WATERFORD – Kathryn Hamilton became a vet for the same reason many others – she loves animals.
And not just your typical animals like cats and dogs, but also horses, cows, sheep and even deer.
Hamilton, 27, grew up with dogs and has her own dog, but knew she wanted to take care of more than just small animals. Before going to vet school, Hamilton worked at a mixed animal practice in Kittanning, Armstrong County, where she discovered a fondness for large animals.
“I really enjoyed going out on dairy farms so I discovered a love for dairies and dairy cows,” said Hamilton, a veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of Waterford. “By going to vet school, I just wanted to continue working with them because I think it’s just cool how (the farms) do things.”
After attending the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine for four years, Hamilton moved to Waterford, where she is one of four veterinarians at the Animal Hospital of Waterford. The opportunity to work with dairy farmers was a big part of the appeal, but she deals with animals of all shapes and sizes.
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However, treating pets is not the same as treating farm animals.
“We look at the herd from the herd’s point of view, so what can we do to improve the herd. Or, if that animal dies, can we do an autopsy (post-mortem examination on a species of animal) to understand what happened to them so we improve the farm, ”she said with reference to the cows. “For small animals, it’s much more individual.”
Horses, like the ones she visited on November 4, bring even more variety to the job.
Hamilton called a ‘hello kids’ greeting to a pair of horses as they walked into the Waterford Township barn of Connie Farrell, 71.
Farrell’s horses, Odie and Bubba, were due for their fall vaccination booster shots.
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Hamilton began with a physical exam of each horse, checking their lungs and pulse with a stethoscope, and examining their legs and feet. She noticed that Odie’s right front hoof needed cleaning, so she used a hoof pick to remove the debris.
In a quick move, she gave the horses their flu and rhinovirus booster shots. When she checked the horses’ mouths, she noticed sharp points on their teeth.
“Horses’ teeth keep growing all the time and they don’t always wear them down evenly, so they can start to have very sharp tips that will start to tear their cheek,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton determined that she would need to float the teeth of the horses, which corresponds to the removal of the sharp tips on the cheek side of the horses’ upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. It’s a staple of regular equine dentistry, Hamilton said.
Bubba was the first. Farrell and Hamilton gave her plenty of pets and words of comfort, as well as an injection of a mild sedative into her neck.
“Our sedation is based on the position of their head, so it will be really cold,” Hamilton said. “Just like people, all horses are different, so they all fall asleep differently.”
After Bubba’s head fell and aligned with his body, Hamilton rinsed his mouth with water and used a special device to hold his mouth open.
She then entered with her motorized float equipment to file her teeth and received only minor resistance from the horse.
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While Bubba was still sedated, Hamilton cleaned his sheath, which is the hygienic process of cleaning the pocket of skin that protects the horse’s penis. Horses have a hard time cleaning themselves and often need someone to do it for them, Hamilton said. This is also the time to check for possible infections.
She repeated everything that was done to Bubba on Odie.
In addition to the horses, Hamilton also examined two donkeys and a Farrell cat. Although he had just met Hamilton that morning, Farrell has been a client of the Animal Hospital of Waterford since its inception.
“I have never, ever had a complaint or been disappointed (by the AHW vets),” she said. “I have had serious emergencies in the past, and someone is always there to help me.”
To be a human-animal person
Not all large animals behave as well as Odie and Bubba.
“I got a pretty bad kick by a cow once,” Hamilton said. “I walked through a door, the cow kicked me and my arm got stuck, but luckily I didn’t break it. The work comes with its risks.”
The Animal Hospital of Waterford is the only co-ed veterinary clinic serving several species of large animals in Erie County. But even with occupational hazards, Hamilton doesn’t see himself doing anything else.
“Everyone says in veterinary medicine you don’t have to deal with people, but that’s a lie,” she said. “We deal with people as much as with animals because we don’t have an animal that comes into the clinic without a human attached. So I really want to help people too.”