It’s not often that you’re greeted at a reception desk by a black cat that wants to be petted, but that’s the norm at the St. Francois Xavier Animal Hospital.
Veterinarian Dr. Betty Hughes opened the clinic in 1997 after leaving a vet clinic in Winnipeg. She was looking for a new location closer to her home at Twin Lakes Beach.
When a local farmer offered to sell her a portion of his land located next to Highway 26 in the village of St. Francois Xavier, she accepted.
"I decided to come out here," she said.
Hughes only treats cats and dogs in her well-planned, compact clinic. It’s equipped with two examination rooms, an isolation area, operating room, an X-ray machine and has equipment available for an ultrasound technician to use.
Although the clinic is located about a 15-minute drive from the western edge of Winnipeg, Hughes is able to send in samples by courier to a provincial laboratory, and sometimes gets the results back within the day — or the next day at the latest.
"I’m lucky compared to most doctors," she laughed.
Soon after she opened her clinic and began seeing her furry patients, she discovered that the St.
Francois and Headingley areas have a preponderance of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease.
"We’re a hotbed of Lyme disease," she said. "We’ve been vaccinating like mad."
The only way to identify the disease in a dog is to test its blood, and Hughes recommends this be done every other year.
"We test routinely for it, along with heartworm," she said. "And if anything doesn’t seem quite right, we test."
If a test shows a positive result, she prescribes antibiotics for the animal to reduce damage to its autoimmune system. While a dog with the disease is never 100% cured, if it stays healthy, the symptoms shouldn’t cause serious health issues.
Even though her clinic is home to over a dozen cats, Hughes tries to reduce the local feral cat population by spaying and neutering any cats brought in by area residents. These "riverbank" cats are also examined and vaccinated, or euthanized if in poor health.
"We have to restrict the cat population in the area," Hughes said.
She recommends that pet owners bring their animals to a vet on a regular basis, and not wait until there’s a serious health issue.
"The big thing is prevention," she said.
Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association president Dr. Wayne Tomlinson worked as a vet in southwestern Manitoba for 22 years. He said that most parts of the province have enough veterinarians. However, recent college graduates aren’t always willing to become the sole vet in a rural practice as most want to have regular time off.
He believes there are many pluses to living and working in a rural area, especially for a vet with a large-animal or mixed practice.
"It’s a very rewarding career," he said.