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Beginning Friday, Sept. 7, Dr. Dut Malek, DVM, opens his new practice, Lakes Veterinary Services, at 201 East Main Street in Branford. The business name is an homage to his native Lake state in the Republic of South Sudan and to his American home in the Guilford Lakes area. (Photo courtesy of Dut Malek )
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Twenty years after he first came to America, Dr. Dut Malek, DVM, is about to realize a dream: opening his own veterinary clinic.
Dut’s new practice, Lakes Veterinary Services, is located at 201 East Main Street in Branford. The business name is an homage to both Dut’s native Lake state, in the Republic of South Sudan, and to his American home in the Guilford Lakes area.
Dut first came to this country with the help of Guilford’s First Congregational Church, which sponsored his resettlement in September 1998 through Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Service (IRIS) in New Haven.
“At that time, we had civil war going on in Sudan, between the south and the north,” says Dut. “When I graduated from vet school in Egypt, I couldn’t go back, because of the hostility of the government, and the people were all displaced.”
Dut stayed in Egypt for five years post-graduation.
“Basically, there were no jobs there, because they were unable to employ foreigners, because they had a problem with [finding] jobs for their own people,” he says. “We had to look for resettlement or go back to the war, so I chose to come here.”
He learned that the U.S. was accepting refugees from southern Sudan who had been endangered, affected, or displaced by the war, and applied for resettlement.
“If you are accepted, you come to the United States for resettlement and you have to look for a sponsor, and at that time the First Congregational Church was my sponsor,” says Dut.
He was given his start in a second-floor apartment on Water Street belonging to a congregant and received much support from church volunteers.
The refugee resettlement program allows refugees an initial three months in the country, during which time sponsors help to orient the refugee to life in America and find ways to become self-reliant.
“First Congregational Church gave me that opportunity,” says Dut.
Eight months later, with the help of First Congregational Church, Dut was able to sponsor the arrival of his wife, Anyikor Acuil-Malek. The couple settled in Guilford. Dut elected to pursue the national board exam for licensing as a DVM in this country.
“Foreign graduates, they have to go through a lot of hoops and hurdles, and one is that you have to take the national board exam, which every veterinary student has to take,” says Dut.
The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) is a requirement for practicing veterinary medicine in North America (U.S.A. and Canada). It’s an eight-hour, multiple-choice exam with 360 questions, according to the NAVLE website.
Dut’s first attempt at the exam wasn’t successful, and he realized that, to prepare for the NAVLE, he had to go back to school in America. He found there were only a few universities offering programs to refresh foreign graduates and prepare them for the national boards, but after coming halfway around the world to settle in Guilford, Dut wasn’t deterred at all to learn the school where he would be able to study was Oklahoma State University.
“That was the available program, so that was what I did,” he said.
He entered the program in 2005.
“After I finished the refreshing program, which is a year, I took the exam and I passed it. Then I took a clinical year, which is 13 months of rigorous training as a doctor under the supervision of the college. And after that, I came back to Connecticut and I started working in 2007.”
He started off on the staff at Killingworth Animal Hospital, where he worked until the financial crash curbed business in 2009.
“I found another job at Veterinary Emergency Treatment Services [near] Waterford, and I stayed with them for a quite a while. I worked also with Clark Veterinary Hospital [in Old Lyme] for a year, and then with Pieper Memorial [in Middletown] for seven years. I still cover for them now, as a relief vet, as I prepare to open up and go out on my own,” says Dut.
Dut’s new Branford facility occupies a well-known veterinary building that’s been in town since the 1950s. It was originally built as the first home for Branford Veterinary Hospital (BVH) by Dr. Philip Gerlach, who established the practice in 1937. In July 2018, Dr. Scott Gavaletz DVM, BVH’s owner since 2009, moved BVH to a newly constructed hospital facility at 125 North Branford Road in Branford.
The move gave Dut an opportunity he’d been looking for.
“The building was vacant, and so I took advantage of that. I liked the history behind it, and the location. I wanted to open a practice near my house in the Guilford Lakes area,” says Dut.
Dut and Anyikor have three children, including twins (a son and daughter) and a younger son, who all attend Guilford Public Schools.
Dut is both a general practitioner and emergency vet and specializes in small animals (pets). Lakes Veterinary Services will start off by offering appointments and walk-ins on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Dut plans to be open for his first day of business on Friday, Sept. 7.
For now, “I’m there on my own, as the principal owner. It’s a new office, so we don’t know how it’s going to go. If we get busy, we will hire another [vet],” he says. “My wife is going to help me out as a part-timer with the books and what have you.”
Dut says he loves living on the shoreline, and now, having his own practice here, too. Like anyone who dares to dream, he knows going out on his own won’t be easy, but he has been working toward this goal for many years.
“Having my own practice has been my focus,” he says. “But still, the financial part and taking a risk with a family and children is kind of scary, so I took it slow.”
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