In the community

Vale veterinarian whispers adieu to dogs and cats as she heads to retirement

VALE – They call Dr. Sheree Hughes the “cat whisperer” at the Vale Veterinary Clinic.

The veterinarian has a way of calming and comforting cats that settles them down.

But the cats at the clinic will have to find solace from others now.

Hughes retired at the end of May, finishing 43 years as a veterinarian.

Her first ambition?

“I’m going to catch up on my sleep,” Hughes said.

Hughes will spend more time with her own animals on her home property in Weiser – two horses, two dogs and one cat.

She said she knew by about the sixth grade that she wanted to be a veterinarian.

Her father was a research veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, credited with pioneering research into pinkeye in cattle.

“He was always bringing home animals ­– rabbits, mice and more,” said Hughes.

The family also provided horse boarding, and she’d watch the spring rite of worming and vaccinating them.

After high school, Hughes attended Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, graduating in 1981. Her first veterinary job was in Bakersfield, California, at a clinic that treated small animals and horses.

In 1989, she bought another clinic where she had gone to work and ran Olive Drive Animal Hospital until 2004.

By then, she said, it was time to leave the central California city.

“The air pollution was awful,” she said.

She and her husband traveled the West and started looking for a new home.

They found it in Weiser though they had no connections to Idaho.

Hughes went to work for the Ontario Animal Hospital in April 2005 and about a year later took on hours at the Vale clinic. She has worked three to four days a week in Vale since then, specializing in surgery.

“She has been a mentor to all of us,” said Dr. Angie Allum, who bought the Vale clinic in 2010. “She basically raised us all as little veterinarians.”

Allum explains Hughes’ cat whisperer title.

“She’s a magician with small animals,” Allum said. “Cranky cats are her specialty.”

She leaves a profession that is short of veterinarians, especially in rural areas. The Vale clinic has yet to find a replacement for Hughes.

She credits the shortage in rural areas to changes in what young veterinarians expect. She said they now more often want to work in cities, with set hours and with a larger client pool.

Over the years, the profession has also seen a shift to women. Hughes estimates that the mix when she started was 30 percent women. Now, she says it’s closer to 75 percent.

The decades have seen improvements in veterinary medicine. Treatment for fleas and ticks has gotten better. Newer medicines don’t have to be administered as often and the 1975 discovery of ivermectin, used to treat parasites, was “a big deal.”

She’s seen other changes that aren’t so good.

Veterinarians, she said, are seeing “bigger, meaner dogs” who were acquired during the pandemic and now are left alone too much. They don’t get enough socialization, Hughes said, and treating them requires more sedation than once was the practice.

Hughes said she’s frustrated that dog owners many times don’t understand the risk of parvo, a highly contagious canine virus that is can be fatal to dogs. She has been educating clients about that for years.

“I feel like a broken record,” she said.

She’s dismayed with the increasing numbers of people who treat their dogs as service animals, taking them everywhere. Hughes said that’s not always good for the dogs.

“More people are dependent on their pets,” Hughes said.

But she enjoys the puzzle of resolving an animal’s health issues.

One success story she shares is about a sickly terrier that a woman brought in to have euthanized. Hughes instead asked for time to run tests. She consulted others about the condition and put the dog on medication.

“We saved her,” Hughes said, who earlier this year checked up on the terrier. “That dog meant a lot to this lady.”

Hughes tends to be serious in her work, but some humor shows through. She explains, for instance, that a small animal vet is readily distinguished from those treating larger animals.

“The small animal vet is the one with all the Band-Aids” from dealing with feisty cats and other animals.

She said the cat population continues to explode. She does what she can to arrest that.

“It’s a good day when you can neuter a cat,” she said.

Allum said she is continuing to recruit for another veterinarian to join the team, an effort that has spanned years. Meantime, the remaining staff will work to fill the gap left by Hughes.

“She’s a very special human,” Allum said. “She’s going to be missed.”

Dr. Sheree Hughes is retiring after 43 years as a veterinarian, finishing her career at the Vale Veterinary Clinic. She put in one of her last shifts on Thursday, May 30, 2024. (LES ZAITZ/The Enterprise)

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