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Facility aims to improve overall efficiency, attract additional veterinarians

The Eagle River Animal Hospital opened the doors of its new facility at the end of last year

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April 1, 2024

EAGLE RIVER – For the past 50 years, Eagle River Animal Hospital has provided care for a wide range of animals throughout Vilas County, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals and reptiles.

When the opportunity to purchase the lot adjacent to the original clinic on Highway 45 presented itself, Amber Plautz, practice manager and certified veterinary technician, said it was too good to pass up – and plans for a new 10,397-square-foot clinic were put into motion.

Now open, Plautz said the clinic is already grabbing attention.

“We have our exterior sign that is way bigger than our old one and it lights up,” she said. “Tons of people use the highway in front of us. I’m sure there are going to be lots of people contacting us. If they didn’t know about us before, they will now.”

Veterinarian Katie Hom, who has owned the Eagle River Animal Hospital since 2014, said she envisioned building a new, modern clinic in spring 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in the project.

“Dr. Katie wanted to build the building sooner and then COVID happened,” Plautz said. “(But the delay) gave us more time to fine-tune what (staff at the clinic) wanted.”

The clinic has two other veterinarians in addition to Hom – Mary Camp, who has been with the clinic since 2014, and Roger Flemming, who recently rejoined the team part-time.

The pool of three vets, Plautz said, ensures the clinic has two veterinarians available each day to see patients.

There are currently a total of 20 full- and part-time employees at Eagle River Animal Hospital, up from the 16 employees who worked at the old building.

Plautz said staff moved into the building at the end of last year and are “still in awe” of the space. 

It was time to modernize

Plautz said the decision to expand the business with new construction was made because of the age of the original clinic.

The decision to replace the original clinic with new construction, she said, was important to move the business forward.

“It wasn’t an efficient building anymore…,” she said. “Things needed more work than we wanted to invest in it.”

Plautz said the space was also limited and inconvenient for staff as they maneuvered throughout the day.

When planning for the new clinic began, Plautz said staff members were encouraged to provide suggestions.

“We… tried to figure out what things were doable and what kinds of things made sense – it was fun,” she said. “They (staff) loved being able to help us with decisions and, even during the building progress, Dr. Katie would come out and say, ‘These are the colors I’m thinking of for the floors. What do you think? These are the colors I’m thinking of for the lobby. What do you think?’”

Keller, Inc. served as the architect and general contractor for the project, with subcontracting work being done by various area companies.

“Most of (the Keller workers on site) were out of the Stevens Point area,” she said.

Plautz said Pitlik and Wick, Inc. of Eagle River did the foundation work for the new building, the demolition of the old building and created the new parking lot.

The interior painting, she said, was done by a local painter.

New, expanded services

Plautz said the former clinic building was demolished and, once the weather allows, the space will be landscaped to become part of Eagle River Animal Hospital’s new dog training center, led by trainer Heidi Skarda.

She said there is also a space for pet grooming services provided by groomer Jennifer Vessell.

In addition, Plautz said when Hom designed the building, she did it based on a ‘Fear Free’ design – a concept that aims to recognize and reduce fear, anxiety and stress for pets, owners and staff that can sometimes be associated with visits to the veterinary hospital.

“(One example of the Fear Free design is) the pet scale is designed to be flush with the floor,” she said.

Other updates in the new clinic, Plautz said, include improved workflow paths and areas dedicated to veterinarian workspaces, surgery, a lab, treatments and isolation – as well as a 

spacious lobby featuring a faux fireplace and large windows.

There are six examination rooms and a separate “comfort room” dedicated to clients who may be faced with difficult decisions.

“(The comfort room is located purposely closer to an exit) and offers a more private setting,” she said.

Plautz said a comfort room was an important aspect of the new clinic’s design.

“We knew how important it was and how much our clients liked having that separate area,” she said.

Among the clinic’s six examination rooms, Plautz said one is “cat-only” and features shelves cats can jump up to, and staff uses cat pheromones in the room to calm patients.

“We also have a little cat tunnel in there,” she said.

Another improvement in the new clinic, Plautz said, is the kennel area, where glass kennels help reduce noise – as well as in-floor heating and adjustable lighting to create a quieter, more comfortable recovery space for pets.

The clinic has also implemented a closed captioning television system so the veterinarians can monitor pets remotely, which Plautz said includes large screens in the treatment area for enhanced observation.

Staff did their research

During the planning process, Plautz said staff members toured other clinics, with the goal being to build “the ideal clinic.”

“We toured other clinics to get other ideas of what was working for them and what wasn’t working for them,” she said. “We talked with some of our sales reps and asked which clinics had new additions or new builds.”

Plautz said personal offices for her and the veterinarians were a top priority.

“It’s crazy how much more work I can get done,” she said. “We can do more things because there are private areas.” 

The clinic works as a team

Plautz said one of her favorite parts about working at Eagle River Animal Hospital is “I love that every day is completely different.”

“(All of the staff) have the biggest hearts,” she said. “(When it comes to emergencies), if we can make room for one more (patient), we’re going to.”

Plautz said the clinic sees patients from all over the place.

“Clients come from as far as an hour and a half-ish away – that’s probably the longest,” she said. “But we do have a lot of seasonal clients because this is a touristy area. So, a lot of clients, their primary home is Illinois or Florida, who knows. We’ll see them more in the summer because they have a vacation home.”

What the new construction has set the business up for, Plautz said, is continued growth – intending to expand the clinic’s general medicine services, as well as other services, such as orthopedics, urgent care and emergency care.

“We are proud we are still privately owned and the owner is here every single day,” she said. 

COVID’s impact continues

Plautz said Eagle River Animal Hospital is among the businesses in the area still working through the impact of the pandemic.

During COVID, she said some seasonal clients decided to move permanently to the Eagle River area.

“I know all the businesses in this area noticed the change – restaurants and gas stations and (other) places,” she said. “They were desperate for employees because they couldn’t keep up with the influx of people here… That was part of the struggle with COVID. We knew we needed more support staff… There were more pets, but fewer working people.”

Plautz said people also adopted more pets during the pandemic, and “it created more work for us.”

Community involvement

Plautz said Eagle River Animal Hospital staff makes an effort to get out into the Vilas County community through a variety of events.

During the Vilas County Fair, she said, the clinic provides vet checks for show animals to make sure they are healthy.

The clinic, Plautz said, also volunteers to provide animal care services for local dog sled races.

“We (also) try to work with the local shelters and rescues to help them in the area,” she said. “We (also) try to support high school students who are interested in veterinary medicine.”

Plautz said among her responsibilities as practice manager is making sure Eagle River Animal Hospital staff receive advanced training.

Business of the Month 

It’s been an exciting couple of months for Eagle River Animal Hospital, Plautz said – ending 2023 by moving into its new building and starting 2024 as the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation’s (VCEDC) Business of the Month.

Kathy Schmitz, executive director of the VCEDC, said the organization is “delighted with the success of the Eagle River Animal Hospital.”

“Their fabulous new hospital with expanded services speaks highly of the tremendous quality care they provide for the health and well-being of the region’s pets and the families who care for them,” she said. “That provides a real comfort level for pet owners choosing to vacation here and those who live and work here.”

Drawing pet owners from throughout northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, Schmitz said the hospital’s regional significance also adds to the economy.

“When those traveling here for both care and vet emergencies, (they) stay in overnight accommodations and dine in area restaurants,” she said.

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