The electronic monitor flashes changing numbers, tracking Buddyâ??s vital signs, while warmed IV fluid drips slowly into his system. A warming blanket covers his supine body as Licensed Vet Tech Susan Ritenour monitors his vital signs and cleans Buddyâ??s few remaining teeth.
Buddy, believed to be about 16, is one of eight cats and two dogs owned by Pam McCamy of Orange, a client of Dr. Michael Wattsâ?? Clevengerâ??s Corner Veterinary Care hospital.
â??He is one of the most outstanding vets in the area,â? said McCamy, who drives 50 minutes each way, seeking top notch medical care for her animals. â??He is extremely committed to providing care for my animals.â?
That is exactly the kind of review Watts was seeking when he opened his own vet clinic in March 2005 in a house at the intersection of State Route 229 and U.S. Route 211 next to a convenience store.
â??I went to vet school to offer quality care,â? said Watts.
The 39-year-old veterinarian, who graduated from Virginia Tech, and his family moved to Culpeper 15 years ago.
While commuting daily for six years from Culpeper to Fairfax, where he worked for another animal hospital, Watts was making plans to open his own practice.
Before settling in Culpeper, Watts looked at locations in Sperryville and even Harpers Ferry. He also thought about buying an existing practice.
â??I decided I wanted to build a practice from the ground up,â? he said.
While attending a church picnic at Precious Blood Catholic Church, Watts began talking with a lady about his being a vet and looking for a location to start a practice. The woman said that she worked with a lady whose husband owned a vacant house next to a convenience store at Clevengers Corner.
Watts admits the intersection appears to be out in the middle of nowhere, but quickly notes it sits in a strategic location. While located in Culpeper County, it is conveniently close to Fauquier and Rappahannock counties as well.
â??There were multiple communities here,â? said Watts.
Watts also knew that Clevengers Corner was going to grow. The recent Centex rezoning request, would bring more than 700 new homes, in addition to the more than 340 that exist in South Wales. More houses sit close by as well. Anticipated housing and commercial growth made the 1,000 square foot house look attractive.
â??It was a changing area,â? said Watts, who watched the Centex rezoning request work its way through the process. â??It had the right feel.â?
Housing his hospital
But the houseâ??s owner dashed Wattsâ?? hopes, saying that he was holding onto the property as an investment.
Watts penned a thank you letter to the man for considering his request.
Meanwhile, Watts kept looking at Clevengers Corner. The vet looked at the vacant lot on the other side of the convenience store, now a 7-Eleven. If Watts used that property he would be leasing the land and building an animal clinic on property he didnâ??t own. Watts negotiated a lease for the vacant land, but fate stepped in.
Four days before signing the lease, the owner of the old boarded up 1,000 square-foot house called. He told Watts that he had reconsidered. The man said that and his wife loved animals. He also said that he had no children to leave the property to and asked Watts if he was still interested in the house. The pair quickly negotiated a lease with an option for Watts to buy after five years.
Watts was excited about opening his own practice, but apprehensive about the $300,000 loan he took out to remodel the house and open the doors. Wattsâ?? wife was a stay-at-home mother with three children.
In addition, the Great Recession was on the horizon and that slowed progress, said Watts.
Undeterred, Watts opened with three employees, which included himself, a receptionist and a vet tech. The tiny house had two exam rooms and a surgical suite.
As the practice grew, the space didnâ??t. About 13 staff worked in cramped quarters.
â??We were as efficient as we can be,â? said Watts, with a grin.
To meet his vision, Watts knew he needed to expand his business, but that required a $1.4 million loan.
â??I put all my chips on the table,â? said Watts.
That investment was vitally important for him to hold to his vision of â??quality care for pets.â?
In October, the new state-of-art animal hospital opened for business. Now, there are 17 employees, including three veterinarians and four licensed vet techs.
â??We used to be over at that little yellow house,â? said Michelle Gray, a receptionist for three years at the animal hospital. â??I donâ??t know how we survived.â?
The new hospital features five exam rooms. A cat ward is separate from the canines.
There is a euthanasia room set aside with a private exit for clients who must make the decision to put their pet to sleep.
The new surgical suite can handle multiple surgeries at the same time, with two operating tables. The surgical staff doesnâ??t have to leave the operating room to get sterile instruments. The cabinet holding the sterilized instruments and towels is connected to the procedure room where sterilization occurs.
â??Itâ??s all hepa-filtered air,â? Watts said about the operating room. â??It stays extra sterile.â?
The new building also has an isolation ward, and new lab equipment for faster results.
An ultra sound x-ray machine equipped with a Web cam that allows Watts and his staff to instantly connect to Austin, Texas to make sure they get the diagnostic results they need.
â??Itâ??s a whole team of experts,â? said Watts about the staff in Texas.
State-of the-art digital x-rays are transmitted to a board certified radiologist to be read.
A board certified animal orthopedic surgeon visits to operate in the new surgical suite.
â??This building was my vision when I started the practice,â? said Watts. â??Itâ??s what I wanted.â?
But as with any practice, Watts knows it is the employees who make it work.
Buddyâ??s owner describes the staff as being â??warm.â?
â??The staff is very considerate,â? said McCamy.
After Buddyâ??s teeth were cleaned, Watts called McCamy to tell her that Buddy was doing well and they would be â??waking him up.â? He told her that Buddy had a few chips on his teeth but there was no need for extractions.
Ritenour, 29, the vet tech working on Buddy, commutes from Shenandoah County daily to work for Dr. Watts.
â??I love it here,â? said Ritenour. â??Itâ??s a wonderful place to work. I will never work any place else.â?
That kind of employee loyalty has Watts looking at his staff as more than just hired help.
â??I have 17 employees who are like family to me,â? he said.
But family or not, the clients of the 10,000 different pets seen by the practice since 2005 stand as a testament about Dr. Wattâ??s and the â??quality careâ? he strives to provide.
â??I trust him,â? said McCamy.
Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care
Who: Dr. Michael Watts
What: Small animal practice
Established: March, 2005
Facility: State-of-the-art 4,200 square-foot building opened in October
Where: 18157 Lee Highway, Amissville
Hours: Mon. â?? Fri. 7 a.m. â?? 7 p.m., Sat. 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Licensed Vet Techs: 4
Total Staff: 17