Bringing the past to life: 6 practices preserving veterinary heritage


When Sandusky, Ohio, veterinarian Dr. Michael E. Metroka commemorated his practice's 75th anniversary in February, he had reasons to believe it might be the nation's oldest that has operated continuously "within the same four walls."

When Sandusky, Ohio, veterinarian Dr. Michael E. Metroka commemorated his practice's 75th anniversary in February, he had reasons to believe it might be the nation's oldest that has operated continuously "within the same four walls."

He acknowledged, though, that he couldn't prove that.

Signs from the past: Upper left, note the old hitching posts inside the Patterson Dog and Cat Hospital and at lower right some signs from bygone days. Upper right: Dr. Glynes Graham performs a procedure. Lower left: the building exterior near downtown Detroit.

Now it turns out that he definitely can't lay claim to the title.

After DVM Newsmagazine (February 2008) featured the interesting history behind Metroka's Prohibition-Era building, six older practices around the nation made themselves known through e-mails, letters and telephone calls.

The oldest of them is the Patterson Dog and Cat Hospital in Detroit — established in 1844 and in continuous operation in the same building since 1909.

With the disclaimer that the true record-holder might still be out there, here's what DVM Newsmagazine learned about the six practices:

Patterson Dog and Cat Hospital

Location: Detroit

Practice founded: 1844

Current owner: Dr. Glynes Graham

IT'S LOCATED IN Woodbridge, a tough old Detroit neighborhood, but Graham, who's lived in the area all her life, worked at the hospital since her late teens and acquired the practice in 1985 — just two years after she graduated from Michigan State University — says she wouldn't live or work anywhere else.

121 years in business: Pomeroy's Animal Hospital has operated in the same location in downtown St. Paul, Minn., since 1886, the year the present owner's grandfather, Benjamin A. Pomeroy, began to practice.

She recalls the 150th anniversary celebration she held at the hospital 14 years ago, in 1994, that drew 200 people.

The story of how the practice came into her hands is a long one.

In 1844, veterinarian William James Patterson came to Detroit, then a town of only 10,000, from England, setting up his large-animal veterinary surgery practice downtown; he was still Detroit's only DVM as late as 1857 and lived until 1890.

His son, Elijah Patterson, moved the practice to what then was a nearby rural area, and in 1909 built a brick residence and a brick hospital 40 feet by 80 feet on the site, where his patients were riding, draft and thoroughbred horses.

In 1926, the hospital underwent its first and only renovation, and the practice began shifting mostly to companion animals. Horse stalls were replaced with exam rooms, labs and boarding kennels.

In 1946, veterinarian Raymond Howard began working with Elijah Patterson, then in his 80s, and his son, James, who ran the business. Elijah Patterson died four years later, at age 85.

By that time, the residence and hospital had long been absorbed into the near-downtown Woodbridge neighborhood. Patterson's son, Jim Jr., didn't take up veterinary medicine so Patterson made Howard heir to the business. But after a 1962 robbery at the hospital, during which he was pistol-whipped, Howard gave notice and left to start his own practice in the suburbs.

Dr. Eugene Miller bought the property from Patterson in 1966 and retained the practice name, replacing old wooden cages with stainless-steel ones, paneled the waiting room and covered the brick exterior with siding to deter thieves from entering through windows. The old residence was torn down.

The hospital continued to thrive, even through the 1967 Detroit racial riot which devastated parts of the area.

During the violence, Miller found a way to drive to the clinic to feed boarded animals.

Later he added three veterinarians, but with other area businesses departing, the neighborhood kept deteriorating.

In 1985, Miller also left the city, selling the practice to Graham.

Today the historic neighborhood, where most homes were built before the 1920s, is less crime-ridden, but Graham maintains the same security measures — including a clear-plastic cage surrounding the receptionist.

"We have a large homeless population, some of them with mental issues. Just the other day, I looked up to see someone coming through a window, but he was harmless," she says. "I love this area, I've lived here so long and would never want to leave."

About 10 years ago, she took down the siding she abhorred and four years ago had the painted brick exterior power-washed to restore its original exterior.

