There’s a belief among people who aren’t veterinarians that those who choose to become vets do so because they prefer animals to people.
According to veterinarian Heidi Houchen of VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists (VCA NWVS), nothing could be further from the truth. “As a veterinarian, you work with people at their core level, which is their relationships with animals,” she says. “The doctors here are highly people-oriented.”
In fact, Houchen says everyone she knows in the profession considers it a calling. “What all of us love about it is the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of animals and people. As a veterinarian, it’s important to respect the dedication that owners feel for their animals.”
Dr. Houchen and the staff at VCA NWVS must be doing something right — this year they’re celebrating their 15th anniversary as the largest veterinary specialty group in Oregon. In addition to treating critically ill and injured pets at their fully-staffed, 24-hour ICU and emergency service, VCA NWVS also offers specialty services in cardiology, oncology, ophthalmology, neurology, radiology, and both orthopedic and soft tissue surgery.
Grown with Care
The original three partners in the practice — Drs. Robert Mack, Paul Scherlie, and Scott Lozier
— worked together for nearly a decade before starting VCA NWVS in 1999. “Their whole core mission when they started out was to create a culture of compassionate care,” says Houchen.
The practice grew quickly. The hospital facility was originally 10,000 square-feet; 15 years later, an additional 12,000 square-feet has been added, and a third building will be completed by the end of this year.
While it’s true that VCA NWVS is a large facility with cutting-edge equipment, people and patients remain the focus. As Houchenputs it: “We want to provide high touch as well as high tech.” Maintaining active participation in the neighborhood is an important component of VCA NWVS's core beliefs. The highly trained veterinary technical staff are dedicated not only to their hospitalized patients, but also to volunteering for a variety of community programs, such as VCA NWVS First Aid and CPR classes.
The Lifeblood of Care
Houchen manages the VCA NWVS Critical Care Blood Bank, an important community resource.
The blood bank was created in 2006 in response to a severe, unexpected shortage of blood for cats and dogs. In 2008, the Oregon Zoo invited VCA NWVS to help with the delivery of the first elephant born in Portland since 1994. Administering antibodies from mother to calf — along with elephant plasma if needed — would decrease the risk of infections.
Turns out it was needed. VCA NWVS drew blood from Tusko, the dad elephant, processed it into plasma, and administered three liters during the calf’s first day of life. He eventually thrived.
The hospital has provided more than 6,000 units of blood components in the past eight years, thanks to donor dogs and cats.
Uncommon Care for More Common Pets
Less exotic patients are referred to VCS NWVS by partner veterinarians when specialty services are needed. “We see the sickest animals sometimes, with complicated issues,” says Houchen. “For instance, an animal that’s diabetic may also have a thyroid problem. Or perhaps a patient has degenerative joint disease or a complicated fracture. Maybe you have a Dachshund with a disc issue or an epileptic animal with seizures. They will be referred to specialists just like with human care. We do oncology, radiology, MRIs and CTs.”
VCA NWVS doctors’ dedication to animals extends beyond their already successful practice.
Ophthalmologist Dr. Scherlie often flies to Alaska to help care for sled dogs. “Who would have thunk it that someone would allow me to be an ophthalmologist for a dog?” he laughs.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lozier has worked with African wild dogs and tigers at the Oregon Zoo, and has lectured around the world about orthopedic surgery for animals.
Those exciting high-profile excursions aside, Houchen reiterates that most veterinarians don’t choose their profession for prestige.
“You’re covered with muck and blood and poo a lot of the time,” she says. “You go into it for the incredible high level of satisfaction you get from the work, and the ability to affect peoples’ lives. And you do it because at your core you feel that’s where you belong.”
Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home. She now lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, Oregon, with a llama named Linda, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, two kids and a patient husband.