Dr. Lauren Demos: The Story of a Vet & Her Paddle Boarding Cat Named Pancake

Dr. Lauren Demos’ partner in life was her husband Andy, and today it’s her cat named Pancake. When Demos goes paddle boarding or sailing, she often takes Pancake. At only 35, she’s a past President of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).

She’s adamant about getting involved in organized veterinary medicine, and hopes students coming out of veterinary school do the same.

“The profession is in a unique place,” she says. “Corporate medicine is taking over. I am not saying that is bad. I am saying that we need to define our roles, or it will be done for us. We can have a voice in our future, but only if we step forward to use our voices.”

Demos is a goal directed individual—but the route she takes to get there has always been more than a little circuitous. Growing up in Green Bay, WI she liked animals, and like most little kids, thought about being a veterinarian but it was never a serious consideration. In fact, she was intent on being a musician—probably a jazz saxophonist. She attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb on a music scholarship, and was one of the first women accepted in their jazz studies program.

However, being the analytic type she is, playing in a jazz band didn’t turn out to be something she wanted. Her major changed to acoustical engineering and computer music. “I was into twisting music and redefining expectations,” she says.

So, what do you do with that major out of school? One thought was to continue her music education and get a PhD for teaching at the University level. “I just wasn’t driven to do that,” she recalls.

Then, a strange light bulb moment happened as she worked in her self–described ‘menial summer job’ packing school supplies into those plastic packets for kids. “A co-worker was doing this (job) before entering vet school, so I thought I could do that too.”

While Demos grew up with dogs—at that moment she recalled her childhood cat named Mr. Kitten. How could a child’s cat be so inspiring?

“I was always fascinated by cats; they’re so cerebral, so thoughtful—but they don’t always let you in on what they’re thinking,” she says. “I wanted to be let in on what Mr. Kitten was thinking. I wanted to be able to read cats.”

She didn’t just run off to vet school. But she did run off…to Alaska. She and her boyfriend Andy settled in Anchorage. Why there? “Why not?” she says. “We wanted to do something different.”

Different indeed. There, Andy, a pilot, had no problem finding work transporting people from town to town. And she began working her way up at veterinary clinics. She started as a receptionist but wanted more science, and more hands–on with animals, so she became a technician. She worked at several practices over three years, working for a veterinarian who participated in the Iditarod, and also for a vet who treated many of the racing dogs.

Demos says, “I love meeting interesting people, and everyone in Alaska had such a unique story.”

Her applications to U.S. vet schools went nowhere because she never took many chemistry or biology classes, and music courses didn’t hit the right notes for vet schools. However, her good grades did impress Murdoch University. There was only one hitch; the school is in Perth, Australia. However, that only made life more interesting.

Only weeks prior to her departure, one of her two cats got out. “Every spare moment, I was searching for this cat,” she says.

She never gave up hope. And days before their trip, Andy proposed (she said “yes”), and only a few hours later, her missing cat reappeared. “Best day ever,” she says.

In Perth, she attended vet school for five years, including a stint in the UK at Cambridge University to earn a sort of mini PhD (HONs) studying influenza viruses. Andy was grounded in Perth; his pilot’s license wasn’t good Down Under, but he worked as a terminal manager at the Perth Airport.

Finally, they were married in Green Bay about six years after he first popped the question, and ultimately, they decided to stay in the U.S. Mostly because there was more job availability for a cat vet, and because Demos wanted to become boarded in Feline Medicine.

That road began for Demos in Madison, WI working for legendary feline veterinarian, Dr. Ilona Rodan, and Demos later moved to her current location in Waterford, MI. And all of this is in the process of earning her Diplomate status as a feline specialist.

In Wisconsin, Andy was a pilot transferring organ donations, and in Michigan he piloted cargo flights. In 2014, one night, in poor weather—as Andy was attempting to land—the plane crashed. Married six years and together for fourteen years, Demos found herself a young widow.

“We actually talked about what would happen if one of us were to die,” she says. “We agreed, he’d come back as a kitten and he would give me a sign so I’d know which kitten he is.”

Several months later a local rescue brought a litter of sick kittens into the clinic. Pancake was the only survivor, and she was so sweet and especially outgoing. “I took her home as a foster, but still wasn’t convinced about what to do,” recalls Demos. She looked Pancake in the eyes, and out loud asked for a sign. At that very moment an airplane flew overhead.

“Need I say more?” she says.

Pancake loves the company of people. Demos began to take Pancake out on a harness and leash. Demos doesn’t recall exactly why she thought her cat might enjoy being on a paddle board, but Pancake took to it instantly—like a fish to water, so to speak. When she began to sail on a friend’s boat, Pancake was there for the ride.

Tania Aebi became the first American woman and the youngest person to circumnavigate around the world, and she did it with her two cats along for the ride on a 26–foot sail boat. Demos purchased that very same boat, and dreams of sailing to Cuba, with Pancake, of course. “I could also help some cats while I’m there, maybe lecture a little,” she adds.

Naturally, Pancake wears a life vest. “People think it’s crazy, a cat on the water,” she says. “But that’s how cats came to this country.”

Does she really believe that Andy has come back as a female cat? She pauses for a moment before answering, “Pancake is having a great life,” she says. “And I’m loving my life too. I realize that life is good, and while we are here we should all make the best of it. Pancake enjoys every day, so do I. Isn’t that all that really matters?” +