Merced County Times Newspaper
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Atwater Veterinary Center showcases state-of-the-art facility

Dr. Carol Chiffelle of the Atwater Veterinary Center poses near the wall at the clinic which has a high quality photo of a colleague's dog 'Kiba.' Pet photos personalize the clinic and make it a warm and comforting atmosphere.
Dr. Carol Chiffelle of the Atwater Veterinary Center poses near the wall at the clinic which has a high quality photo of a colleague’s dog ‘Kiba.’ Pet photos personalize the clinic and make it a warm and comforting atmosphere.

The third annual Open House at Atwater Veterinary Center, located at 2100 Bell Drive in Atwater, was a fun community gathering on the afternoon of Aug. 24, as well as informative and educational.

A tour of the roughly 5,200 square foot state-of-the-art clinic was one of the highlights.

Guests were invited to snack on fresh fruit and cookies in the staff room.

The Open House was part of a continuing effort by the veterinarians to show clients what the business has to offer, without the stress of the appointment when their pet is injured or sick.

It was a fun way to for the clients to get to know the staff members and doctors who have served their dogs, cats, cattle and other mammals, reptiles and birds for the past five years.

Guests could enter a raffle by donating $1 per ticket to New Beginnings. They had the opportunity to win a Sony speaker, Seresto flea collars or Royal Canine Food.

There were give-aways such as cold drink holders, face painting for the kids, and an area where kids could practice bandaging items.

FM Radio Station 97.5 was live at the event.

A mobile veterinary unit was on display on the premises, which contained the equipment needed for appointments at local dairies.

The doctors were happy to talk to visitors, as were the staff members.

Carol Chiffelle, DVM, provided some background on the business, and led a tour.

She said, “This clinic originally opened in 1973 on Ashby Road in Atwater, and we later opened two clinics in Merced.  In 2007, one of the clinics in Merced was bulldozed — the one on Yosemite — because the Bradley Overpass needed an expanded road. Then the Atwater-Merced Expressway went through the clinic on Ashby Road in Atwater five years ago. Cal Trans handled the eminent domain process.”

Chiffelle continued, “We were given some money to move. We hired a developer and negotiated to get this property. It’s two-thirds of an acre, just the right size, and is a good location for growth and accessibility.  We built this building from the ground up.”

She explained, “The architect, Rich Rauh of RF Architects from Southern California, specializes in veterinarian facilities. He picked soft, calming colors to reduce stress and take the edge off when people come in with their sick or injured pets.”

Gesturing to a beautiful and colorful piece of artwork on the wall, Chiffelle said, “We had a Modesto artist create a stained glass showing California poppies and quail — everything is part of the Central Valley landscape.”

The business’ receptionist, who is a photographer, took photos of clients’ pets and doctors’ pets and decorated the interior with them. The photos personalize the clinic, and the doctors like to see their pets in photos on the walls while working.

Most of the photos are of lovable-looking dogs, but one enormous photo is of a very cute goat.

Veterinary Economics magazine gives an annual award for the design and architecture of a building. Atwater Veterinary Center won the award in 2015.

Describing the business, Dr. Chiffelle explained that the Atwater and Merced clinics each have four exam rooms, and the two clinics have a total of 10 veterinarians.

Chiffelle said, “We have a really good team of people that we like very much. We just hired three new doctors.”

Three veterinarians are small animal doctors, two are large animal doctors, and the other five veterinarians see both small and large animals.

The large animal clientele consists mainly of dairy cattle, goats and some beef cattle.

Dr. Chiffelle said, “Two of our veterinarians do the majority of the work with cattle. After becoming DVM’s, they did additional training and spent additional time. They check for pregnancy using an ultrasound rectally. The cows tolerate it very well.”

She continued, “We routinely do milk quality work at the dairies, starting early in the morning, to be sure the milk you drink is good and safe.  We evaluate the cows to see if they’re healthy, and provide the dairy employees with training to evaluate cows. Once in awhile, we see a cow having trouble in birth, and we deliver the calf, or we will see a cow that has been injured and treat it.”

Describing the small animal clientele, Chiffelle said, “Our focus is on medicine, surgery and preventive care. We see more dogs than cats, but we do see quite a few cats. One of our veterinarians, Betty Lawson, sees rabbits, mice, snakes, hamsters and birds.”

The tour led by Dr. Chiffelle started in one of the exam rooms. It was equipped with a computer with software which could access medical records so the owner could understand their pet’s health issue.

A lab for in-house blood work was used by the doctors to determine if an animal was healthy enough for surgery, which included testing for things like kidney disease and anemia.

The Radiology room had a computer screen where x-rays could be shown, and it was used to identify conditions such as arthritis, pregnancy, broken bones, bladder stones, dislocated hips and heart conditions. An ultrasound was available to look more deeply at tissue.

An enclosed work station allowed the doctors to analyze animal health issues in quiet.

The surgery prep station with anesthesia was used to get an animal ready for surgery.

The surgery room had the necessary surgical equipment, as well as a UV sterilizer for the air flow coming in.

An “ICU” recovery area made IV fluids available if necessary and was located where the doctors could closely monitor the recovering animals post-surgery.

An isolation ward was used to treat contagious animals. It was carefully constructed so these animals could be brought into the ward from the outside, and not through the clinic. The plumbing and air was vented out of the room, to the outside.

A small apartment was used by dairy-focused intern students in their third or fourth year of vet school who come from all over the country for two-week periods to learn and get supervised experience in procedures such as the ultrasound.  It was enjoyable for the doctors to meet and train students from such places as Florida, Maine and Wales.

The Milk Lab was used to analyze milk samples brought from the dairies by the doctors to check for bacteria or staph. If those were present, treatment would be recommended.

The Dental Suite was used for full mouth x-rays, cleaning and polishing teeth, and extracting teeth, all under sedation. The pet typically was able to go home on the day of the procedure.

A staff room for employees to eat and relax in was available, and the door to the outside opened onto a patio with chairs.

The dog boarding area was used when the owners needed to leave their pets for care while they were vacationing. The kennels consisted of some cages and eight large runs. There were also three outside exercise runs with solar panels which were set up to be easily cleaned and disinfected.

An enormous cat condo completed the tour. The partitions between the “rooms” in the condo could be removed if there was only one cat being cared for there, which mean the cat could move through the entire condo at will.

As she concluded the tour, Dr. Chiffelle said,”We’re very happy with the hospital.  It turned out nicely and efficiently.”

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