Closure of Bremerton Veterinary Hospital leaves a void for pet owners

BREMERTON — As Dr. Frank Bischak guides an otoscope through the ears of Molly Sinclair, a 14-year-old Schnauzer, he notices a pair of bubble-like tumors along her fur.

“Are we taking them off today?” he asks Leesa Weaver, his 26-year-old veterinary technical assistant.

Weaver replies that Molly Sinclair’s landlord may not have the budget for the procedure. It’s a difficult situation faced by many of the approximately 3,000 homeowners who rely on Bischak for veterinary care on Callow Avenue. Often he and his staff will just take care of what is needed at a reduced cost or for free.

“We just love doing what we do,” Bischak said.

But now Bischak, almost 72, is ready to retire and the clinic he founded – Bremerton Animal Hospital at 613 North Callow – will have to close. During this last month of practice, he is doing as many appointments as possible – cleaning his teeth, performing spaying and sterilization, and performing as many treatments as possible before the doors close for good at the end of September.

Veterinarian Frank Bischak and veterinary technician Leesa Weaver examine a schnauzer named Molly Sinclair before the dog has its teeth cleaned at Bremerton Veterinary Hospital on Tuesday.

He can extend prescriptions for pets by one year. But he and his two-person team are worried about what will happen after that, at a clinic where many clients can’t afford the full price at other local vet clinics.

“We cannot refer to anyone, because there is no one,” he said. “We’re all really, really sad right now.”

The void will be felt palpably by PAWS of Bremerton, an animal shelter on Perry Avenue. Roxanne Chavez, a longtime volunteer there, said that for people with limited incomes, the nearest low-cost clinic is now in Tacoma.

“They charge half as much as everyone else,” she said of Bischak’s clinic. “It’s really sad to see them close.”

Bischak and his team said they would miss their owners and many generations of their pets.

“You watch them arrive like puppies,” he said. “And go out like the ancients.”

The Bremerton Animal Hospital on Callow Avenue will close in September after its owner, Frank Bischak, retires after four decades of practice.  He is known to offer his services at reduced cost or free for those who cannot afford it.

Bischak hopes for new options, including a low-cost community clinic at the Kitsap Humane Society. Officials will open the Russ & Linda Young Veterinary Lifesaving Center on Friday at the Dickey Road facility in Silverdale, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023, according to Victoria Gingrey, spokeswoman for the Humane Society.

As an independent practitioner, Bischak has forged her own path for more than four decades in Bremerton, repeatedly choosing to cut back or make services free. He also has discretion on the best treatment. It’s a rare distinction in a profession that has been largely corporatized during his career, with what he calls “cookbook medicine.”

“It’s almost become computerized,” Bischak said, adding that he hadn’t used X-ray machines in his clinic for about a decade. “But I am able to make the decisions on my own, to provide care as I see fit best.”

“He’s got magic hands,” Weaver said.

Bischak, originally from Ohio, spotted a clinic for sale in Bremerton in 1980 while a graduate of Washington State University. He took a chance and it quickly swallowed up his life. During his first decade on Callow Avenue, he took no days off, working seven days a week and even sleeping in an upstairs apartment on the premises.

“I was about to give up,” he said. “It was too much.”

He narrowed things down to a clinic and found a better balance.

Shannon Segerman, who has worked at the clinic for nearly three decades, said Bischak has always been a trained veterinarian who was upfront with pet owners — calling them even if it appeared their pets were being treated unfairly. But he never turned down clients and worked with them to find solutions.

Over time, he developed a “softer” bedside manner, she noted.

“But he was never one to sugarcoat things,” she said.

As a thank you to his two assistants, Bischak will sell the building and donate the proceeds to them. He acknowledged that they could have made more money at other veterinary practices, but were obligated to help people and their pets, even when owners could not afford the services.

“I just hope our nearby clinics provide our clients with a comfortable place to land,” Segerman said.

Benjamin M. Yerger