A chorus of barking dogs greets Dr. Leonard Marino as he checks on a patient recovering from hip-replacement surgery at Long Island Veterinary Specialists in Plainview.
“Is that dog going home tonight or tomorrow?” Marino asks veterinary technician Nikki Forrest, 25, of Lindenhurst, who’s taken the bright-eyed Australian shepherd out of a cage in the recovery room. “Because he’s pretty active for a dog that just had surgery. Yeah, he’s ready to run,” says Marino, 83, of Holbrook.
Forrest unsnaps the cone from the dog’s collar and puts him in a sling so Marino can have a closer look. A row of stitches on the dog’s shaved left hindquarter is the only evidence of the surgery performed two days earlier. In his role as a veterinary technician-in-training, Marino served as an operating room assistant during the dog’s 70-minute implant procedure, handing scalpels to his son, veterinarian Dominic Marino, 51, of Northport, the animal hospital’s owner and chief of staff.
“He can stand up without being pulled up. That’s amazing,” the elder Marino says, kneeling down to give the pooch a pat before the dog is returned to the cage. “A human being two days after hip surgery is just lying there,” he adds.
And so goes the transition from two-legged to four-legged patients for Leonard Marino, a retired Plainview pediatrician about to embark on a second career as a practicing licensed veterinary technician.
For some Long Islanders, it’s never too late to head back to school, get another degree and start a new career. Starting over may require putting your life on hold and challenging your aging brain cells, but there are rewards. Coming out of retirement to train as a vet tech has not only revived Marino’s gifts as a healer at the Hospital for Specialized Animal Care, where he already serves as publications editor, but it has also brought him closer to Dominic.
The younger Marino says he’s looking forward to spending more quality time with his dad in the operating room, and teaching more about his chosen field to the man who encouraged him to become a veterinarian in the first place.
“You spend your whole life learning from your father; now the roles are reversed,” the younger Marino says.
Leonard J. Marino was born in rural Santa Margherita, Sicily, to an American father and a Sicilian mother. When he was 2 1/2, the family immigrated to America. He grew up in Brooklyn, graduating from the all-boys Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. During the Korean War, U.S. Army service in Germany interrupted his college education, but after his discharge in Kansas, he completed his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts back home at Columbia College in Manhattan, and headed to medical school in Italy. After studying for a while at the University of Padua, he transferred to the University of Bologna, graduating from the world’s oldest medical school in 1961.
While still a medical student, he met the love of his life. “I was visiting friends and saw this very attractive lady there who I thought was Italian.” The future Jane Marino turned out to be another visiting Brooklynite, who lived a few blocks away from his family, and also attended Mass back home at St. Martin of Tours R.C. Church. They married and had three children in addition to Dominic — Ninette Fantoni of Hauppauge, Rosette O’Donnell of Center Moriches and Jacqueline Bianchino of Oakdale.
He set up his practice in Plainview and Levittown in 1964, when doctors still made house calls and he charged $5 a visit. He worked on his own or with other doctors for 30 years until 1995, when he retired to spend more time with his wife, who had suffered a stroke two years earlier. After she died in 2000, Marino’s then 95-year-old father moved in from Queens. After his grandfather died in 2006, Dominic suggested to his father that he come out of retirement to assist in the animal hospital operating room.
“I told him, ‘Sure, why not? I love to be in the O.R.,’ ” the new vet tech says. He had fond memories of assisting obstetricians in emergency births at Central General in Plainview — now Plainview Hospital. “I was one of the last of the general pediatricians who assisted in taking care of babies born at emergency deliveries, whether they be C-sections or just difficult deliveries,” he explained.
He was just as enthusiastic after deciding to return to school. First online, then in four years of class work in the evening and on weekends at Suffolk County Community College’s Grant campus in Brentwood, he studied alongside classmates in their 20s. He impressed them with his medical knowledge and willingness to stay after class and talk shop.
“He’s a charmer, and the other students in the class looked up to him,” says Gary Campbell, an adjunct professor of veterinary science technology who has been Marino’s instructor in five courses.
The doctor’s knowledge of Italian has come in handy in the classroom. Says Campbell: “When I have problems pronouncing some of the scientific words, I’ll say, ‘Leonard, could you pronounce this for the class?’ ”
Known as “Leonard” in class, he worked on the college farm, examining piglets and horses and other barnyard beasts. He learned to insert a tube down a parrot’s throat in an internship at Paumanok Veterinary Hospital in Patchogue. In his second internship at Massapequa Hospital for Animals, he’s mastered skills such as administering immunizations and cleaning tartar from a dog’s teeth.
He expects to graduate in May with an associate degree in veterinary science technology. Later this year, he plans to take his New York State licensure exam. After he passes the exam, he’ll be joining one of the nation’s fastest-growing fields. More than 17,900 “vet tech” positions, an increase of 19 percent, are expected to be added at animal hospitals and clinics through 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The job pays about $31,000 a year or almost $15 an hour, according to the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Now that Marino’s school days are ending, he’s looking forward to resuming a more normal life. As an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Stony Brook University, he enjoys attending Wednesday morning pediatric lectures. He’ll also have more time for working alongside his son in the operating room at the animal hospital.
He says the rewards of working as a vet tech are not that different from those of a pediatrician.
“It’s a feeling that you are doing something that is essential for that animal’s existence or quality of life. You are taking it within an hour or two from a state of distress to a state of beginning recovery, and hopefully a normal existence,” he said. “It’s an enormously satisfying feeling.”