Confessions of a Shopkeeper


Like many little girls, Nora Kleps of East Hampton always dreamed of being a veterinarian and, like many young women, she did not follow through with her dream.

“My mother would stroll me in my baby buggy or we would walk to the nearby agricultural college to see the different farm animals,” she said of her childhood in Farmingdale, where her father worked for the telephone company.

The family had cats and dogs and she remembers helping give birth to kittens. “In those days, you never spayed or neutered anything,” she said.

There were a lot of dairy farms in the area so on school field trips Dr. Kleps got to observe work horses, sheep, pigs and chickens and see how eggs were laid. During the Nativity scenes every Christmas, Dr. Kleps focused on the live animals.

At nine, she took “10 riding lessons for $110 at the riding stables nearby. Dirt cheap by today’s standards,” she said.

Although she never got past the pony trail riding stage, her love of horses never diminished.

Still, when she finished high school in Dix Hills, “At 17, I wasn’t sure what to do.”

“We didn’t have the pressure that kids have now. Now, I see 8-year-olds wheel a suitcase full of books around.”

“At that time, they steered women away from vet school. It was more of a man’s realm. It was hard to get into a vet school, especially for a woman.”

Dr. Kleps understood, “once you were in vet school, that’s it. You just start working and there’s no stopping.” She eased into her studies with foreign languages at Antioch College in Ohio and now speaks French and Italian.

“I put vet school behind me,” she said.

Fresh out of college, she moved to Manhattan and worked as a translator and then in an Italian bank on Wall Street. “I wasn’t happy.”

What was in the back of her mind came forward. She attended the Columbia School of General Studies pre-med program in the evenings after work at the bank. “They called us the pre-med re-treads,” she laughed.

When she got to Cornell University’s vet school, her class had more women than men but most of the students were in their 20s while she was in her 30s. “I didn’t have any other agendas,” such as the younger students and their fraternities and sororities, she said.

Four long, arduous, years of hard work went by quickly. “I was on a treadmill of stuffing as much information in as I could,” she said. “You think you’re kind of smart when you get there but then you meet people really brilliant. Some of those people with photographic memories are a little scary.”

The cold, rainy and snowy weather was conducive to studying, she said, “unless you are a skier, which I’m not.”

She spent a lot of time in cold cow barns in upstate New York. There was “lots of cold cow diarrhea, which is different than horse diarrhea,” she explained. “The minute you rectal a cow, to check for pregnancy, for example, it goes everywhere,” she said as she motions covering her arDr. But “the cows were cute,” she added.

Rather than check on milk production and making sure udders are in good shape, Dr. Kleps couldn’t wait to work with family pets.

While interning at a private equine practice in New Hampshire, she answered a want ad that brought her back to Long Island to work at a mixed animal practice on the South Fork.

Since 1995, she’s split her time between her own mobile practice and commuting from her home in East Hampton to East Marion three or four days a week, where she works out of Mattituck Veterinary Hospital.

“There something nice about working inside after a cold barn and having a facility at your disposal. On the other hand, it’s stressful work inside, whereas I work at my own speed when I’m driving around.”

The worse thing about her dream job is the long hours. “Look at my schedule,” she said one recent Sunday morning in between vet calls. “I’m usually up at 5:30 a.m. and some days in the spring and summer, I don’t’ get home until 10 at night.”

Dr. Kleps has her own mule and horse and she boards two other horses on rented property in East Hampton. But she barely gets time to ride.

The doctor does make time for the opera. She’s held onto her subscription to the Met for the last 20 years. “I have changed it to the Saturday matinée though,” she said.

Dr. Kleps makes sure to hit international veterinary seminars, held in places such as Cancun, Belize and Jamaica. “They want you to relax when you go,” she said. For pure relaxation, she tries to get to Brittany once a year.

Relaxation at home means reading everything from comic books to French literature.

As we talk, it’s not long before she gets a call from the owner of a champion dog who has gotten fish hooks stuck in its paw.

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