While visiting my sister and husband in Damascus about a year ago it became necessary to get my yellow Lab Jessie to the vet. The Village Vet Animal Hospital was nearby, they had an opening, and the gals up front assured me I would love Dr. Jaime Houston. Like many, Jessie doesn’t love trips to the vet. In fact, she’s not a big lover of new people.
I tried to reassure her while we waited in the exam room. Soon in walked the doctor. I was surprised to discover that Dr. Houston was a “little person,” or dwarf. I was even more surprised to watch Jessie fall in love. There was no hesitation, no hiding, no fear in her eyes. She greeted this doc with the same wiggly, bouncy dog greeting she had previously reserved for only those she knew and trusted. Jessie let Dr. Houston touch and handle her as she put Jessie through the paces of the exam.
I realized at once what great veterinarians “little people” make. Jessie was wholly at ease with the gentle gaze and voice that connected with her directly, rather than bending to talk down to her. And the small hands that handled her were clearly welcome.
As it turns out, as a child Houston dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Clearly, the combination of her love of animals and desire to care for them led her to the perfect profession — small animal veterinary care.
Growing up in Arizona, Houston’s family always had at least one dog and several cats, and like many kids, she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up. “My mom says I wanted to be a vet since I was 10 years old,” she says.
Living at an army base in Sierra Vista, Ariz., one of her first “jobs” was volunteering at the base vet clinic at age 12. “I was lucky to have parents that were extra-supportive of me and of what I wanted to do,” she says.
Dwarfism generally refers to a group of genetic disorders characterized by shorter than normal skeletal growth and some degree of disproportion. It can be caused by any one of more than 200 conditions. The majority of children born with it have average-sized parents. In Houston’s case, her mother is a dwarf while her father is of average size.
At age 14, after witnessing her mother struggle with routine daily tasks like reaching the kitchen sink and driving a car, the doctor began pursuing treatments that would free her from such limitations. After several years, 13 surgeries, and plenty of pain and discomfort, Houston emerged stronger, and with a greatly expanded repertoire of physical capabilities.
One procedure, called the Ilizarov — named after a self-taught orthopedic surgeon from the Soviet Union — actually lengthens bone through the body’s remarkable ability to grow new bone tissue.
The details really help appreciate just what this dedicated doc has gone through. Though a bit more complex, the Ilizarov procedure works like this: bones are broken at strategic points in the arms and legs. Then the limbs are fitted with cage-like apparatus with rings on opposite ends of the fractures. While the fractured bones begin to grow together, the frame is adjusted by means of turning nuts attached to the rings, thus increasing the space between the rings. The device gradually moves apart and stimulates the growth of new bone, muscle and nerve cells. Ultimately, Houston went from a height of 3’8” to 4’6”, gaining 10 inches in her legs and five in her arms.
On the move again, Houston studied at the University of Arizona and later in Colorado. In 2004 she made her way to the Northwest, for her first real job as a veterinarian at a large Alpaca farm in Chehalis, WA. “I was the only vet for 1,500 alpacas.” she says laughing.
From there, Houston moved to a small animal veterinary practice in Kent, WA, eventually settling for several years in Gresham, OR, at a Companion Pet Clinic (CPC). “It was there that I acquired the majority of my knowledge and experience,” she says. A high-volume clinic, at CPC she would see 30-40 patients each day, performing about 25 surgeries per week. She has been at Village Vet for the past two years.
Despite her surgeries, Houston is still technically considered a dwarf or “little person,” as she prefers to be called. The Little People of America (LPA) define dwarfism as an adult height of 4 feet, 10 inches or less.
But her diminutive stature has proven to be an amazing gift in her work as a veterinarian. “Dogs seem to love me and I can read them quickly,” she says, “and I seem to have a special bond with cats.”
Houston loves people as well as animals, which just increases her efficacy as a professional in a caregiving field. “I am excited to meet the patients and the challenges,” she says, adding that when she walks into a room she is always eager for “what’s next.”
Performing everything from routine exams to emergency surgeries, naturally things are not always rosy. “It’s hard especially with patients that you have worked with for a long time,” says Houston. And not all patients are four-legged and furry. “The weirdest here was a duck with a broken leg,” she says with a smile.
In her personal life, the doctor shares her life with four indoor cats and Quinn, an Irish Terrier. In her spare time, she trains and competes in Competitive Obedience trials, which range from basic good manners to sophisticated agility, tricks and nose work.
“I enjoy being unique,” says Dr. Houston, “and want to help others realize that they can reach their dreams too.”
Village Vet * 0318 SE Highway 212 Damascus, OR 97089 * 503-658-4200* www.villagevetah.com
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of BowWows & Meows Pet Services of SW WA. She and her brood, Jake and Jessie, both yellow Labs, and parrots Pedro (Yellow-Nape Amazon) and Lorali (African Grey) reside in Vancouver. Vonnie also is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events. Contact her at email@example.com.