Aspetuck Animal Hospital going strong at 50

WASHINGTON — As a child, Michael Gorra would observe his father in his element as a veterinarian. He would go with his dad, Ferris, on farm calls and into the clinic to see small animals be treated.

Now, he is following in his father’s footsteps as owner of Aspetuck Animal Hospital in New Preston.

Michael bought the business from his father in 2005, and veterinarian Trish Grinnell joined the practice as co-owner in January 2012.

Michael emphasized that he and Grinnell have “really tried to keep the personal touch” his father brought to the business when he opened it 50 years ago this past September.

Shauna Holiman and her husband, Robert Hackney, of Washington, have been clients of the animal hospital for 40 years.

“They’re both wonderful vets and wonderful people,” Holiman said of Michael and Grinnell, who have provided medical care for the couple’s two most recent dogs. “They’re phenomenal community people who do a great job. We’re so lucky to have them.”

Holiman praised the practice for the successful surgery for one of their dogs who had bladder cancer, and the subsequent research and guidance to locate an experimental program in New York City that aided in the dog living for sometime after that.

When it came time to put him down, “Dr. Mike had told us exactly what to look for, and he came, put a quilt out and we all went out and sat with him,” Holiman said. The vets “take care of everything.”

Michael said when he bought the business from his father, his goal was then, and continued to be when Grinnell joined, “to maintain the connection with the town, maintain the personal relationships we have and provide the type of service that people deserve in a small community. And so we’ve done everything we can to keep that going.”

Aspetuck Animal Hospital focuses on holistic medicine and offers traditional veterinary services, including surgery.

In addition, the hospital is on call 24/7, and acupuncture and herbal medicine, two areas in which Grinnell is certified, are offered.

“We’re looking at the whole animal and the environment,” Grinnell said.

Many clients will seek acupuncture and herbal medicine for their pets if they’ve had it themselves, according to Grinnell. She said pets often get acupuncture for pain management related to arthritis and the like.

The hospital also operates a small boarding kennel.

In addition to traditional services, cold therapy laser, which is used for reducing inflammation, wound healing and pain reduction; ultrasounds; digital dental x-rays; radiography; and endoscope are available.

Barbara Lutz and her husband, Tom, of Newtown, have taken their cats and dogs to the hospital since around the time Ferris was going to retire.

The practice was recommended to the couple by their daughter and son-in-law, and has since been a match for the family.

“When I call and make an appointment, I have no preference (for which vet to see), Barbara said. “They’re all wonderful.”

She said the couple’s Jack Russell terrier recently had “successful” surgery by Ferris.

“If we’re fortunate enough to have an appointment on a day he’s filling in, that’s great,” she said. “It’s a treat.”

She said she trusts the staff’s judgment and especially appreciates the staff’s warmth and how they are with the animals.

When asked what has changed in the veterinarian industry over the years, the vets said technology and what’s available, especially in the past 20 years.

“The way we communicate with clients, social media, electrical medical records and digital x-rays,” Michael explained. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job balancing.”

The veterinarians emphasized the education program they have in place for all staff and clients. It’s geared toward reducing stress animals may feel when at the clinic.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and provided at least 40 hours of continuing education (for staff) on how we touch and interact with and speak to animals,” Michael said. “... If an animal is stressed and the vet doesn’t acknowledge it, it can make it more difficult for the animal the next time.”

Grinnell related how treats, pheromones spray and towels can help calm an animal.

“We change the way we speak, walk into the room and approach the animal,” she said.

Michael said one of the most enjoyable aspects being a vet is the relationships that form with the clients.

“It’s two-prong,” Michael said of why he became a vet. “First, it’s a love for animals and you enjoy challenge of doing your best to maintain and restore animal health.”

“But it’s also about the connection with owners and helping their quality of life by helping to keep their pets healthy and fostering that relationship,” said Michael, who resides in Washington with his family. “It’ really getting to know the clients on an intimate level. It’s very rewarding.”

Grinnell, a New Milford resident, agreed that what gets people into veterinary medicine is the love of animals.

“And you’re definitely going to be involved with people,” she said. “Anyone who says they’re going to go into animal medicine because you don’t have to deal with people is wrong.”

Grinnell related an experience that prompted her to think seriously about becoming a vet. At 8, she visited her uncle’s home where the family dog was giving birth.

“She had dropped the puppy in the living room and left,” she recalled. “I helped the puppy and watched the other puppies be born.”

Michael said as a child, he thought about becoming a vet but as he went through school, he wanted to do his “own thing” that was science based.

However, by the end of his college years, things came full circle and “I realized it was a great profession,” Michael said.

He took undergraduate classes and graduated from Cornell Vet School, where he met Grinnell.

After graduation, Grinnell moved to North Carolina, where she worked at a clinic for nine years. Michael completed his internship and also moved to North Carolina, about a half hour away from Grinnell.

Their families remained close, with each having children around the same time.

Looking ahead, Michael said he and Grinnell want their practice to be a “hometown” one that supports the community and one that “leaves the legacy” started by his father.

“It started out as my baby,” said Ferris of the practice. “As I look back, it’s very satisfying and rewarding. It’s my legacy.”

Aspetuck Animal Hospital is American Animal Hospital Association and fear-free certified. The hospital is located at 278 New Milford Turnpike in the New Preston section of Washington. For more information, call (860) 868-2973 or visit www.aspetuckanimalhospital.com.