Top vet balances booming business and pandemic – Duluth News Tribune

SUPERIOR – Justin Dahl takes care of most of the four-legged creatures at Happy Tails Animal Hospital.

He owns the hospital, which serves residents of the Twin Ports area. Like other frontline workers, Dahl has seen rapid change in the veterinary industry.

At Happy Tails, they’ve moved on to curbside care; they were working at half strength; and they hired a third vet.

“A job like this, a doctor, an emergency room doctor, a funeral home director, those are jobs you can’t quit,” Dahl, of Superior, said. Sometimes that means going to the clinic three or four times over a weekend to check on animals or catch up, and it’s common for pet owners to text or call – and there’s that moment where someone made an unexpected house call.

Like many in care careers, Dahl worked on balance and faith.

“Trying to maximize opportunities with my family, then my religion,” he said.

“You just have to know that there is a greater purpose in life. That sometimes what seems like a mountain to you is not one in the scheme of things. You can work with help,” he said.

Dahl took the time to discuss his eclectic reading mix, how he vibes with George Strait and an unusually long wait for penicillin.

Vet Justin Dahl gives Max a treat as owner Carolyn Sturdevant looks on after an exam Feb. 7, 2022 at Happy Tails Animal Hospital.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Q: Working with animals for as long as you have, do you always feel like “aw, cute!” moments?

A: All the time. I think without such moments you have lost your humanity and it is time to retire from the profession. It’s one of the greatest things about my job…even after all these years, I’m still learning, seeing new things, finding new ways to connect with customers and animals. It is a job that is constantly changing and evolving.

Q: You mentioned that business has increased during the pandemic. Have you seen any other trends in the veterinary industry? Or, supply issues?

A: Besides an increase in the number of animals/customers, the biggest problem we face is getting certain medications or medications in a timely manner. This could be due to manufacturing delays, issues with supply chain/distributors, or discontinuation of a product due to cost of manufacturing/lack of product profit.

A good example is penicillin, which has been out of stock for over six months now.

Q: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that COVID is transmitted to cats and dogs. Have you seen instances of this?

A: I haven’t seen any confirmed cases of COVID in animals, no. Most of the reports I’ve heard of were either of larger cats – lions, tigers, etc. – or abroad, i.e. hamsters in Hong Kong.

Vet talks to coworkers.
Vet Justin Dahl talks with vet techs Kayla Denney and Haley Nelson.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

Q: You have a spouse, children and pets. Did you have to take any precautions when returning home after being on the front line? If so, what was your routine?

A: Yes, there were some basic precautions, but my wife and I had to follow them as she is a nurse and has also worked directly with patients throughout the pandemic. The two main things we did were change clothes after coming home (to limit viral exposure in the house) and drastically reduce travel away from home or work. Other than an occasional run to the grocery store or hardware store, we weren’t going anywhere else.

Q: Name one outstanding positive interaction at work in the past year and how has a moment like this affected you at work?

A: The interactions I can think of are the same as before the pandemic: seeing the joy and smiles on people’s faces when they arrive with their new puppy or kitten, being able to solve a problem like successfully removing a tumor or find out why their my four-legged friend is sick and cure them, and I will work with clients and colleagues who I consider my friends and extended family.

Q: As changes are happening with COVID, any advice for other essential workers?

Justin Dahl

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

A: There is enough scientific data to support vaccination in all circumstances where possible. Unfortunately, most masks aren’t enough to prevent COVID or aren’t worn properly to do what they’re supposed to do. Coupled with the fact that we are all tired of COVID and will not return to strict quarantine, vaccination is the best option we have right now.

Q: In what ways do you practice self-care, and has that changed during the shutdown?

A: My self-care routine has stayed the same during the pandemic, and in many ways it has only intensified. I try to run outside everyday no matter the weather or temperature (unless we are in the middle of a snowstorm) and try to read/study the Bible as often as possible.

Q: How can we support you and our other frontline heroes?

A: I think the most important thing is that people understand and appreciate all the hard work of frontline employees, who are often understaffed and overworked. Know that we are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect and compassion.

Q: What do you read, listen to and watch?

A: I would tend to say that my habits in this area are quite eclectic. The last two books I read were “Cries from the Cross” by Erwin Lutzer (given by a client) and “Killing Willis” by Todd Bridges.

I listen to a lot of neo-traditional country music – Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, George Strait, the Judds – as well as 50s rock and 80s rock.

I just finished watching the last season of “Shameless” and am currently watching the comedy “Step by Step” with my kids. My guilty pleasures are “The Goldbergs” and “The Curse of Oak Island”.

Q: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?

A: Oh, boy, was that a doozy. I thought long and hard about this question and tried to find the “perfect” answer, but realized that the answer should be seen more as a snapshot of my life right now.

I would like to have dinner again with my grandfather, Frank, and I would take this time to ask him about his life and his family history.

Second, I would like to meet Steven Armstrong, the founder of Verse By Verse Ministry International, whose approach to biblical teaching has had a tremendous impact on my life.

Finally, out of left field, I would like to meet Frank Murphy, the Supreme Court Justice whose dissenting opinion in Korematsu v. United States denounced with exceptional honesty and considerable moral clarity one of the worst episodes of racial discrimination in the history of our campaign. He was a man of great faith and he was not afraid to stand up for what was right even though he was in the minority.