It was the warts on the nose of a fussy French bulldog called Ming that propelled Kim Hammond into celebrity orbit. Before the warts, Dr Hammond was a successful vet and, in his own way, a pretty successful publicity bound. He had thank-you notes from Presidents Reagan and Bush in his curriculum vitae file, and he was always on local television news shows in Baltimore, Maryland, hamming it up with a litter of puppies or a grouchy pet llama as he dispensed veterinary wisdom.
But his was a parochial sort of fame, until Ming came along.
Ming is the beloved pet of Hervé Leger, the Parisian fashion designer. Last October, as her master laboured feverishly over his spring collection, she fell sick with hyperkeratosis, which is a technical way of saying warty growths on the nose.
She had arthritis, too, but at least you couldn’t see that. Ming snuffled and moped around the legs of the seamstresses, set designers, hairfixers and models, looking unsightly and driving Leger quite distracted with worry.
And then, Dr. Kim, as he likes to be known, showed up. The vet fell to his knees in immediate, sympathetic communion with the dog.
“I am like that,” he confides. “I understand the culture of animals better than most people. I know their comfort zones, I have an affinity for them.”
Within moments, he had produced keratolytic cream for a snuffling, crumpled snout, and lo! the unsightly warts soon disappeared.
“She is perfect!” declared Leger, giving Dr. Kim a glowing testimonial. “Even her fur is thicker!”
With the blessing of Leger and others, Dr. Kim has become animal healer to the stars, and now finds himself summoned across the Atlantic by telephone, asked to dispense prescriptions by fax machine, and working as consultant to the movie industry.
The role of vet to the jet set is one that he might have been born for. As the great-great-grandson of Andrew Saks, the founder of the Saks Fifth Avenue fashion empire, he is a member of the fashion aristocracy. Fashion designers, like Renaissance artists, need patrons, and the Saks family is to Paris what the Medicis were to Florence. When Dr. Kim goes to Paris with his cousin Peter Marx, who runs Saks-Jandel, doors open for them.
“After my divorce a few years ago, Peter called and asked if I wanted to come with him to Paris,” explains Dr. Kim. “It was a marvelous thing to do. New York is the center of the world, but Paris! In Paris, fashion is art, fashion is life!”
We meet in New York, in the Givenchy boutique on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It is one of those shops with a few discreet racks of mostly black clothes and a door that is buzzed open only to those who look as if they can afford them.
Dr. Kim is here to treat Borghese, a tortoiseshell cat he has diagnosed as suffering, pitiably, from hyperthyroidism. She was wasting away when her owner, Michele Fix, who runs Givenchy in New York, found Dr Kim in Paris. Thanks to his little pills of radioactive iodine, Borghese has gained 4lb in a matter of weeks.
“When I met him during fashion week in Paris, I assumed he was a buyer,” says Fix, her eyebrow arching magnificently. “After all, you do not meet many vets at table. He was so elegant!”
They got to chatting about cats and dogs, and Dr. Kim knew by the time pudding arrived that Borghese was a sick animal. Immediately after lunch, he faxed instructions back to a vet in New York, and voilá!