Hettinger, N.D. gets state-of-art new clinic and vets

HETTINGER, N.D. -- Flesh-eating maggots can be a good thing, says Lindy West, 29, one of the youngest veterinarians practicing at West River Veterinary Clinic in Hettinger.

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The vets at West Dakota Veterinary Clinic get to practice in a new state-of-the-art facility with such equipment as a digital x-ray machine and in-house blood machines that give immediate results for most tests. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

HETTINGER, N.D. - Flesh-eating maggots can be a good thing, says Lindy West, 29, one of the youngest veterinarians practicing at West River Veterinary Clinic in Hettinger.

West was part of a team a few years ago at Kansas State University that used maggots. The maggots ate the dead flesh out of a horse's hoof. With that and stem cells and surgery, they saved a severely lame mare from euthanasia.

And then there's West River's other veterinarian from the millennial generation-Jenna Innes, 31, who has been practicing at West River for about two years.

Innes recalled examining an extremely thin dog that couldn't put on weight. Its owner told Innes they had tried to find help elsewhere but the problem hadn't been successfully diagnosed - and making it worse, people, suspecting the owner of animal neglect, had even reported the situation to authorities.

It was Innes who was able to figure out what was wrong - an odd pancreatic disorder - and successfully treated it. The dog is now teetering on being too pudgy, Innes said.


Innes and West, the clinic's two newest and youngest vets, "bring youth and energy, new technologies and information," said Dr. Ethan Andress, who has practiced at the clinic for about 17 years.

"They are two very talented veterinarians that have an energy and passion for what they do...the next generation to take over the clinic," Andress said.

In addition, they - and the clinic's other three vets - get to practice in a new state-of-the-art facility with such equipment as a digital x-ray machine and in-house blood machines that give immediate results for most tests.

An open house to celebrate the clinic's one-year anniversary is set for April 21.

The new clinic, at 203 Highway 12 E., is located across town from the old clinic, which is now being used for boarding and storage, West said.

West, whose strongest interest is equine medicine, said the clinic is seeing a doubling in recent years on time spent providing equine services.

West also has started Ferrier Days at the clinic - bringing in ferrier Casey Kalenze from Bowman to provide services. While there, horses can also get other services - deworming, vaccinations, exams.

"It's a convenience, saves (the horse owners) mileage," West said.


She's also considering adding alternative treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic help.

Innes, who grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch, has a general practice, but because of her background has become the go-to vet for the clinic's sheep and goat clients.

"I get phone calls from all across the state," she said.

Innes, who grew up in Wyoming on the family ranch, said her family knew tough times.

"We were pretty broke," said Innes, who was age 12 when her dad died.

So she said she knows how hard it is sometimes financially to call a vet in to help.

The West River veterinarians say they are aware that many pet owners and livestock producers have a limited budget.

"We do as much as we can...We can come up with creative solutions," West said. "We can do a lot of good even within a limited budget.


Innes said she knows personally the impact of one sick animal: "I remember how much that one cow can affect the family. That's a person's livelihood."

Innes said she wanted to be a veterinarian from the moment she knew what the word meant.

"I always wanted to save animals...I always wished I could help," Innes said.

She said she remembers regularly bringing homeless animals home and caring for them, sometimes in secret locations, unbeknownst to the family.

"My parents kind of got used to it," she said.

Innes, a graduate of Auburn University's vet school in Alabama, said she made it through the extremely rigorous program not because she's a genius, but because, "I'm a really hard worker."

She said she kind of lives by something she read once: "If you're lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it."

Innes, who wanted to come back close to home to practice, convinced a vet at West River to be her preceptor for her vet school's required two-month work clinic she had to complete.


The clinic would end up offering her a position.

Now she cares for everything from sheep, goats, cattle, dogs, to sugar gliders and ferrets. She once had to break the news to someone who thought they had bought two male guinea pigs that the one getting "fat" was definitely not male.

West grew up in Menoken in a rodeo family.

West said her parents recall that since she was tiny she was forever talking about becoming a veterinarian.

"I loved working with and helping animals...especially liked working with horses," West said in a recent interview.

As an undergraduate pursuing a microbiology degree at North Dakota State University, she and her quarter horse, Henry, competed on the school's rodeo club in team roping, and she maintained her violin playing by performing with a group at nearby Concordia College in Minnesota.

Later at Kansas State University's vet school, she worked toward an expertise in equine medicine and surgery.

She said she always planned to come back to North Dakota, but worked in Iowa for a time while her husband, a chemical engineer, had a position there.


He has since left that career, getting back into ranching at his grandparents' place north of Hettinger where the couple and their daughter, age 1, now live.

West said it was during vet school that she became familiar with the West River clinic. For needed college credits she worked at West River for a two-week unpaid externship. When one of the vets, Dr. Donald Safratowich retired, she was contacted about taking his place.

While a main focus is doctoring horses, she also works on every other type animal that walks in - or is carried in: About every week they get animals that have been hit by cars or tractors - and a lot by ATVS, she said.

Going out in the field, West and Innes have experienced hesitancy from some livestock producers when they show up.

"They'll ask, 'Where's one of the guys?'" Said West, who is 5 foot 3 inches tall.

But she said after they observe her at work, the outcomes, everything's fine.

"You do one job for them and they see you really know what you're doing and it's not an issue any longer," she said.

Innes said clients who are reluctant to accept a female vet are her favorite clients.


"I love clients like that. I make it my goal to win them over...prove myself," Innes said.

Innes said she has natural advantages - like her small hands. She said ranchers have express how they wished they could do what she does.

With her small hands and arms she has an easier time getting in to help the mama cows, plus she has the tools and various techniques to make the job easier.

"More than nine times out of 10 they'll (the ranchers) end up saying, 'You're OK,' " Innes said.

But she said she also understands their attitudes: "My grandfather was an old-school rancher."

She said one thing that surprised her about being a veterinarian was the "compassion fatigue." She said from growing up on a ranch she knows it's expected that animals die, sometimes. It's understood and dealt with.

But when she as a vet can't save an animal - like a past case, a dog that after five hours of surgery couldn't be saved - that's tough.

"We care so much... I don't know if people realize how much we can take home," she said.

Innes said clinic's veterinarians are more than happy to - and do - take phone calls and questions from the general public about anything, from vaccination questions to whatever.

Innes said she is so proud to work at this state-of-the-art facility - a 12,300-square-foot building on nine acres - and hopes people will come to the open house April 21 to see it.

"We have some of the best medical equipment," she said.

And it's a team effort.

She said the veterinarians decided to have one group office in the new building instead of individual offices for each vet. That way, they sit together and discuss cases as a group. Sometimes, an x-ray is analyzed by more than one set of eyes.

"You get your money's worth...five vets for the price of one," Innes said.

Actually, 5.5 vets, because the retiree still comes in to help, she said.

The clinic's other vets - besides Innes, West and Andress - are Lisa Henderson, Bleaux Johnson and part-time help from longtime veterinarian Dr. Donald Safratowich, who is retired, sort of.

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