The day has finally come. On September 18, 2019, Dr. Tara Nanavati tended to his final patients and retired after 39 years of service to the Valley community. Dr. Nanavati, an Orange resident, spent his final day of work with his wife and daughter by his side, greeting patients who were picking up prescription food and medications for their pets. Now, a month after that day, he spoke about his humble start and the work that was a true passion.
Like many immigrants, he left his native India for the United States at the age of 30, eager to establish a practice, but nearly penniless, with $100 in his pocket. He has studied veterinary medicine at the University of Udaipur in India and continued his studies in Virginia while working for a veterinarian, who is now 90 years old. He passed the state board exams in 1978, then began a one-year internship in Kentucky with another veterinary service.
In 1980, Dr. Nanavati arrived in the lower Naugatuck Valley and started his practice by making house calls. He said he was “paid” with food, coffee and other goods and services. When he saved enough money, he converted space in a former hot dog stand on the Ansonia-Seymour line to open his practice. Four years later, he returned to India to marry, then brought his wife Dwarka to America. In 1988, he opened the Ansonia Animal Hospital at 876 South Main Street in Seymour, which is located just next to his original location.
When asked about his most memorable rescue, he immediately replied that it was the first one, which took place when he was “young and stupid.” It involved a dog and thin ice in December 1980. Dr. Nanavati had recently opened his veterinarian office when the Seymour police arrived at his door to bring him to a nearby spot on a pond near the Naugatuck River. A dog had been trapped out on the thin ice for quite some time.
Nanavati executed his own rescue plan by walking onto the ice, picking up the dog and carrying it back to shore. “Even today I think about how stupid I was,” he said. “The police had told me that the ice was too thin to walk on, but I still walked on it. Luckily I made it safely. Had the ice given in, I would have drowned, along with the dog.”
His second walk on thin ice came a few years later, also in Seymour. This time, it involved an injured swan who tried to bite everyone who attempted to capture it. It had swallowed a fish hook and required surgery. “So, I did it again,” Dr. Nanavati laughed. “I went out there, picked up the swan, operated, and when it was better, I put it back in the pond.”
So many more rescues followed. Some of the cases he assisted in were heart-breaking: Amazing Grace, the puppy who had suffered serious injuries due to severe abuse in 2006; a kitten and a female brindle pit bull, who both lost limbs after suffering significant injuries; a puppy with broken legs, another found injured in a dumpster; and three cats who were found in rusty traps. All of the animals recovered after being treated by Dr. Nanavati, and they all found forever homes.
In response to needs both local and international, Dr. Nanavati began running rabies clinics, raising money for organizations like the Seymour Methodist Church, which was rebuilding after a fire, and working hand in hand with the animal control officers in the region. He provided support for Big Brothers/Big Sisters (twice!) and also for the Salvation Army in Ansonia.
In 2010, when an earthquake struck Haiti, he hosted several rabies clinics and collected essential supplies for Haitian survivors, filling three trucks with more than 200 boxes that weighed more than 3,000 pounds. Why did he do it? He remembered, as a young child, what it was like to lose your home and live in horrible conditions in a tent city. This happened to his family as a result of the Indo-Pakistani war in the late 1940s.
Nanavati continued to respond to the national and international disasters. In 2011, he hosted another collection for the Japan Tsunami victims, and he helped with the settlement of Nepalese refugees in the region. In August 2013, he hosted yet another clothing and personal item collection to benefit the survivors of the Oklahoma tornadoes.
His work to benefit the community has not gone unnoticed. Through the years, Dr. Nanavati has received numerous awards from local mayors and first selectmen, the Ansonia Police Department and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in which they thanked him for his service to the animals of the Valley. Dr. Nanavati helped to raise money for local dog shelters and provided free services for 30 years to the animals and wildlife cared for by the Ansonia Nature Center.
When asked what he plans to do now that he is retired, Dr. Nanavati said he will travel to Virginia to see his mentor, who is 90 and is still practicing. He hopes to see other friends in other states, and will spend more time with his family.
For 39 years, he gave so much to so many others. Now, Dr. Nanavati says with a smile, it is time to sit back and be glad that the ice on that Seymour pond in December 1980 was not too thin.