"Otherwise, there's been very little change to the place. We don't use them, but do keep some of the old, tongue-in-groove wooden cages, which were so hard to clean, in one room up on the second floor just for fun," Graham says.

She is the hospital's only veterinarian and has an eight-member support staff. The practice maintains about 3,500 clients.

Pomeroy's Animal Hospital

Location: St. Paul, Minn.

Practice founded: 1886

Current owner: Dr. Fred Pomeroy

"I KNOW FOR a fact that Dr. Metroka's clinic is not the longest continuously run practice in the nation," writes Katrina Schimmel, DVM, an associate at the Pomeroy Animal Hospital. "The owner's grandfather, Benjamin A. Pomeroy, started this practice at the exact location where it now stands in 1886. It has operated as a veterinary hospital for the past 121 years, passed down through the Pomeroy family. Dr. Fred Pomeroy, the current owner, is a third-generation veterinarian."

Benjamin Pomeroy operated the practice from 1886 until about six months before his death in 1956, when he was in his mid 90s, Schimmel says. "His three sons practiced with him for many years and one of them, Harold, ran the practice from the late 1950s until his death in 1979. Fred Pomeroy has been the owner since then."

Schimmel provided a 1947 local newspaper clipping that highlighted Benjamin Pomeroy's 61st year in business "at the same Eighth Street location — almost a record here for continuity of business at an original site."

It tells of Pomeroy's arrival in St. Paul from his native Quebec in 1884 and establishing his clinic two years later, then becoming a U.S. citizen shortly after.

"Those days," the article states, "his work was largely concerned with horses. He says there was one dog treated on average to every 500 horses. Today, there are 500 dogs to every horse."

In her letter, Schimmel explains that "Eighth Street in St. Paul was renamed in the 1960s and is now Seventh Street, and the building number changed from 183 to 185," but it's the same hospital on the same spot.

Taylor Veterinary Hospital

Location: Cedar Falls, Iowa

Practice founded: 1917

Current owner: Dr. T. James Taylor

"I AM SURE you'll receive many e-mails about longevity, so I would like to add my two cents' worth," Taylor says in an e-mail.

"My practice was started in 1917 by a Dr. Bacon, who sold it to Dr. Lloyd Boxwell in 1943. I purchased the practice in 1981 and we are still using everything that Dr. Bacon used back in 1917. We have added on and remodeled, but it is the same facility."

Well preserved: The Rutherford Veterinary Hospital in Dallas is a registered county and state historial landmark.

"It was very unusual for the time, but Dr. Bacon was 100 percent a small-animal practitioner," Taylor told DVM Newsmagazine in a telephone interview. "That's because his father was a large-animal vet just four blocks away at the time."

The oldest part of Taylor's practice is a 17-foot by 50-foot section where square nails were used and "you can see where a fire went through the rough-hewn wood at one time."

Today, the original building and the addition provide about 3,500 square feet of space. The small-animal practice has 2.5 veterinarians, 13 other staff members and sees about 6,000 clients a year.

Washington Heights Animal Hospital Inc.

Location: New York City

Established: 1923

Current owner: Stanley Weissman, DVM

"IN REGARD TO the article on possibly the oldest practice, I have better bragging rights," says Weissman in a handwritten letter. "My practice was founded by Dr. Alexander Slawson (Cornell Class of 1910) after his service in the Army Veterinary Corps in World War I."

When a new U.S. Post Office for the Washington Heights area was built two blocks away in 1923, Slawson purchased the old post office building on Amsterdam Avenue, near the George Washington Bridge, and practiced there until his death in 1961. There was a "minimal renovation" in 1929.

Weissman purchased the building and practice in 1962. "The building was a total mess," he writes. "We had to clear everything out and start from scratch." He, along with his brother, his father and a family friend renovated everything.

In October 2003, a 105-year-old water main broke, flooding the area. "Our street was a river of brown, muddy water. Drivers had to flee their cars," Weissman recalls. "A river ran from our front door through the waiting room and hallway and out the back door. There was 10 feet of water in the basement."

It took five months at a cost of $250,000 to repair the damage. Weissman was covered by practice insurance. But afterward, "our clientele quintupled," he says.

