With merging of Elkader and Elgin vet clinics, owners ready for the challenge

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Elkader Vet Clinic owners Michelle Christianson and Ryan Royer recently purchased the Valley Veterinary Clinic in Elgin, a decision Valley’s former owner, Steven Carlson, said was mutual and has been beneficial for all involved.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

Elkader Vet Clinic owners Michelle Christianson and Ryan Royer recently purchased the Valley Veterinary Clinic in Elgin, a decision Valley’s former owner, Steven Carlson, said was mutual and has been beneficial for all involved. 

It all started when Valley, a two-doctor practice, saw one of its doctors retire, leaving Carlson pulling double duty. In May 2020, he approached Royer about the option to buy the clinic in Elgin and, by August, Royer and Christianson were the new owners. 

The decision to purchase Valley Vet Clinic was an easy one for Royer and Christianson, as the two clinics have always been friendly and cooperative. It has given them the chance to expand the business and client base, develop new relationships and keep the business running and locally owned. 

The change left some people worried that Carlson would retire and if Valley would ever reopen, but there was no retirement and no closure, just a simple matter of Carlson stepping aside and no longer carrying the burden of ownership. 

It’s a decision he said has been a “great relief,” and he is “happy as can be.” Carlson is no longer responsible for the day-to-day management and administration minutia, so he can simply practice veterinary medicine, which has been his passion since the ninth grade after riding with a local vet. 

“It gets me outside, and I always liked horses,” Carlson said. 

But change always comes with a learning curve, and in this case, the curve included learning how to be managed rather than managing, interacting with new personalities and patience. It also included a larger service area, which required “learning a new set of roads to travel” and enduring GPS failures, Carlson said. 

“I’m busier now than I’ve ever been,” Carlson said. 

Luckily, the stress was mitigated by Carlson’s 38 years of experience and the affability of Royer and Christianson, both dedicated vets whose passion extends back through the years. In fact, Royer said, “I always wanted to be a vet,” and Christianson’s childhood on the farm imbued a love of animals that was inescapable. 

Like Carlson, they also share a love of northeast Iowa, a place Royer left once for Texas, but the call home couldn’t be ignored. 

“It was a good experience,” Royer said of the time in Texas; it’s just not Iowa. 

The new setup allows for a broader reach of expertise, as all three vets bring differing levels of experience and specialties. Christianson works primarily with small animals, while Royer is a bovine specialist and Carlson is the go-to guy for all things equine. 

“It’s not just puppies and kittens,” explained Royer. 

At Elkader, a mixed animal practice, they offer boarding, grooming and surgical and routine care. Valley offers similar services for a variety of animals, including, but not limited to, cats, dogs, rabbits, goats, sheep and horses. 

As for hours of operation, the Elkader clinic is open Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon. There is always a vet on call for animal emergencies. Valley is open Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon. 

Overall, the merger has been well received. 

“It’s been challenging, but doable,” Christianson said. 

The hardest part, beyond the new responsibilities for Royer and Christianson of owning two clinics, has been navigating through COVID-19 and accommodating clients under recommended guidelines. This has been manageable due to the constant communication and updates the clinics provide via Facebook, especially regarding occupancy in the waiting and exam rooms.

This constant communication is one of the reasons staff believe the clinics are above the rest. Others include a progressive vet staff that understands and utilizes modern techniques and a team of vets that works closely together without the drama of internal disputes. They have a shared knowledge and experience that provides better care for the patients. 

The compassion they exhibit toward patients and clients also enhances the client experience and creates a welcoming atmosphere in places where hard life choices involving pets sometimes need to be made. In the field of veterinary medicine, empathy is a necessity and so is a smile, both of which the clinics appear to have in abundance. 

The field of veterinary medicine is one with ever changing days, where you are “kept on your toes, thinking while in chaos.” It’s an exciting career, and according to Royer, gives people “a more grounded look at life” and offers lifelong friendships, camaraderie and unforgettable experiences.

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