The veterinary industry is at the heart of our community, and in the past decades has evolved along with the community, keeping pace with the remarkable changes in the relationship between humans and animals and the health care that goes along with it.
Steeples Veterinary Clinic, marking its 40th anniversary this year, has been at the forefront of the industry for all those decades and has seen those changes first hand.
Dr. Pat Rice started Steeples Veterinary Clinic 40 years ago, in a location at the north end of Cranbrook Street – then, as now, known as the Strip. In 1978 he and his wife built on the current location on Victor Road, just out of town on the highway to Kimberley.
“We borrowed the money, took the gamble, and off we went,” he said. “There was no shortage of business. These were busy times.”
Dr. Rice worked six and often seven days a week and was on call 24 hours a day, but he enjoyed the variety and challenge.
At the time, the practice was about evenly divided between large and small animals. As an indication of how things have changed in a mixed animal practice, look at the number of caesarian sections done in a calving season.
“Thirty, thirty-five years ago we did about 75 caesarians each spring. In the last 15 years that number has dropped to 15 to 20 per season.”
“The decrease in this procedure has to do with much better breeding criteria,” he said.
The livestock is also healthier and better quality, with much better feeding and nutrition practices, and better disease control.”
Practice treats pets of all varieties
It is also true that there are fewer cows – the local agriculture industry is smaller in terms of ranching than it was 40 years ago, as the East Kootenay has seen an increased urbanization of its towns. That societal shift has been accompanied by another transformation, that of our relationship with our pets.
“Pets have gone from being animal companions to being members of the family,” said Andrew Skaien, manager of Steeples Veterinary Clinic. “And it’s not just dogs and cats. We see everything here: lizards, snakes, goats, farm animals – there’s not much we won’t see. We are always busy, and there’s something different every day. There is certainly never a boring day for us.”
It would be fair to say the emotional quotient has increased, as the human-animal bond has changed over the years, becoming more sophisticated. And the demand for veterinary service has increased with the animals becoming so much more family focused. People are more emotionally invested in their pets, and the veterinarians see the results in their work reflected in the bonds in both animals and humans.
“People are so appreciative of what we do, and they show their appreciation in so many ways,” Skaien said. “It’s pretty amazing being able to have such a positive influence on so many people’s lives. It’s why we do what we do.”
Veterinary care has changed over the years, keeping pace with the societal changes. “For example, there are far fewer bone fractures than there were 40 years ago,” Dr. Rice said. “Back then when you drove down the Strip, you might see 10 dogs, riding around unsecured in the backs of pickup trucks. When the truck goes around a corner, the dog could fall out, often resulting in broken bones. “We see far fewer of these types of injuries today as society has changed how it treats and manages pets.”
Steeples Veterinary Clinic has been changing too
Along with shifts in veterinary medicine, Steeples Veterinary Clinic has been changing too. In December of 2008, Dr. Ruth Sawatsky purchased the hospital and is the owner today. To keep up with modern technologies in veterinary medicine, the clinic has introduced a mobile app, a webstore and a well-known social media presence.
Steeples Veterinary Clinic work is not just limited to the domestic – to pets and livestock. Dr. Rice and their other doctors also do a great deal of work on wildlife, brought to them by Conservation Officers. This can range from putting a plate in a bobcat’s broken leg, to tranquilizing a moose, to helping with the recent urban deer translocation, to implanting badgers with receivers and fishers with transceivers. Injured raptors and orphaned bear cubs have received nurturing at Steeples Veterinary Clinic. And it’s work these doctors do pro bono.
In spite of the dictum that a successful veterinarian works to put themselves out of business, Steeples Veterinary Clinic has never been busier, and has grown immensely along with the changing times. From the first days with one vet (Dr. Rice himself) and one receptionist, Steeples Veterinary Clinic now employs 21 staff, including four veterinarians. And this does not just reflect the increased population of Cranbrook, which has more than doubled since Dr. Rice first started the clinic.
The techniques have become extremely sophisticated, with better drugs and medicines, and an ER and laboratory as complex as any hospital, with digital X-ray machines, diagnostic ultrasound, endoscopy and blood diagnostic machinery.
Steeples Veterinary Clinic can see 40 clients a day – with at least one appointment per day involving dental surgery. Along with the reception area, exam rooms and treatment area, there is a large animal facility, with holding pens and a quarantine ward in the back.
Veterinary medicine is also working to eradicate disease, not just treat it. Distemper, for example, used to be common in dogs, but now is rare. Parvovirus first hit this area 40 years ago, and was a disaster, Dr. Rice says, with a high mortality rate. “We couldn’t keep up.” Now, thanks to vaccines and better hygiene, parvoviral infection is rare, and treatable.
Looking ahead to the next 40 years, without a doubt our relationship with our animal friends will evolve further. And without a doubt Steeples Veterinary Clinic will be right there with us.