"This area had been the East Coast supermarket for illicit drugs, with rampant crime. Thanks to a crackdown ... the area is much safer now. Real estate values have soared and young professionals have moved in, who demanded and got better schools and public safety," Weissman says.

"After years of 60-hour weeks, I have cut back on my office hours. ... "I am thinking of retiring soon after 51 years in practice."

Rutherford Veterinary Hospital

Location: Dallas, Texas

Designed and built: 1924

Current owner: Dr. Ronald E. Vaughn

"I WOULD LOVE to see you do a follow-up story and highlight the Rutherford practice in Dallas. The building has been beautifully preserved and maintained over the years," writes Christine Norris, a senior territory manager for Novartis Animal Health US Inc.

The practice's Web site says it's the oldest continuously operating veterinary practice in Texas, explaining that Dr. Frank E. Rutherford began practicing as an unlicensed doctor in 1906 and received a non-graduate veterinary license in 1920. "Between 1906 and 1924, he spent the majority of his years as a solo practitioner working out of a variety of locations, primarily making house calls, and worked primarily on livestock," the Web site says.

The Rutherford hospital went into business in 1924 and the practice still operates out of the same building today. Rutherford died in 1932, leaving his widow, Nell Rutherford, in charge. His son-in-law, Charles Steeger, then a technician, attended Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, graduating in 1936 to become practice owner with Mrs. Rutherford retaining the property.

Steeger had numerous associates but remained sole practice owner until the 1950s when Dr. James Earl Nash joined him as a partner. Nell Rutherford died in 1975, and Dr. Nash died soon after, leaving Steeger again as sole practice and property owner.

Dr. Ronald E. Vaughn, a 1967 Texas A&M grad, joined the practice in 1969. Ten years later, shortly after Nash's death, he became a partner and in 1985 purchased the building, land and practice from Dr. Steeger when he retired.

Today, the practice has three full-time doctors and total of 17 employees and sees about 4,500 patients a year, with a client base of about 13,000, according to hospital manager Marie McClatchey.

"Over the years, a great deal of effort has been exhausted to preserve the original face of the building," the Web site states. "In the fall of 1999 the lobby was restored to its original décor. ... In August of that year, Rutherford Veterinary Hospital was recognized and registered as both a county and state historical landmark."

Powell Blvd. Veterinary Clinic and Dental Center

Location: Portland, Ore.

Founded: 1929

Current owner: Dr. Gregory W. Lathrop

"I SUSPECT THAT since your (February 2008) article, you have heard from a few practitioners who have older practices than Dr. Metroka's. That's really neat. All are probably very proud of their history," Lathrop writes in an e-mail.

"I happen to have an older practice by three years. The building I occupy was built in 1929 on the edge of Portland by Dr. R. H. Kreutzer, a graduate of the now-defunct Chicago Veterinary College. It has been a veterinary clinic continuously since. I have a copy of some of the original building permits issued by the City of Portland."

Kreutzer named his practice Canine Clinic and Hospital, Lathrop says. "I found an old piece of business letterhead that listed the phone number as Belmont 6-1834. The 'B' is the number 2 and the 'e' is the number 3, so the phone number has never changed. He was one of the first small-animal-only practitioners in the state. He never had more than one employee, I am told, and only answered the doorbell if he felt like it; the clinic was also his home."

In 1953, Kreutzer sold the practice to Dr. Robert Rennick, who operated it until Lathrop bought it in 1984.

"During his (Rennick's) tenure, absolutely nothing was changed, except that he started seeing some feline patients," Lathrop says. "Interestingly, I just had lunch with Bob last week and he is still playing golf (at age 85) three times a week, weather permitting."

Shortly after buying the practice, Lathrop says he remodeled the "living room," turning it into a second exam room and a pharmacy, and changed the name to Powell Blvd. Veterinary Clinic and Dental Center.

"Then in 1996 I remodeled the interior and traded the boarding space for two additional exam rooms. The clinic is still 2,700 square feet, with a 1,200-square-foot basement that we use for storage. Now we are a four-doctor practice, with 15 support staff. We still see 98 percent dogs and cats, but also other small animals," Lathrop says.

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