Retired CT veterinarian reflects on his years helping animals

Aspetuck Animal Hospital in New Preston turned 50 in September. Founded by veterinarian Ferris Gorra, the business is now co-owned by Ferris' son, Michael Gorra, and Patricia Grinnell. Above is a photograph of Ferris examining a horse in the early years of his practice.

Aspetuck Animal Hospital in New Preston turned 50 in September. Founded by veterinarian Ferris Gorra, the business is now co-owned by Ferris’ son, Michael Gorra, and Patricia Grinnell. Above is a photograph of Ferris examining a horse in the early years of his practice.

Courtesy of Aspetuck Animal Hospital

WASHINGTON — Fifty years ago, Ferris Gorra used pushpins and a map to narrow down the location of where he would open up his veterinary business.

He placed pins at the sites of veterinarian hospitals already open in Northwest Connecticut and noticed a gap along Route 202 between New Milford and his then-work location in Granby.

The lack of vet services along the Route 202 corridor led him to select the New Preston neighborhood as the new home of his business, Aspetuck Animal Hospital.

“I always wanted to have my own practice,” said Gorra, who worked at a larger practice in Granby before opening his own.

New Preston made sense, he said, so in 1970 he moved his family there. The family lived in a portion of the house, where the clinic was located, for eight years.

Gorra operated his business until 2005, when his son, Michael, bought the practice. In January 2012, veterinarian Trish Grinnell joined the practice as a co-owner.

Although Ferris no longer owns the business he started, he is a familiar face and still active, often working at the clinic.

“I retired three times and here I am,” Ferris said. “... The older I get, the more gratifying it is.”

Since the pandemic hit, the hospital has been busy and Ferris has “always been around to help,” Michael said.

As of a few months ago, Ferris has returned to the hospital Friday mornings to accommodate the increase in the number of clients.

“There are a lot of people moving into the area and adopting pets,” Michael said.

Ferris recalls the early days of the clinic, when he made visits to local farms to tend to animals, answered his office calls and covered his own emergency calls.

“Back then, if I had three all-nighters, I had to take one day off,” said Ferris, who graduated from vet school in 1967 and worked in practices for three years before opening his own business. “Now, if I have one all-nighter, I have to take three days off.”

There was eventually a shift in services he provided, though, as farmland decreased and the number of smaller animals needing care increased.

“The land is too valuable to keep as farms when next generation comes along,” Ferris said. “I knew later in my life I’d switch over (to caring for other animals) because there’d be no more farms.”

“It worked out perfectly,” he said. “Laying out in a snowstorm delivering a calf lost its charm.”

Shauna Holiman, of Washington, described Ferris as “wonderful,” citing the thorough, conscientious and caring manner by which Ferris tended to her family’s cat, Tigger, at age 13, when an X-ray appeared to show the cat had developed a tumor in her stomach.

However, knowing the cat’s mischievous history, especially with birds, Ferris first tried a particular medicine before surgery. It did the trick and revealed the cat had apparently had eaten a bird.

“He knew well enough,” Holiman said. “She lived another six years.”

The longtime client praised the animal hospital for all they do, even at the end of a pet’s life.

“They just let you be there with your pet and they do things in the most humane way,” she said.

Bill and Judy Hopkins, of Warren, have been clients of the animal hospital for the majority of, if not all, 50 years of the business’ history.

Ferris first cared for the Hopkins’ dairy cattle. Then, in more recent years, he cared for the family’s cats and dogs.

“He’s very knowledgeable and always gave us good service,” Bill said. “We liked him personally.”

After Ferris retired, the couple continued to go take their pets to the animal hospital.

“You go to a place you like and it continues, so you just keep going there and before you know it, it’s 50 years,” Bill said.

Relationships with clients and their pets is one of the parts of Ferris’ career he holds dear.

He related interactions with clients outside of the clinic.

“Someone will stop me and say, ‘You used to take care of my mother’s dog when I was a little girl,’” he said. “It’s really great to see the next generation.”