Doctor of Survival
By Julie Kailus
Dr. Patrick Kalenzi is an established veterinarian in Boulder County. But before he started taking care of dogs, he was a “cow attendant.” At least, that’s how Kalenzi describes his family’s occupation in Uganda, the East African nation where he grew up in a thatched hut with 11 siblings.
“Once in a while, I would see children with shoes, normal meals or a better house and thought about how they had it better,” he says. “But reality would sink in, and I would accept that because of my Tutsi tribe, my family was destined to be the lower class.”
His grandfather had migrated to Uganda from Rwanda as a refugee. “Regardless that my father and I were natural-born citizens of Uganda, we carried the stigma and the derogatory abuse from the native tribes,” he says. “They wanted us out, but our Rwanda nation, from the first 1954 genocide between Tutsi and Hutus, did not want us back either.”
Kalenzi first experienced discrimination as bullying and later as pressure to join the guerilla army. Outside of tending to the family cows and walking two hours to school, survival was a daily occupation.
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Kalenzi survived the brutality of daily life and beat several serious diseases, including polio. Education was his way out of Africa’s dangerous climate. He embraced the solace that came from being with animals, and pursued a career in veterinary medicine.
After graduating from Uganda’s Makerere University, Kalenzi left his family and homeland for a veterinary internship in Lexington, Kentucky. After finishing the internship, he planned to stay with a distant aunt while he got on his feet. An hour before he was to board a Greyhound to Virginia, his aunt reneged on her offer. In an instant, he was homeless, with a ticket but nowhere to go.
“After a few stressful hours, I looked in my wallet and found Roland’s contact,” he says. Roland Kafuuma, a medical school friend from Uganda, was in Boulder and offered up a couch. With no money left to his name, Kalenzi somehow convinced the bus station to change his ticket to Boulder, no charge. And so in 2002 he began his life here.
To pay rent, Kalenzi helped Kafuuma deliver newspapers. “Later I acquired a work permit and signed for my own route,” he said. “In a few more weeks, I acquired two more jobs, as the demand for taking care of my homeless family in Uganda was growing.”
‘Achieve My Goal or Die Trying’
Kalenzi was guided by his grandfather’s advice. “He taught me that no matter what anyone thought of me, no matter our circumstances, that we were a strong people capable of doing anything,” he says. “In America, I realized that I could do anything if I worked hard and had a goal.”
Finally, sleepless nights, hard work and, often, pure exhaustion paid off. Kalenzi earned his veterinary license and dove into his career. His compassion for animals and people did not go unnoticed. He became a beloved vet in Boulder County, and today owns two successful veterinary hospitals—Rock Creek Veterinary Hospital in Broomfield and Niwot Veterinary Clinic. He married a Ugandan woman and raised children in Boulder County.
“My goal was simple. I was not going to accept my circumstances as my parents did,” he says. “I was not going to just try. I was going to achieve my goal or die trying.”
Kalenzi has since returned to visit Uganda. It gives him perspective. “I have learned that people are the same everywhere, for better or worse. There is racism in the U.S., as there is tribalism in Africa,” he says.
“But we chose to raise our boys here because the people are very civilized and it’s a loving community. Even those who have not been to Africa are curious, informed and kind. Every time I take my family and our dogs to the beautiful mountains, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to live here.”