The Truth About Small Town Veterinarians… at least, this one

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I had some pretty high hopes when I opened Seeley Swan Veterinary in our tiny little town several years ago.

I figured it would be something akin to the lives of James, Siegfried and Tristan, without the cows. I was game.

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There are things, though, that weren’t quite the same about the community I lived in and the foggy, rainy one where All Creatures took place.

After our first 2 years here, for example, I was the only doctor of any kind. My husband had tried working here but there wasn’t enough volume to keep him busy.

You would think that would have been a clue but I kept going. Remember, I was game!

I knew I was in for something whenever a client would glance left and right then ask me in a serious voice if I was just like a real doctor… “like, I can ask or tell you anything”….

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Had I wanted to listen to human problems I would have applied to med school. I wanted to play with cats and dogs and ponies and ferrets.

And yet…

“I have this lump. Down there,” said a client as he started to unbutton his jeans. Apparently the lump didn’t affect his “performance” (his words).

Uh…

I had a few people show me their rotten teeth, asking whether or not I thought they should see a dentist.

I think, in general, if you’re asking your veterinarian about your lumps and smelly teeth then, yes, you should see someone who deals with those things regularly.

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There are some amazing perks to being the only vet in a close-knit community. Like my buddy, Rocky, who I would see walking on the streets with his folks as well as in my clinic.

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And Spike, the happiest pittie in the world, who would bound into the clinic and sit looking up at me like this every single time he came in.

I miss our Dog Days of Summer celebrations that incorporated a walkathon fundraiser for the local shelters, agility trials and dog shows.

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Knowing just about everyone allows for some fun events, like puppy parties, holiday open houses, summer celebrations and school or Brownies tours.

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I miss those things.

The smiles on kindergarten faces as they rode my hydraulic tilt surgery table.

The looks of astonishment on first or second graders as I showed them roundworms preserved in a little jar of clear fluid.

The wide-eyed Brownies viewing radiographs of a little dog’s bladder that was full of obvious stones.

The joy, relief and love on the faces of grown-ups as they picked up their healthy seniors after another anesthetic procedure went very well.

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I miss going to my cute little clinic in Big Red, my ’96 Dodge Ram with the vet box and humungous snow blade on the front, waving at every one, knowing everyone’s story.

I would tell Alistair something about just about every car on the road as he would take me to lunch.

“That’s so-and-so, who has one of the Great Danes.”

“Oh, that’s the couple whose older lab we just had to say goodbye to.”

“Whoop, don’t get too close to that one, he’ll be coming home from his noon bender. He has that nice lab I like so much.”

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I miss the cuddles, the kisses, the Easy Cheese fan club and the satisfaction at being able to provide care in a cozy, safe environment when needed.

I even miss the beautiful goodbyes we were able to provide, often on a lovely rug with an angel on it.

Many tears were shed and many wonderful stories were shared during those quiet, tender visits.

For Hunter, Chessie, Snooksie, Tilly, Chase, Kodiak, Cybil, Scooter, Thelma, Koopie and Andi.

And so many more.

I am glad I was there when I was there.

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But I’m glad I made the choice to close my little vet clinic last fall. The decision took me 2 years to make because I was proud of what we had built. I wasn’t ready to accept defeat.

Despite the no-pays and no-shows.

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But they started to really add up.

Which is one of the things I don’t miss.

“I don’t have any money.”

5 words that I heard way too often, especially after we had gone over the amount individuals would owe after a planned spay or neuter with vaccinations.

I hand over your animal in excellent condition, having had a safe, warm surgery done where you won’t even see the sutures after, where they were taken care of as if they were my own pet, and you say you can’t pay?

And its a very small town where I have to see these people regularly.

“That’s the guy who stiffed me for 2 cat spays and won’t return our phone calls.”

“We can’t eat there- 2 of the servers are in Collections.”

“One of the waitresses there owes me a hundred bucks and has disconnected her phones.”

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I had a lot of good folks make payments and I always appreciated their efforts. I know that accidents happen and you aren’t always prepared.

