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Celebrating a Decade of DeeDee Arrison

By Melanie Greaver Cordova

Airy musical notes float into the atrium as a violin is tuned at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The college’s grand piano is wheeled in over a plush carpet and the musicians set up their stands. This venue is unusual for a classical music performance — the musicians are more accustomed to concert halls than lecture halls — but the curious setting is soon justified when their excited audience arrives: dogs, hamsters, birds and even a miniature horse.

When the music swells, the animals fall silent for this special event that happens only once per year: the DeeDee Arrison Concert for the Animals.

The concert features distinguished violinists Tim Fain and Francisco Fullana, accompanied by Grammy Award-nominated pianist Robert Koenig. As the name indicates, this free public concert is for the animals — though their human owners are also welcome. It is part of the unique programming of the DeeDee Arrison Holistic and Integrative Wellness Seminar offerings that take place during the annual New York State Veterinary Conference.

Established by Karen and Clement Arrison in 2009, the seminar series and concert are intended to increase people’s awareness of complementary veterinary medicine — when practices outside the mainstream are used together with conventional medicine, creating an integrative health care practice that brings the approaches together in a coordinated, intentional way.

The initiative continues to grow, and this year, the college is celebrating its 10-year anniversary for both the series and its fabled concert. “The concert is just wonderful for everyone involved,” notes Karen Arrison.

“The concert has been a unique and treasured event at the college for a decade,” says Lorin D. Warnick, D.V.M., Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “It is heartwarming to see members of the college and our local community bring their pets every year to enjoy these world-class musicians. Attendance grows every year and we are grateful to the Arrisons for making this rich musical experience possible in our college.”

Dean Lorin Warnick presents Karen Arrison with flowers
Dean Lorin Warnick presents Karen Arrison with flowers at this year's concert.

Ninety Percent Perfect

The seminar series and its accompanying concert are named for DeeDee, the Arrisons’ beloved briard, whom they lost to cancer in 2009. At 10 years old, DeeDee was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. “It’s definitely not the diagnosis you want her to get at that age,” says Arrison.

The corresponding tumor was located on DeeDee’s cheekbone. The surgery to remove it was considered dangerous given its size, complexity and proximity to major blood vessels. “She was still 90 percent perfect. What options did we have?” recalls Arrison.

The Arrisons set out to use the traditional, science-based veterinary medicine from the college, while also accessing complementary modalities from private practitioners in the area, forging an integrative plan that allowed her to live for a year instead of the initial prognosis of six weeks.

Throughout this process, the Arrisons felt that offering unconventional pain control methods, herbs to support the immune system and tissue stimulation through acupuncture could be the answer many pet owners were looking for.

Growth of a Series

With their discovery and passion for complementary medicine, the Arrisons approached the college to create the DeeDee Arrison Holistic and Integrative Wellness Seminar Series at CVM.


“We chose Cornell for this because they were the top veterinary college in the country, and who else can better help people understand how to integrate these modalities into their practices or to educate new students about their potential?” says Arrison.

The series enables speakers, both external and those within the college, to conduct annual workshops on complementary medicine and general questions pet owners might ask their veterinarian. The series was incorporated into the New York State Veterinary Conference, hosted by CVM every fall, where participation earns veterinarians continuing education credits.

Five years later, the Arrisons built on growing awareness by establishing another more specialized endeavor, the May Arrison Fund for Acupuncture, named after the Arrisons’ goat, who was treated for vagal indigestion at Cornell’s Equine and Nemo Farm Animal Hospital in 2014. May’s fund enables CVM faculty, students and hospital staff to train at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in Reddick, Florida.

“The development of this fund has allowed faculty, residents and veterinary students to acquire additional skills to help improve the quality of life for animals.”
- Cheryl Balkman, D.V.M. ’98

“The development of this fund has allowed faculty, residents and veterinary students to acquire additional skills to help improve the quality of life for animals,” says Cheryl Balkman, D.V.M. ’98, senior lecturer and section chief of oncology in the Cornell University Hospital for Animals and this year’s recipient of the funding. “Many of these individuals, myself included, would not have been able to participate in this training without the Arrisons’ generous support.”

Scenes from the annual DeeDee Arrison Concert
Scenes from the annual DeeDee Arrison Concert for the Animals, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

The Sound of Music

By opening the DeeDee Arrison Concert for the Animals to the public, the Arrisons further highlight the bond between individuals and their pets.

“It is my favorite Finger Lakes event of the year, and a particularly poignant one for me as it inspired me to do something I dreamed about for decades: adopt a Newfoundland who would bring joy to people,” says Mary Catt, who has attended since 2012. Five years ago, Catt sat next to a woman with a Newfoundland who encouraged her to adopt her own. She did so a few months later with a Newfoundland named Lilah, who became a certified Cornell Companion, spending time with hundreds of people in hospice care, a nursing home, at local schools and even a center for incarcerated teens.

“It all goes back to an October afternoon at the Concert for the Animals. I am indebted to Ms. Arrison,” says Catt. The concert is an inspiration to attendees as well as a landmark moment for the musicians who perform. Tim Fain, Francisco Fullana and Robert Koenig have described the concert as their favorite event.

To honor the 10th anniversary, this year CVM and the Arrisons included a memorial tribute for DeeDee and any animal companion whose owners were in the room to mark the occasion. “We held the tribute in the middle of the concert with a special piece played by Tim,” says Arrison. “It’s to honor all the animals being thought about and missed.”

Attendees were invited to bring a picture of a pet who had passed away. When the time came for the tribute, Fain recognized these pets and played a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Future Plans

As the Concert for the Animals continues to enrich the lives of pets and their families each year, the DeeDee Arrison Holistic and Integrative Medicine Seminar Series will continue to offer new complementary education opportunities that otherwise would not be available through the traditional veterinary curriculum. The faculty-guided planning committee and the Arrisons are continually coming up with new ideas, many of which are inspired by questions and concerns that come to veterinarians when clients bring their pets in for treatment and advice.

“It’s continually growing, continually evolving,” says Arrison. “We want to continue to be on the cutting edge.”