If you’re looking to take up bull spotting, I highly recommend Sunday mornings in late summer. The weather is on point, the lighting is good for photos and it’s quiet. The caveat is those warm summer mornings taking in the Bull City can quickly become blistering hot afternoons. As I’m not originally from the South, I don’t rightly know what the vapors are, but I think I done near had some when such a bull spotting morning adventure turned into an all-day bull spotting spree in 102°F weather.
Wobbly, sweat drenched and on the verge of hangry I decided it was time to mosey on into a cool place for some eats. I assumed that tacos would make for great prevention and treatment for the vapors and headed towards Gonza’s Tacos y Tequila on Fernway right off of Duke.
Parked in the shade down the way and when I popped out of the car I quickly saw I had one more bull to spot before heading onto tacos. Within what I have since learned is the Imperial Building on the corner of Fernway and Morris is Bull City Veterinary Hospital and the incorporation of the city’s iconic mascot into the logo is impeccable. Awesome enough to person at risk of the vapors take pause before seeking taco treatment.
Moments later North Carolina watermelon margaritas and impeccable vegetarian tacos staved off the vapors. As the staff kindly brought my dog a third bowl of ice water he would spill like the 2 prior, I began making notes of the day’s bulls that had been spotted and Googling the associated contact information.
I hadn’t quite made it to looking up the information for the vet clinic before I stepped inside for a moment and was greeted by vividly bright and intricate bull paintings by Jewel Conway. In true Durham fashion, it would be Jewel that directed me to Dr. Lani Sabin, owner of Bull City Veterinary Hospital. It doesn’t take being in Durham too long to pick up that nothing is forgotten or misplaced here, but rather everything comes back around, in a good way. Jewel’s interview leading to Lani’s is a prime example of that. As was Lani wanting to meet up over tacos at Gonza’s to do her interview.
Lani greeted me in true Durham fashion, a beaming smile and open arms. However, her veterinarian ways quickly shined through when she asked me why I didn’t have my fuzzy assistant with me. I explained he has behavior issues with throwing water bowls at Gonza’s and thus was home holding down the fort.
We got to talking about our love of the city and how it’s growing, changing and really coming into its own. I gathered that Lani had been in the area for some time with her insight on things Durham past, present and future. I asked how long she has been in the Durham area.
“I’ve been at my practice, Bull City Veterinary Hospital, for 3 years this coming February. I’ve been involved in the Durham area since the early 2000s. I started out in Carrboro. When I lived there I was a vet tech at the time and a nurse. Then I went on to Cary and Chapel Hill while I went to vet school. After I graduated vet school I did one year in East Lancing, Michigan doing a veterinary internship in small animal medicine. I ended up moving back and living in Cary and working in Durham. I’ve always commuted to whatever place I’ve worked.
“The first practice I worked at in Durham was Quail Roost Veterinary Hospital, a small, country practice. That was 1995. It has become a large, well-known, bustling practice now in North Durham — they have 4 or 5 vets now. When I first started it was John Bianco and myself. We had handwritten records and receipts. When I compare what I do now to then, it’s like night and day. Medicine has changed and advanced so much.”
Durham is known for its love and support of entrepreneurs and thus meeting a thriving small business owner is not uncommon here. That said, running a veterinary practice is no small undertaking. I asked Lani what was your inspiration to open the practice and for the perfect name.
“I wanted to be here [downtown Durham]. At that point, my daughter was in mid-elementary school didn’t need me at home any more, which is why I had been doing mobile acupuncture. I loved doing mobile acupuncture, but you don’t get to see a large volume of clients. I missed that. I missed the interaction with lots of different people — bright smiles and people from different backgrounds. You find so much out and I love listening to people, hearing part of their story. I like chatting about where they’re going on vacation and how their kids are doing. I’ve seen children grow up from infants, all through high school to going off to college and now I get to do that again. I really try to embrace it all.
“In my mind, this is it for me. When I retire, I’ll retire. To me this is my baby. Every time we have a change I take it hard. We used to have a small practice and now it’s getting really busy. Now I have a regular relief vet that comes in. I’m kind of releasing the reigns a bit, it’s not all mine. Right now it’s really good because it’s still mine. Plus it’s been great. I enjoy my clients so much.
“I picked the name because I am just in love with the Bull City. It’s classic! There was no Bull City vet and it espouses everything about the area. I wanted to be downtown. As soon as I figured that out, that was it!
“Then I had a logo made and Caesar helped with that. He really came up with it. I had a logo and Caesar morphed it. My daughter was the inspiration for the bull horns. She said, “You know it’s ‘Bull City.’ You should have some horns in there.” That was my one requirement when Caesar was working on it.”
I asked what stands out the most about the Bull City to Lani.
“Oh gosh! The fact that it is growing. Durhamites people embrace the city. They love it. People are very devoted to the city — Durham is it. It’s artsy. It has this really great feel to it.”
That said, when it comes to what changes Lani would like to see for our city, she’d like to see that the ever changing and growing city grows with thought and panning. Like many of the locals, she has the same concerns of our city growing at a pace that traffic and the locals cannot keep up with it. While welcoming all the amazing contributions being brought into the area, she sees the value and importance of keeping Durham Durham.
We finished up our amazing meal at Gonza’s and Lani took me on a private, after hours tour. Hey, that’s the perks of hanging out with the boss… and how the great people of Durham genuinely roll. As we walked next door to her practice I posed the hypothetical question of it’s 4 years from now and Lani has the Bulls of Durham book sitting on her coffee table with a first time visitor to Durham about to open it up and take a look at Lani’s interview. That makes her words that person’s first impression of our city. What is the one thing she wants them to know about Durham, North Carolina?
“What would I show my friends about Durham is the numerous small businesses that offer the unique and unusual. These places make Durham what it is to me. From Other End of the Leash to Spoonflower, Taberna Tapas, Pizzeria Toro, Full Steam, Bull City Burger, Parker and Otis. It goes on and on. These are places that make Durham so special to me.”
No interview is complete for The Bulls of Durham without the hard hitting question of which bull in the city is your favorite. The tour of her amazing facility allowed her to show me in person. While her first is the famed bull in the CCB plaza right outside 21c, Major, her second favorite hangs in her lobby. It’s a brilliantly bright bull painting named Ferdinand by Jewel Conway. Showing, once again, in Durham all good things come back around.
Bull City Veterinary Hospital is located at 605 Fernway St. in Durham, North Carolina. To schedule an appointment for your furry friend call (919) 973–3434 or email BullCityVeterinaryHospital@gmail.com. My assistant goes there and loves it!
To follow The Bulls of Durham book project email TheBullsOfDurham at gmail.com and say, “Yo Sheila. Please put me on the mailing list.” Also follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Oh! And now that this website is a thing, you can check back here. Make it your homepage. Tell all your friends. Write home to your mom about it. :::Flashes Bull City hand sign.:::
Oh and treat yourself, your mom and everyone you love to the best coffee mug of all time, which happens to support this here book project. No big deal. But very big deal. Click HERE.