Many people are eager to tell me I was too nice.

Or a soft touch.

Or a sucker.

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But then how would you handle it, knowing you were perfectly capable of saving an innocent animal’s life even if the owners were out of work?

Or they were rip-roaring drunk, slurring about their beloved dog they just drove over? (That one was a classic- as I stabilized the big lovable pooch and took radiographs of his beaten-up chest, the ‘dad’ fell down on my waiting room floor as he was making a phone call to get a ride.) The dog survived after a week in the big city. Never saw dollar one from them, myself.

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I would hear about almost everything animal-related in our tiny town and it started to tear me apart.

Like the lovely lab puppy who I dropped everything for when the owner brought him in for a ‘dangling leg’. X-rays showed a clean femur fracture. Easy fix, especially on a young, vibrant, healthy pup.

Only I didn’t do orthopedic work here so we sent him off to the big city.

Apparently they could never come to terms on payment plans ahead of time so the guy brought his dog back home and shot it.

I would have taken that dog myself.

Clients who sat here while we fit that emergency in would have taken that dog.

“That’s the guy who shot his puppy.”

“That’s the dad who told me a bullet was a heck of a lot cheaper than a cat spay.”

“That’s the wealthy family who turfed their pup to the shelter because they didn’t want to deal with him anymore and they didn’t even leave a donation.”

I didn’t like where my conversations went and it was eating me up inside.

And I still had to see and mingle with these people in town.

The only answer, for my mental and financial health, was to close.

And yet, I miss bringing Cleo and UB to work as “shop dogs”.

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I miss seeing my good friend, Lynn almost every day and sharing our lives and views with each other.

I miss seeing Fireman Frank and sharing our days and war-stories about drop-off kitties and neglected animals who will get their own blog someday.

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I miss the great clients and friends who are out there and the summer people who always brought their pets back to me.

Sedona, Kula, Bruiser, Lucy, Ruby, Crosby, Duncan, Malcolm, Mackenzie, Cooper and many more.

But now I get to see these clients on the golf course and when we talk about dogs and cats and horses it is nostalgic and still happy.

I feel healthy in my mind and body and I’m not allowing myself to carry everyone’s burdens.

I’m a better person, wife and friend now and nobody asks me to check their lumps.

Or feel their lymph nodes.

Or look at their fungal infections to see if I think they are healing.

And that is the truth about this small-town veterinarian.

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4 thoughts on “The Truth About Small Town Veterinarians… at least, this one

  1. Cilla

    I so miss being able to come visit you with my little herd. You are the best vet I ever had the privilege of bringing my babies to for check ups and health needs. Your empathy and kindness will always be remembered. Hershey, Zuri, Napoleon and Spike send their love! xoxoxoxoxo

    • Awww, thanks, Cilla. Your merry band of wee lovebugs was always a bright light in our clinic. Just seeing them all leashed up and moving around at your feet is a kick. What learning experiences they have been for you from liver issues to heartworm! You (and they) have handled it all with grace and love. I’m so lucky to have shared that with you. 🙂

  2. You were and still are the best. I recognized when I first met you, but I did have a feeling it wouldn’t work out in that particular area for both of your skills. You did so much for our family, horses, cat, Packman, Maggie, Lily and Princess Yoga. We also took on too much trying to rescue and then becoming a product of America’s economy woes. Montana is where my health and spirit broke but you two were “sunshine” for both Gary and I. We will never, ever forget you. What you did for us and no one should work and not receive anything. You look happy and so does Doc and that makes us happy. But never forget what a natural and wonderful person you are with animals and how much you tried to do with a small community. Both of you. We will always hold you in our heart.

    • Jill, thank-you. I always adored you guys and knew the bonds you shared with your animal companions. Its a hard go in these tiny towns that are tucked away but I know that I tried my best. Sometimes its okay to admit that things aren’t working. That’s why you and Gary left to find sunnier pastures and a better world. For us, it was closing the clinic and finding a balance. You are in our hearts as well.

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