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Dr. Rosie Gilbert is owner and veterinarian at Viking Veterinary Care, a unique practice that provides progressive treatments – like stem cell treatment and physical therapy – in a fear-free environment. Dr. Gilbert has been a long-time supporter of the Animal Community Talks program, and we wanted to sit down with her and learn more about her work.

 

Rosie with TeddyViking Veterinary Care

My “official” role in the animal field is as a veterinarian and owner of Viking Veterinary Care.  Other hats I wear daily include being an advocate for my patients, a care coordinator and educator for my clients, and a team leader with my staff.

Alaska Beginnings

I came from a small island in Alaska that had one veterinarian, and she didn’t have any volunteer/hiring opportunities.  There were no rescue groups.  Animals that were up for adoption were housed at the police station and they would warn on the radio before they put them down. 

Growing up, I was always bringing animals home, but I thought I would be a marine biologist.  I loved whales and read every book in our little library about them.  As events would have it, I graduated with a degree in Communications and was working in an insurance office, when someone asked me “If you could do anything for a living, what would you do?”  And the resounding answer in my heart was that I would be a veterinarian.

The Path to Being A Veterinarian

From there, I started taking night classes to complete my prerequisites for veterinary school.  I began volunteering at Feral Cat Coalition and Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) to see if I was cut out to deal with euthanasia, neglect, and abuse, since they come with the territory.  What I also found with these volunteer opportunities was an amazing network of rescue groups and foster families in the Portland area.  There is a web of animal lovers doing all they can to help pets find their forever homes, get the medical care they need, and keep them off the streets.  Having nothing like that in my hometown at the time, I was amazed!

Fast forward a few years: I attended veterinary school at Oregon State University (Go Beavs!) while working at Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital and MCAS weekends and holidays.  I always had foster kittens stashed in a spare room and was not ashamed to turn vet school freshman orientation into an adoption event.

An Alternative to Fear

After being out of school a few years, I began to feel the toll of our patients not wanting to come to the vet.  It was so disheartening; all we wanted to do was help them, but it was not being communicated to them in an effective manner.  So, I began my education in Fear Free veterinary care.  I would load my pockets with treats for every exam and sit on the floor with my patients.  It was eye-opening to see the change in how they responded to this kind of treatment and I became passionate about Fear Free veterinary care.  I opened my own hospital in 2014 (a whole other educational opportunity) and had 80% of my staff certified in Fear Free handling by June 2016 (the certification program became available in March 2016). We also became a Cat Friendly hospital through the American Association of Feline Practitioners to provide an additional focus and making cats happy at the vet.

What are you most proud of?

Creating a hospital where patients and clients like to come.  In our mission statement, I said I wanted appointments to feel like a visit with an old friend, and I think we’ve done a good job of that! I am SO pleased when I hear things like, “My cat has NEVER been this relaxed at the vet!” or “I used to have to drag my dog in the door of the hospital before I came here.”

From Fostering to Family

About one month after our 16-year-old male tuxedo, Rasta, passed from kidney failure, my husband announced we needed some male cat energy in the house.  Michael had helped me raise many foster kittens, but Rasta never let him keep any of the boys he fell in love with.  Since it was kitten season and I was filling in at MCAS, I brought home a momma cat and her 5 babies (4 of which were male).

Right away, the little boy at the front of the kennel with a tuxedo all askew was looking at Michael with googly eyes.  Even though he tried to suspend judgement until he got to know all their little personalities, Michael was hooked on this ham, and named him Professor Chaos.  Meanwhile, my parents (via Facebook) fell for the long-haired boy (now Emmett), and I could not let go of the one tiny girl (now Wingnut). 

The rest found their homes through the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland (ASAP).  MCAS was overrun with cats, so the Oregon Humane Society took momma cat and the Cat Adoption Team took the remaining two kittens.  This was my first experience in seeing how the new ASAP organization worked!  Emmett now lives in Alaska while Professor Chaos and Wingnut keep us all on our toes.

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Rescue is still a big passion of mine.  We have a large adoption ward in our front lobby that houses animals available for adoption, and we’ve adopted out over 20 animals since we opened. I had to argue with the landlord and justify to the architect why I wanted the adoption ward, but it is the heart of our hospital and reminds me of where I got my start in this field.

Outside of Work? Athletics and Apocalypse

I love fiction about apocalyptic events!  Television, movies, books-there are so many different takes on how it could happen, and a veterinarian or technician is always a needed member of any apocalyptic community.  My staff gets to do a group interview before we hire someone and one of the questions they like to ask is what the applicant can contribute to our team in the case of a zombie apocalypse.

Other hobbies: I love athletic challenges!  They give me the opportunity to get out of my head and focus on something unrelated to the field, so I can feel refueled when I return.  I’ve completed Hood to Coast and Cascade Lakes Relays, 2 Tough Mudders, the Portland Marathon, and now I’m doing triathlons.  I had the opportunity last year to do the Alcatraz Triathlon, complete with swim through San Francisco Bay.  It was amazing!

Supporting Animal Community Talks (ACT)

ACT is a way to tap into that animal network throughout Portland and continue being educated about all aspects of animal care.  I love learning from the presenters, then discussing how we can work together to collaborate for the benefit of Portland’s pet population.