr. MacLaren with Debbie Pappas and Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation releasing Cleopatra into the wild after she recovered from retina damage due to the West Nile Virus. 2013

Dr. MacLaren with Debbie Pappas and Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation releasing Cleopatra into the wild after she recovered from retina damage due to the West Nile Virus. 2013

"For over 15 years I have volunteered for various raptor rescue organizations who bring in injured eagles, hawks, owls etc. Debbie Pappas came into the clinic a few years ago with Cleopatra, a large female Golden Eagle with West Nile Virus in her retinas that had severely damaged her vision. We worked with Debbie's group, Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation, who had nursed Cleo for months at their facility in Price, Utah.  The time eventually came to test the bird's ability to fly and catch prey in order to be released back into the wild. Debbie brought Cleo back into Eye Care for Animals in a huge dog crate for me to examine one last time before she could be released. I saw her retinas and thought they looked dramatically improved. Thrilled, Debbie told me they planned the release for that weekend in Moab, Utah. Excitedly, I commented that we had planned a trip to Moab that same time and asked if we could watch the release. She then asked if I wanted to join in the release!! After all these years of happily examining these magnificent birds in a hospital setting, I had never participated in a release. We drove to Southern Utah and 2 days later I had one of the most touching experiences of my career. With my girls on either side of me and close friends nearby, I cradled this huge, majestic bird against my body in preparation to release her. Cleo's talons were firmly gripped around my leather gloves, as I stepped over the low stone wall with the Park Rangers while a small group of media stood watch. I then tossed Cleo into the updraft from the stunning Colorado River. My two daughters hugged me tightly as we watched Cleo easily soar higher and higher until she was a tiny speck hundreds of feet above our heads. I was speechless and felt how very perfect it all was!"  wildliferehabilitationinutah.com

Q: I am always impressed by the time you put into your charitable work. What fuels your desire to give and what would you recommend for those of us who feel we don't have the amount of extra time or extra finances to really make a big impact?

 A: "It is not important how much we give but that we do give. Whether it is donating an hour a week in a food kitchen, or cleaning out closets and donating clothes and coats. You do not need a great deal of time to help you just need the desire."

"Growing up in Canada, I was influenced by watching my Dads generosity. In the late 70s Vancouver had a significant drug problem that resulted in a large population living in the streets. We would go downtown on Sundays to see a movie at the huge 6-Plex and we would see a large homeless population. My Dad would treat them politely and generously if they needed something and would always offer to buy them food. I witnessed that kind of concern and giving as a child and it has always remained with me…the importance of helping where we can."

"I remember a situation several years ago when I met a young Andean Quechua mother with a baby in a sling at the Cusco airport in Peru. As we stood in the back of the security line we saw her at the front of the line involved in a heated argument with an armed guard. You could tell she was terrified as tears were quietly streaming down her face."

"I was on an ophthalmology mission trip at the time with a group of kids and inquired to my group as to who spoke Spanish. I then found an interpreter, who spoke the more rare Quechua, to see if we could communicate with the young Mom at the front of the line. It was suggested by the locals that I not get involved. Likely, that was a good idea but I had previously had a positive experience with other armed security guards by offering to look at their eyes with my portable equipment and by passing out samples of tear lubricant drops! So I forged ahead with my nervous translators hoping for a positive outcome. A lot of shocked and annoyed stares followed us like an ominous cloud as we moved toward the front of the line and saw this poor mom becoming more and more distraught. After much nudging of our interpreter, back and forth discussion, and a lot of polite, encouraging smiles, I eventually discovered the problem: the young mother did not have the equivalent of $3 US to board her plane home with her baby. Incredulously I asked if I could pay it and the guard reluctantly agreed."

"It was at this time that I noticed that the tiny baby in the sling was oddly quiet throughout the entire confrontation. We went to the back of the line, got through security by passing out a few more bottles of 'very special' tear drops, and sat at our gate to wait. Minutes later a gentleman came up to us, smiling, and handed me a note. The note was from the young mother who we had just helped– she had found a person to interpret her message from her native Quechua  to Spanish and then another person who could write in English, a little thank you note! I was so touched. She said her small Andean village had saved money for her trip to the Cusco hospital and money for the doctors, as her baby was quite sick. The doctors cost more than she realized and she had no money left. She thanked me for helping them get home."

"I was unbelievably humbled by this encounter and it is experiences like these that have strongly influenced my desire to give back. We can each become more aware of what is going on around us and give in small ways that are actually huge gifts to others. Being of service to one another is deeply meaningful in our lives."

Q: Are there other projects you are interested that you can share with us?

A: "I have recently been nominated to the Board of the Summit Land Conservancy. This is a fabulous local organization that raises money to preserve local Summit County land in perpetuity. We adore the great open spaces around us and yet often take them for granted. I am hugely interested in helping to save as much open land as possible for us to recreate on, enjoy visually, preserve wildlife and plantlife, and pass on to our children. In addition, Summit Land provides conservation easements so local land owners such as farmers, can continue to work their land. It's a win win for us all." wesaveland.org

"My daughters are also very interested in service work and helping where they can. We support 2 children on a monthly basis in Africa and Mexico through World Vision both financially and by sending notes, birthday cards, small educational games, and gifts. My youngest daughter has been dog sitting to raise money for the WWF Panda Project–all on her own volition! And my eldest daughter is collecting food for the families at The Road Home in Utah. We are so very lucky and although our contributions are small, we hope we can create some awareness. I plan to take them on a mission trip once they are old enough."

Additional Projects we Support:

Canines With A Cause

Mondo Art Project

Park City Arts Foundation

Kimball Arts Center

Choice Humanitarian


Thank you Nicole for sharing your story with us!
Click here to read more about Dr. Nicole MacLaren and Eye Care for Animals