A touch of home comes in many forms: a lighted candle, shoes clustered near the front door, a fresh cup of tea. At TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital, Raja the clinic cat brings his touch of home as he nuzzles against visitors’ shins. The cat is only part of the equation; with the property’s history and family connections ingrained into this veterinary practice, a homey experience fits with TimberCreek’s mission and culture.
Before the northeast Manhattan property became TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital, the Kansas State Equestrian Team called 9000 Elk Creek Road home. Up until the equestrian program’s end in 2016, TimberCreek Stables provided a place for the team to practice their sport.
Dr. Paige Andersen, TimberCreek Veterinary Hospital co-founder and managing partner, frequented those stables as a K-State equestrian athlete. “Dr. [Alecia] McAtee and I, we both rode for the equestrian team when we were undergrad students,” Andersen says.
Now, TimberCreek uses the indoor arena to walk horses and check their gait for lameness. This former horse barn structure connects to a large equine exam room, operating room and patient stables that Andersen and her father, co-founder Dr. Kelly Lechtenberg, built into the vet clinic. The clinic itself is a remodeled apartment building.
As K-State phased out its equestrian program, the property owners contacted Lechtenberg, who has practiced livestock veterinary care in Nebraska since 1987.
“I remember calling Paige when she was a junior in vet school, and I said, ‘Hey, 30 years ago when I graduated, people did this all the time,’” Lechtenberg says. “’You got out of school and just went and started a practice. Nobody does that anymore, but you still can.’”
With a plan to start a new practice right after graduating from K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Andersen and Lechtenberg took possession of the TimberCreek property in July 2016, turning around enough renovation to start providing care that September. Andersen began as a solo practitioner, but she now works with Dr. Kellie Lewis and Dr. Alecia McAtee, who are also K-State graduates, and a team of veterinary technicians and assistants.
Compassionate, Quality Care for Companions
Born out of a family interest in caring for animals, TimberCreek provides services for small companion animals and equine patients, and the smallest details help define the history of animal care on the property. In the waiting room, a TV plays a slideshow of client pet pictures. Some are posed, like the white cat sitting still on the arm of a couch, and some are goofy, like the pug mid-motion as it wrestles a rope toy. On the north and south walls, two paintings mirror each other: a lion-like orange cat, and a sweet-eyed, black-and-white dog. One might think that they only represent the kinds of animals TimberCreek treats, but the paintings are actually portraits of Andersen’s childhood pets. After all, every home displays family photos.
In addition to TimberCreek’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere, the clinic passes all 900 standards for American Animal Hospital Association accreditation, helping assure a consistently high quality of care for their patients. Andersen says that the AAHA standards include details down to how cleaning supplies are stored and how records are managed. According to AAHA, only 12% to 15% of veterinary practices in the U.S. and Canada hold this accreditation.
“The AAHA standard really allows us to be operating closer to what a human hospital would,” Lewis says.
Additionally, some of the staff are Fear Free certified professionals. The goal of Fear Free treatment is to minimize an animal’s discomfort when they visit the vet, says Lewis, taking steps to create a tranquil, trusted place for that pet.
“If you’ve ever been to the dentist or the doctor and you’ve just been scared to death, it’s miserable to be there,” Lewis says. “You can talk and tell them, but our patients can’t, so they bite more, they scratch more, they hide.”
Special consideration for nervous dogs and cats starts in the waiting room—the cat-friendly section of the room has a privacy wall so cats that are afraid of dogs won’t be near them. Out of three small animal exam rooms, one is cat-only and features a wall plug-in that emits calming pheromones to help relax the patient. For a distraction, scared dogs might get a dollop of peanut butter to eat during their examination.
Ultimately, the AAHA standards and Fear Free tactics build into a shared philosophy of providing great care at TimberCreek, and certain features add to its hominess. Resident cat Raja (who is on Instagram as @rajathecliniccat) is known for wandering all around the facility. The scruffy orange cat will sometimes make friends with patients and their humans in the waiting room. Outside, the resident miniature donkeys also find new friends; Andersen says sometimes clients go missing from the exam room because they left to feed treats to Mimi and Molly.
“We love that because, you know, if we were going to welcome these people into our home, onto our farm, we would want them out petting our animals and talking to them and following their Instagram,” Lewis says with a laugh.
Raja and other furry friends at TimberCreek add a unique experience, Andersen says, both for patients and the staff. Katie Huyer, practice manager and registered veterinary technician, shares that another vet tech loves to hold Raja when she is stressed or feeling down, since her own cats are not there at work.
“I think that we’re in a really unique position in private practice to be part of peoples’ extended family in a way, and I really like that,” Huyer says. “We have their pets boarding with us for extended times. We sometimes work them through some really advanced medical conditions or have them here for surgery…I like the people aspect of it as much as the animal portion of it.”
Skilled Team of Providers
Another unique aspect of the clinic is that, apart from Lechtenberg, all the staff at TimberCreek are women. The clinic doesn’t exclusively hire female staff, but the all-woman crew represents shifting demographics in the field of veterinary medicine.
When Lechtenberg graduated with his doctorate degree, he says the balance of men versus women in veterinary school was about 80% to 20%, respectively. When Andersen and her peers graduated, those proportions flipped; according to Veterinarian’s Money Digest, male enrollment in veterinary programs dropped below 20% in 2017.
“As our field becomes more companion animal-based, they say that women have a great skill for bonding with people and animals, fostering that feeling,” Lewis says.
It is a compassion-based career, Lechtenberg says. He adds that he has been impressed by this staff and their success, as the veterinarians and assistants at TimberCreek are all early-career practitioners. When Andersen started out solo at the clinic directly out of school, she says her confidence came out of necessity.
“I only went eight months before I hired Dr. Lewis,” Andersen says, “and she had been out [of school] a few years longer than I had. With those few years of extra experience, it created an enormous amount of mentorship on the practical side…Where I felt like I was lacking, I filled the holes with really amazing people.”
One of those holes was animal chiropractic care, which TimberCreek now offers thanks to McAtee. For horses, chiropractic treatment can help performance issues, McAtee says. This interest in equine care fits well with McAtee’s passion for horses, as she grew up with them on her family’s farm and competed on K-State’s equestrian team.
“I don’t know that it replaces some of our traditional medicine, but it goes hand-in-hand,” McAtee says of chiropractic care. “It is nice; it’s not quite as invasive as some of our previous traditional medicines such as [injections].”
For equine patients, McAtee watches the horse walk and trot, then feels the horse’s body to find tight muscles or other inhibiting issues.
“We go into actually adjusting them, so it’s just making them move appropriately,” McAtee says. “It’s not that they are hurt necessarily in that area, but making them move more appropriately. It’s pretty similar on the small animal side, just smaller joints.”
In the future, Andersen looks forward to expanding TimberCreek’s care options, especially with a property built to accommodate equine patients.
“I think identifying what our community needs and what our clients need from us determines where we go next,” Andersen says. “Of course we have ideas and things that we think will be really cool, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to fill a need and give a service.”
Wherever the practice takes Andersen and her team, that semblance of a home away from home will surely remain. Driving up the dirt road away from TimberCreek, the barns, outbuildings and paddocks give the impression that people are leaving a rural farmstead after a visit. As caregivers for extended family members—pets —the folks at TimberCreek know that when a client comes back, it should feel like coming home.
Dené Dryden is a Kansas State University student journalist and freelance writer. She currently broadcasts local news and weather as the morning news anchor for Wildcat 91.9 FM and is involved with many other organizations on campus. Dené graduates in May 2020, is happily engaged and can’t seem to function without coffee these days.