By Emma Renly • The Times-Independent
Four years ago, veterinarian Scott Dolginow and his wife Patsy Wilmerding opened Millcreek Animal Hospital to offer their care for small animals in Moab. Little did they know that many of their clients would drive hours from nearby towns just to receive their services.
“There have been quite a few people that come up to us from southeastern Utah,” said Wilmerding. “There is a need for vet care down there; it’s quite a ways to go up to Moab just for animal care.”
Seeing a need for veterinary care in the nearby communities, Dolginow and Wilmerding set forth a plan to open the nonprofit Cedar Mesa Animal Hospital in Blanding as an independent veterinary service. The duo is enthusiastic about the new hospital, which doesn’t have an official opening date.
Dan Shores, a resident of Blanding, has been driving to Moab for the past decade to receive veterinary care for his five dogs. “We had our own vet here in town and he passed away,” said Shores. “Last year we had to drive up once a week for our animals. It’s 77 miles from Blanding to the door of Millcreek Animal Hospital.” Even the most dedicated animal owners, such as Shores, find it problematic to drive such long distances for veterinary care. “During the winter time it can be difficult to get up to Moab.”
Blanding is not the only town in southeastern Utah without a veterinary hospital. “We see a lot of people who come from Blanding, Monticello, Bluff and Lake Powell because there are no veterinarians in the area,” said Dolginow. He said people often have to drive 90 minutes to take their dogs and cats to a vet. “It doesn’t seem right they have to go so far.”
The new Cedar Mesa facility will help to supplement providers such as the Moab Veterinary Clinic located in Spanish Valley. It has had a mobile unit regularly going to San Juan County– serving both large and small animals—for years.
Shores is enthusiastic about an on-site veterinary hospital coming to his town. “I think it’s fantastic. Our county is the largest county in Utah but it’s the least populated.” He said having a more permanent veterinarian in Blanding “is going to draw right from the Arizona border all the way up into Monticello, which is 22 miles north of Blanding. There will be a lot of business here.”
As of July 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population of San Juan County is 15,356 residents with 7,933 square miles of land. In comparison, Salt Lake County’s population is estimated to be over one million with a total land amount of 807 square miles.
Dolginow explained the reason he and his wife are spearheading Cedar Mesa Animal Hospital is to help the local communities. There are two large reservations near Blanding–Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Navajo Nation. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2017 reported that 49.4 percent of San Juan County residents are of Native American origin. According to information provided by the Moab nonprofit organization Underdog Animal Rescue and Rehab, there are thousands of stray dogs living on reservations in the Four Corners. Dolginow said another reason for opening the veterinary hospital in Blanding is to provide care for animals in those under-served areas.
“The hospital will be primary care to start with, such as vaccinations and spay and neuter to control the population,” said Wilmerding. “We see a lot of dogs with parvo and distemper, a deadly disease that most animals don’t survive. It’s horrible to watch and very preventable.” Major surgeries that cannot be performed in-house at the Blanding location can still be done in Moab. Wilmerding added that they will assist with transportation in such cases.
As a nonprofit, the new clinic in Blanding seeks to make veterinary care affordable for everyone. Dolginow and Wilmerding expressed their hope the clinic will allow “more animals to get vet care that aren’t right now.” Said Wilmerding, “We have the space and now we need construction to create the facility. Hopefully the hospital will open by the end of the year, full-time.”