Small Town News
Six decades of helping animals
Shelton Veterinary Hospital has seen two owners over 60 years
Ever since he was a child, Doug Larson knew he wanted to be a veterinarian. In fact, a love for animals was even a prerequisite for a prospective wife.
"He took me riding to see if I could 'sit the horse,'" said Edee Larson, recalling her first date with her husband-to-be. "I asked him once, 'What if I hadn't been able to ride?' and he said, "Well, it might not have worked out.'"
Doug owned and operated the Shelton Veterinary Hospital at 104 E. J. St. for more than 30 years, until he sold the practice to co-veterinarian Gary Olson in 1989.
Doug died of cancer in April of 1991, shortly after selling the business.
However, today, Olson still owns the clinic, which sits in the same converted house where it was founded in 1956.
This business is celebrating is 60th anniversary this year.
HOW IT STARTED
Doug and Edee met in high school after a relative set them up on a date. The two didn't like each other at first.
However, several years later, they met again, when Doug needed a partner for a dance at Washington State University, where Edee was attending undergraduate school, and he was going to veterinary school. Doug remembered the two of them danced well together during their first date and gave Edee a call.
Shortly after, the two began dating.
"It was a very, very good marriage," Edee recalls. "But 42 years was far too short."
After Doug graduated from WSU â€” and the couple was married with their first two children â€” the Larsons began looking for some place where Doug could work for a veterinary hospital. After a brief stint at a clinic in Olympia, the two decided to relocate to their hometown, Shelton, to start a new clinic.
Doug's mother found the building that is now the Shelton Veterinary Hospital and recommended it to the Larsons. Doug and Edee moved their family into the apartment above the clinic, and Doug opened his practice in 1956.
"We lived up there for four years," Edee said. "Six people â€” three little boys â€” in that tiny apartment. Some people still say they don't know how we did it. It worked for us, though."
At the time, there was limited scientific knowledge about animal care. However, Edee said Doug had a special way with the pets that were brought into the clinic.
"When animals get sick, they can't tell you how they hurt," Edee said. "There were no tests; you had to use common sense."
Because Doug ran the clinic alone, Edee would often help fill in whenever needed. Emergency calls could come in at any time, and the Larsons would jump to aid whatever animal came in â€” from dogs to horses, and even pet skunks.
"For three and a half years, it was just the two of us, so I'd assist whenever he needed," Edee said. "If he had to do surgery in the middle of the night, I'd be there to help."
One of the most extraordinary cases Doug ever treated were twin black bear cubs that were just 6 weeks old when a felled tree scared off their mother.
The loggers who felled the tree found the still-blind cubs, and brought them into the Shelton Veterinary Hospital, according to a 1958 article in the Journal.
Doug treated the cubs like his own children, feeding them formula from a bottle and vitamins.
"They're just like any other babies, except that they scratch a bit more," Doug told the Journal.
After a few days, the cubs were transferred to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
After almost 30 years in the business, Doug decided to retire. He began taking on co-veterinarians with the intent of selling the practice to someone who worked with him.
However, not just anyone would do.
"He was not going to turn his practice over to just anybody," Edee said. "He had to take care of his people."
After several unsuccessful attempts to hire someone, Doug brought Olson on to his team in 1986.
Olson attended school at WSU as well, graduating in 1981. He worked for a veterinary hospital in Prince George, British Columbia, until he passed the veterinary examination.
"I've always had a passion for biology and the sciences," he said. "This just seemed natural."
He then decided to relocate to a smaller town, and heard the Shelton Veterinary Hospital was hiring.
Olson and Doug clicked, and in 1989, Olson bought the clinic.
During his 30 years with the hospital, Olson said he's seen a lot change. The biggest thing is that people seem to care for their animals more.
"When I started, I'd have eight appointments a day," Olson said, recalling that he used to pass most of his time playing cribbage with a friend, waiting for people to bring their animals in.
In 1989, the hospital had just four employees; now, it has 14 and is consistently busy.
The vet said he's seen a spike in humane groups, such as Adopt-a-Pet and Kitten Rescue, to improve care for animals. In addition, more medication and treatment options are available for pets.
"Flea medication is a big one," he said. "Now you have all the collars, powders, rubs."
Olson added that a higher quality of life has led to more multi-pet families. When he started, most families had one pet, but now, families have a mix of pets.
However, Olson said the idea behind surgery has generally stayed the same.
"Surgery is no different than being a good carpenter," he said. "You just need to visualize how it all fits together."
After more than 30 years with the business, Olson said he's beginning to think about retiring in the next five years.
But like his predecessor, he's not going to leave his company to just anyone.
He's already in talks with a potential buyer, who would work at the clinic for several years and hire Olson's replacement before he retires.
"It's going to be the same atmosphere, the same name," Olson said.
"Surgery is no different than being a good carpenter. You just need to visualize how it all fits together".
Dr. Gary Olson, owner of Shelton Veterinary Hospital
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