By Rachael Tolliver, Public AffairsMarch 4, 2015
In 2011 Fort Knox moved its veterinarian clinic to a renovated building that brought the facility into the 21st Century. It now has top notch equipment, in-house blood analysis capabilities, new operating and prep rooms and has upgraded its paper medical files to electronic data files.
But the one thing it did not replace--could not replace--were the dedicated and devoted employees who consider their patients to be one of their own.
Dr. Ruth Beismer, the veterinarian at the Fort Knox Veterinarian Treatment Facility, was always around animals when she was growing up. Her parents owned a beagle and a few cats and later they bought a small farm with pigs, chickens, a few cows, two horses, assorted dogs and cats.
"When I was four years old and found out there was such a thing as an animal doctor I was certain that that was what I wanted to be," she explained. "Currently I have two dogs, four cats and several horses of my own."
In fact, most of the staff at the VTF own pets, including Vet Technicians Jennifer Easterling, Sabine Jackson, and Sgt. Joshua Anderson. Jackson owns three cats and three dogs--all rescues which she says is an occupational hazard, Anderson owns an American bulldog mix named Tank and Easterling runs what she calls a "small zoo" whose residents include a turtle, four dogs and a cat.
"I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was growing up," Anderson explained about his choice of jobs. "I joined the Army as a technician with the plan of doing Green to Gold. While working as a technician I decided I enjoyed this part of the job more than being a veterinarian."
And like Jackson, who said it was her love of animals that made her want to be a vet tech, it's compassion and love for their pets that makes them good at their jobs.
"The most rewarding part of the job is seeing patients that can't communicate for themselves come to you for help, and you have the skill set to really make a positive difference for their quality of life," explained Easterling.
A typical day at the clinic starts by setting up surgery and getting the surgical scrub ready, making sure all the instruments are working properly and are ready to go for the first patient on a surgery morning. And whether patients are at the doctors for a routine visit or a surgery, the staff checks their vitals and logs the information, checks to see that if the pet is a Fort Knox resident it has an identification chip, and checks to see if its shots are up-to-date.
The staff said they treat each patient as if it were their own, and try to make sure that the patients feel as comfortable as possible anytime they are handled.
Beismer added on the day of a surgery, all pets undergo a full exam, required blood work for older pets and close anesthesia monitoring which includes a patients EKG, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration.
And just like a human patient, once they are through surgery and waking up from anesthesia, they are then placed safely in a warm, quiet area to finish recovery--but closely watched throughout the process.
It's because of that respect for their patients that the staff not only keeps their medical requirements up to date, but trains as a team for anything that might come up during a routine visit or surgery.
"Training is the first and foremost thing we are constantly working on to ensure a safe procedure and to be prepared if something should go awry," Easterling explained. "We always work in pairs so that we can back each other up if we need help."
The reasons for a pet's visit can be for anything that can include updating shots, dental work, or some sort of surgery. But there are unusual cases that walk through the door too--like the cat that ate some yarn and half of it was stuck in his throat while the rest was in his stomach. Or the case of the missing TV remote.
"I once treated a Brittany spaniel that chewed up and swallowed the television remote," Beismer remembered, adding that the dog was ok, but the owner was a bit rattled. "The owner would call every day and tell me… 'today she passed number 7 and number 5…' or 'today she passed the pause button and a side piece….'"
The clinic only treats dogs and cats, and although its primary mission is to treat military dogs and dogs that work for customs officials, the greater part of its patient load comes from everyday pets.
But regardless who the animal belongs to or what reason their patient is visiting, the staff always takes time to visit.
"Some patients steal our hearts more than others," Beismer said. "Often it's the ones who have overcome severe illnesses or difficult circumstances. I also love the pets that have special devotion to owners with special needs like autistic children, ill or handicapped adults."
Jackson added some patients just stick out, and that she has many favorites, while Easterling explained that it's the backstory that brings a patient to them, a family circumstance, or the resemblance of childhood pets that factors into a bond.
Veterinarians certainly won't get rich and vet techs don't make a lot of money, Beismer said. But, the team said they didn't choose this career to get rich.
"We get mad when we see animals that aren't taken care of," Easterling said. "But on days when you can fix someone and know they feel better and their quality of life is better, you go home at the end of the day and say 'this is why I do this job.'"
For more information about the VTF visit www.facebook.com/PHCD-knox, and to see more photos from this story visit http://bit.ly/1wpoxlQ.