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Vet clinic combines science, compassion

Dr. Eric Hanson and Cricket in the office of the Star Prairie Veterinary Clinic.

By the time Dr. Eric Hanson met Smilla for the first time her hind quarter had already begun to atrophy as she relied more and more on her front legs to get up and down. She was too old for surgery, so it would come down to medication.

Hanson found that a university program in Florida had conducted a lot of research on the neurology of this problem and come up with a very specific diet that showed promise in a number of German Shepherds in their study. A treatment plan brought quick and promising results.

Hanson purchased the Star Prairie Veterinary Clinic about two years ago from long time vet Dr. Marcy Armstrong, who had started the clinic some 30 years earlier.

Hanson grew up in Tomah, graduating from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2001 and from University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in 2005. His wife Kim is from Arizona where they moved upon his graduation from Madison. Knowing he'd prefer to work in a smaller practice if not start his own, he found Armstrong's practice for sale on the Internet and set sail for Star Prairie.

Hanson took a shine to animal medicine in high school when he rode along with his dad's best friend, a large animal vet, on house calls. He also assisted the vet's associate who specialized in small animals back at the clinic.

"Somehow I just never took much of a liking to large animal medicine," he said.

Prior to opening his practice in Star Prairie, Hanson worked in a veterinary practice with five other vets in Arizona and then for a couple years as part of another smaller practice in Colorado while Kim completed her nursing degree, before moving back to Wisconsin in 2010.

"It's interesting, having practiced in Arizona, Colorado and Wisconsin, the medicine's different in each place," he said. "You see different tick and fungal diseases. I saw a lot of rabies and parvo cases in Arizona and I don't see much of that here. Here it's more allergies and ear infections."

Hanson said of the things he likes most about being a vet is the interaction with the clients, both people and pets.

"I enjoy teaching people about the disease that might be affecting their pet or some aspect of pet care they're looking for," he explained. "And I obviously enjoy the animals too."

About 60 percent of Hanson's patients are dogs, while 40 percent are cats, along with the occasional ferret and bird.

When it comes to education, Hanson said he's noticed people's attitudes toward their pets are changing.

"I have a lot of people say, I grew up on a farm, but I love my dogs," he said. "They're like my children. It's just that my parents would never have done this for our farm dog, never considered this surgery."

He attributes these changes to several things; vets are better educated themselves, new attitudes accompanying people as they move into the community, and also to programs on television and through other media venues.

Hanson admits he tries to play a role in changing client's attitudes.

"Treatments and options have come a long way in the last 10 years," he said.

Hanson advocates a well-rounded approach to maintaining a pet's health including diet and exercise. He believes one of the most effective ways to build a positive relationship with clients is to give people the facts and to provide them with options. He also appreciates the economy's been tough on a lot of folks.

"We might not be able to do the full course of treatment, but at least we can make the patient feel better and improve things with plan B," he said.

Hanson hopes to someday be able to provide clients with in-house ultrasound technology. He'd also like to be able to perform more surgeries, an aspect of veterinary medicine he really likes.

"I'm a hands-on type of person," he said.

On the horizon, Hanson sees an increase in tick-borne diseases.

He also expects allergies to continue to rise. "For the most part, animals can get almost any disease humans can get."

Hanson said he continues to learn about the businesses side of his vet clinic, but says his venture has gone well so far.

"The community's been great, very supportive of the clinic and me," he said. "As a family, we really enjoy living here."

Star Prairie Veterinary Clinic is located at 207 Jerdee Ave., Star Prairie. The phone number is 715-248-3363.