That’s it. We’re done.
The owners of Sparling Veterinary Clinic will walk away from their business and careers May 13, permanently closing a hospital that has served the residents of Chehalis, Wash., for 62 years.
Anna Sparling, DVM, and her husband, Alan Sparling, DVM, are retiring without ever trying to sell the practice. They have advised clients to pick up their pets’ medical records and patronize nearby veterinarians.
“After 37 years of providing veterinary service to Lewis County, we are retiring,” the couple stated candidly on their clinic’s Facebook page.
Located halfway between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Sparling Veterinary Clinic caters to low-income pet owners and is undoubtedly low tech.
“The clinic is 62 years old and has changed very little in that time,” Anna Sparling said. “We heat with wood and do all of the woodcutting ourselves. We are not computerized, and we have one employee, who has been with us for 20 years.
“We do everything ourselves, from taking blood, taking X-rays—and developing them in dip tanks—to bookwork and cleaning cages.”
The practice has provided the couple with a very modest income—one that “We have learned to live with, so we have no debt,” Anna Sparling said.
Low cash flow wouldn’t appeal to a potential buyer, she said, so a sale was never considered.
“Unfortunately, there are few vets now who are willing to sacrifice the conveniences of life,” she said. “Especially with their debt load, [they] could not live on our clinic’s income.”
Other practitioners will benefit from the clinic’s closing.
“There are many other vets in our area who can use a larger client base, so it will work out well for everyone except for the people who can’t afford them,” Anna Sparling said. “I do feel very bad about that, but we are ready to retire and start a new season of our lives.”
The Sparlings, each 62, graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 1977. Looking for their first veterinary job and having never set foot in the Pacific Northwest, they focused on Washington, Oregon and Idaho because of the scenic beauty they saw in photographs.
Another Illinois graduate sent the Sparlings a Washington State University newsletter, which listed an available clinic owned by veterinarian Adolfs Alksnis.
“It was just what we wanted: a mixed practice in a small town,” Anna Sparling said. “To top it all off, I immediately recognized Alksnis as a Latvian name since I am Latvian. When we called him and told him that I was Latvian and that we were a married veterinary couple, he said he wouldn’t show the clinic to anyone else.
“That was at the end of November 1977. We came out to see the practice in January and bought it on sight and moved out here on Feb. 22, 1978.
“We had just been out of vet school nine months, were not licensed in Washington and never looked into the demographics of the area. Dr. Alksnis was 75 and still practicing. He agreed to stay with us until we got licensed.
“Thankfully, we both passed our boards in June and everything worked out great for us.
“Sometimes it pays off to be young, daring and naïve.”