Cherishing the Little Moments Life Brings

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When Dr. Joel L. Solis, co-owner of Valley Medical Arts Clinic (VMAC), first started bringing his dog, Manolo, to work with him, his main concern was not wanting to be a burden to his staff.

The Shih Tzu-Cocker Spaniel mix had begun to suffer from separation anxiety, and his veterinarian recommended the little dog accompany his owner to work. For the next 10 years, Manolo would ride with Dr. Solis in the car every morning, Monday through Saturday, to join him at the clinic for a full workday.

What started as a way to help alleviate Manolo’s anxiety turned into an unexpected blessing for all who interacted with him. Dr. Solis said everyone loved him — staff, patients, pharmaceutical reps, and other members of the surrounding community.

Dr. Solis’ fears of inconveniencing his employees were squashed as he observed how quickly Manolo seemed to recognize the clinic was not a place for him to play.

“He would roam the clinic on his own,” he said. “He had three beds in three different places, but he wouldn’t ever bother anyone. He knew his boundaries. Unless someone called him, he would not go up to them. We could turn our heads and we knew he was OK.”

Not only was Manolo low maintenance to have around, he provided comfort and joy to the staff.

“On some of our toughest days, we knew that he would balance our day without asking for anything in return,” Dr. Solis said. “He was such a gentle dog.”.

Letty Gutierrez, assistant manager of the clinic, dogsat Manolo in her home from time to time when Dr. Solis was out of town.

“We miss him dearly,” she said. “The office is not the same. He brought a different light to the office. He was like therapy for everybody here.”

Receptionist, Connie Escalona, also remembers him fondly.

“All the patients loved him,” she said. “All the patients asked for him when they wouldn’t see him around.”

The patients coming into the clinic had special relationships with Manolo.

“I would walk in the room and they would tell me, ‘there’s really nothing wrong with me, I just wanted to see Manolo,’” said Dr. Solis, adding when it was their health that brought them into the clinic, they still wanted to visit with the Manolo. “You could see how seeing Manolo would change that patient’s experience that day.”

Dr. Solis shared a story of Manolo running out of the clinic doors in his younger days, getting about half a mile down the road across busy 10th street, and ending up in the Lowe’s parking lot.

“I saw five of my staff members running after Manolo, and three of them shouldn’t be running in the first place,” he laughed.

One of whom was the lab director. A patient having his blood drawn noticed her abruptly leaving and asked another employee if everything was OK. He was told that Manolo had just run out of the building.

“He just quickly said, ‘Well, let me go get him,’” said Dr. Solis, explaining the patient was a 50-something-year-old marathon runner. “He’s the one that catches my dog.”

Dr. Solis still marvels over how incredible it was for him to see how much his staff and patients cared for this little dog and expressed his gratitude to the VMAC staff, Perfect Paws Pet Salon, and to Dr. Peacock for welcoming Manolo with open arms, love, and attention.

During the rise of COVID-19, Manolo provided special support to the clinic employees and patients. In a time where people were isolated and discouraged, Dr. Solis said he brought them closer.

“Trying to keep 35 employees happy is not always easy,” Dr. Solis said. “He provided a bond to keep the clinic together.”

He described Manolo as the “great stabilizer” and “unifier” of the clinic staff who brought joy to everybody. Manolo even helped Dr. Solis in his medical practice.

“He made medicine easier for me,” he said, explaining how Manolo helped him to relax and not let the stress of the job overwhelm him. “Almost like, ‘Hey, I got your back. I’m your best friend.’ And whether he would just come up and lick me or just lay next to me, I always knew I had someone right there.”

The VMAC has served McAllen for 70 years. Dr. Solis said he and his employees work hard to pay tribute to past clinicians.  He added Manolo contributed to the legacy of helping people that the clinic began many years ago.

“This little dog was part of the team that has allowed us to continue doing what we love to do, and that’s helping people,” he said. “What’s a dog supposed to do? What’s their job? It’s to make their owner happy, right? Well, he did his job to the finest.”

Manolo passed away on  Nov. 30th, 2022, but his legacy of comfort and kindness will live on. Manolo will be remembered as the little dog who made a big difference in the lives of those in the clinic.

Jillian Cameron