50-year-old veterinary hospital notes society’s changing view of companion animals

Dr. Charmel Rodick experienced her first full circle of pet life as a DVM at Deer Park Animal Hospital.

“I’ve seen puppies grow up, have a life, and now enter the final years of that life,” she said.

Rodick joined the hospital, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, in 2011 to work alongside his father, Dr Dale Lonsford.

Father and daughter co-own the practice at 2822 Center Street and oversee a team of 15 who provide a full range of services to cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, wildlife and everything in between.

“I grew up watching my dad and wanted to follow in those footsteps,” Rodick said.

Rodick, 44, will become co-owner with medical director Dr Dominique Gras later this year when his father moves into a mentor role.

Rodick plans to build on the hospital’s history of providing quality care with a heart for his pets as well as the people who love them.

Deer Park Animal Hospital celebrates 50 years.

Or: 4320, boul. East, Deer Park

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“I think it was compassion and seeing how much it meant to the people who brought their pets to my dad — that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

Witness years of change in veterinary medicine

This legacy began with Dr. Tom Godwin, who founded the original Deer Park Animal Hospital in 1972 in West San Augustine.

“There weren’t as many veterinary practices back then,” said Godwin, now 76 and retired. “There was one in Deer Park, and it was ours.”

Beginning in the late 1960s, Godwin worked for several years at the Airport Animal Hospital in South Houston, where, due to its proximity to Hobby Airport and international travel, he saw and cared for a menagerie of animals.

“Hobby was a major airport; so we took care of a lot of exotic animals,” he said. “Monkeys, owls, tigers, leopards, lions – it wasn’t a very regulated activity back then.”

In August 1972, he opened the Deer Park Clinic. It was not uncommon, he said, for young vets to open their practices after spending a few years in an established facility because the financial burden and risks of starting one were not as great.

It was also a time when veterinary medicine was changing from more rural practices to ones that saw communities move from farming to residential in which more animals were kept as personal companions than as part of agricultural businesses.

In the 1980s, veterinary medicine experienced a revolution, Godwin said, in terms of the level of veterinary expertise, sophistication of equipment and facilities, and animal care.

Today, Deer Park Animal Hospital offers everything from internal medicine and diagnostics to preventive and surgical care, dental services, rehabilitation, acupuncture and laser procedures. The hospital also offers avian surgery services.

Customers’ ideas have changed about their pets

Attitude and culture have also gradually changed.

“There’s been an increase in the idea of ​​animals becoming more of a child rather than a dog in the backyard,” Godwin said. “I can’t give a date (when it happened), but it has changed. Dr. Lonsford and I have experienced this change in veterinary medicine.

Lonsford, 72, had started his practice at a remodeled Shell station at Center and Eighth streets in 1978 before buying Godwin’s practice on West San Augustine and moved to the current location in 2005.

There are two ways to look at animals, he says. One is the utilitarian principle, where the animal has a practical purpose, like cattle. The flip side, Lonsford said, is the animal that sleeps with its owner.

“We still have customers who have dogs in their garden. Unless it is a case of abuse or mistreatment, we cannot pass critical judgment,” Lonsford said. “Some people have a higher priority on that bond with their pet, and others may not have that deep attachment, but they still need our help, they still need our services.”

Good veterinarians, Lonsford added, treat all animals, pets and owners with the same level of compassion.

“You don’t just have to care for the pets, but also the people who bring them to you,” he said. “We’re trying to run a business and make money, but at the same time we’re not driven by money. This is the pet.

Longtime customer Pete Hanik didn’t grow up with dogs, but they eventually found their way to him and his wife, Brenda.

Their little Chihuahua, Peanut, lived to be 20 years old — a long life for a dog — but that didn’t make the loss any easier, said Hanik, who lives in Houston.

Staff there for the end of Peanut’s life

What made the difference was the care Peanut and his human family received at Deer Park Animal Hospital.

“Several times we called on a Sunday and the staff came to take care of her,” Hanik, 75, said. “When you get this kind of service out of love, you don’t know what to lose.”

Lonsford served as Peanut’s main vet throughout her life, and towards the end, when she was frail and weighed around 2 pounds, the staff, and especially Lonsford, were there for Peanut.

“Peanut had to be euthanized, and Dr. Lonsford and his assistant came to our house, and they were almost in tears,” he said. “She was able to pass away in familiar surroundings, and that helped a lot.”

The Hanik family has taken all of their pets to Deer Park Animal Hospital for over 25 years.

Roxy, their 13-year-old rat terrier, shivers in the waiting room during her visits.

“She’s shaking like crazy, but once she’s in the exam room, she relaxes because of Dr. Lonsford,” Ranick said. “Animals can sense when people are well.”

Lonsford, who grew up around cattle, read a book about vets when she was 9, and that was it. When Rodick and Gras become co-owners, he plans to stay at the hospital as a mentor and work weekend shifts. Retirement is not in his immediate plans.

When she was 9 years old, Rodick began accompanying his father on horseback calls at all hours of the night.

“It wasn’t work, it was fun, and I decided that (becoming a vet) was something I wanted to do,” she said.

Godwin also grew up around cattle and his uncle was a veterinarian. Caring for animals was second nature, he says.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” he says.

As Rodick prepares to take the reins of the hospital with Gras, the mission is for the facility to continue to grow with technology and medical advancements, and to work to make care equitable for the community. But the heart of the hospital, she says, will remain its investment in animals.

Rodick’s first patient, a puppy named Coco, lived to be 15, and Rodick was there at the end.

“I think I’m more realistic because of how I grew up,” she said. “I know pets won’t live forever, but when I see a pet live a lifetime and see the special bonds (with the humans in their life), it’s worth it.”

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Benjamin M. Yerger