First published in the Nov. 26 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Bird lover. PEZ collector. Beloved veterinarian.
These are just a few choice descriptors for Dr. M.S. Chaudhry, who spent decades as one of South Pasadena’s mainstay vets until he died on Oct. 25. He was 76.
To punctuate how much he and his practice, the South Pasadena Veterinary Hospital, meant to the community, clients and friends lined the outside of the Fremont Avenue building with wreaths and bouquets in the days following his death. There even was a floral sculpture of a cat to commemorate his passing.
“I knew he was good,” Chaudhry’s widow, Linda Allison, said, “but the outpour was just amazing.”
The man who had immigrated from Kenya in his early 20s and cleaned animal cages at a clinic for $1.50 an hour until he secured his veterinary license had become an institution in South Pasadena. Pet owners knew him for his intuitive diagnostic skills and the relatively small bills that came with his service, along with his selfless commitment to helping out people and animals in a pinch. His practice, much of which looks very much like it did in the 1980s when he acquired it, drew clientele who had relocated to Palmdale and Rancho Cucamonga, because he was just that good.
“He was quiet, gentle and humble. He was, ‘Hi Mr. Gray, how is Spot today?’ Just very low-key,” Allison explained. “Everyone liked that he was so fair, with his affordable prices, because he didn’t need to do all that unnecessary stuff.”
Born on June 10, 1945, in then-British Kenya, Chaudhry parlayed his love of animals to veterinary school there, before relocating to the United States in 1972.
“He had $800 when he came over here,” Allison recalled. “He landed in Baltimore, went to a department store and bought some pants and shoes and everything, and stayed at a YMCA for a little while. Then he moved to California shortly after.”
With the help of a silent partner, Chaudhry bought the South Pasadena practice in 1981 and for decades was one of two veterinarians here. Allison became one of his clients that year, at the recommendation of her sister, and the two were married in 1987. That year, Allison began working as the receptionist and office manager for her husband, in spite of her cat allergy.
Stepping into his office, you might not immediately guess Chaudhry — often simply called “Doc” — was a career veterinarian. Outside of framed photos, the walls are adorned with cabinets containing hundreds of PEZ candy dispensers, lined up for display. Older models depicting Marvel superheroes and Looney Tunes are complemented by newer emoji dispensers. Atop the cabinets were themed dispenser series, still in original packaging, featuring the lineup of KISS and Star Trek characters.
Chaudhry assembled those cabinets himself, Allison said, one of many handy projects he found himself doing at home.
“He could build a house if he wanted to,” she quipped.
Although the couple lived in Alhambra, they became part of the South Pasadena community.
“We went out more than we stayed home, so we hit every restaurant in South Pasadena,” Allison said. “You name it, we went there. We liked the small town.”
At home, they were always dog people, although his favorite charity was Save the Chimps. At work, Chaudhry worked primarily with dogs and cats, although apparently neither were his favorite animal.
“He did dogs and cats, but he loved birds,” Allison said. “We had doves at home. He would find a pigeon egg somewhere and he would raise it in an incubator himself.”
In Kenya, then a primarily agricultural colony, Chaudhry unearthed his passion for working with animals while hiking with his brother and coming across a calf. A photo of the occasion was part of a photo collage on Chaudhry’s funeral program.
“He picked it up and they said put that down. He said, ‘No, I love it, let me take it home,’” Allison said. “His brother said even as a teenager, he loved animals.”
Chaudhry’s two brothers remain in Kenya, while he has a sister who lives in England. He was preceded in death by another sister, who also resided in the United Kingdom. He is survived by Allison and their three dogs, Abby, Louie and Gina.
Known for his work ethic, Chaudhry worked the morning of his death. After having heart surgery more than eight years ago, the stalwart doctor soon experienced kidney failure, Allison said, and dialysis became a part of his life. She said he worked that morning, went for treatment and then insisted on returning home, where he eventually passed. Allison had returned home by this time and was with him for his last minutes.
“He was on dialysis for about eight years, but he went to work every single day. He never missed work unless he was in the hospital,” Allison said. “He fought a good fight, let me tell you. My friends called him the ‘Energizer Bunny,’ because he just kept going, going, going. He had so many surgeries and he kept going back to work because he just loved his job.”
Brenda Ayala, who has been the receptionist and then office manager for eight years, said she looked at Chaudhry as more than a boss and that was why she had intended on staying with the job for longer. Allison said she expects to eventually sell her husband’s practice.
“He was a teacher. I saw him like a father, because he did a lot more than a boss does,” Ayala said. “When my car broke down, he would say to do this or that, like a dad would. He loved to be here and to teach us. He was very supportive of everything in our work and personal lives.”
Ayala said she expected to keep Chaudhry in mind as she embarks on her next step, which may be to open a business of her own. In recent years, as he took time off for those surgeries and procedures, Ayala said she took note of how confidently he would leave the clinic in hers and her coworkers’ hands.
“That’s something that I really appreciated in him. He had a lot of trust in us,” she said. “It’s going to be so hard to even think about working for someone else. I learned so much from him, outside of the veterinary stuff.”
Chaudhry’s memorial service was Tuesday, Nov. 16, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Los Angeles. He was buried at Calvary Cemetery.