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Continuing tradition at Mac vet clinic

When she was 6 years old, Michelle Schroeder decided she was going to become a veterinarian. And not just anywhere, but in her hometown of McMinnville.

A lot of animal-loving children dream of becoming vets at some point. But Schroeder never changed her mind. And she followed through, becoming a McMinnville vet as promised.

At the age of 12, she began volunteering at a local veterinarian’s office. When she finally opened her own clinic,  she looked forward to offering the same mentoring opportunities to other young people.

Since then, dozens of McMinnville High School students have passed through the McMinnville Veterinary Hospital, spending time cleaning cages, working with the animals and obtaining valuable work experience.

Most of them moved on to other vocations in the end, but two followed in Schroeder’s footsteps. And both returned to work for her once they obtained their licenses.

It feels like a family carrying on a tradition, she said. She and husband, Pete, jokingly call veterinarians Abby Van Hoff and Aaron Sears “our kids.”

Schroeder said she isn’t planning on giving up her practice any time soon, but when the day comes, she hoping Sears will buy the clinic from her.

In the meantime, he’s keeping himself busy updating the clinic’s social media connections and laying the groundwork for an eventual transition to a paperless office. When that happens, Schroeder joked, “I’m out of here.”

Sears began working for Schroeder in 2003, his junior year of high school.

“I was into math and science, and I didn’t want a strictly office job,” he said. Add that to growing up on 16 acres, with “a lot of animals,” and becoming a veterinarian “was one of my top choices.”

He said, “I figured I would give it a go, and I ended up enjoying what was here.”

After graduating from high school, he did his undergraduate and graduate work at Oregon State University. He returned to take a position in the clinic in August.

Van Hoff, who first began volunteering for Schroeder 12 years ago, at the age of 16, said she was “one of those same old stories — since I was 5 years old, I loved animals. Plus, I really like the science of it. I like figuring things out.”

She added, “I like surgeries. The anatomy is very interesting. It’s so complex. Just getting in there and figuring it out.”

She returned to work for the clinic in October 2011, after completing her undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska and her graduate degree at the University of Minnesota.

Schroeder herself began volunteering at Third Street Veterinary Hospital at the age of 12, for then-owner Dr. David Mann.

“He gave me a bucket of soapy water and a toothbrush, and set me to scrubbing floorboards,” she recalled. “He figured he’d get rid of me.”

But that didn’t work, and neither did the Parvo outbreak that followed. Schroeder felt at home at the clinic and had every intention of staying.

“My experience with him made me want to be able to mentor, too,” she said.

“He got a little antsy and put his practice up for sale as soon as I graduated from vet school,” she recalled. “But I wasn’t ready to buy a vet clinic then. I needed a little time to breathe.”

So she worked in Portland for a few years.

When she had another chance in 1998, she bought the McMinnville Veterinary Hospital from retiring vet Michael Booth. “It just worked out perfectly,” she said.

For several years, she served as the clinic’s sole vet. Then, severe migraines forced her to stop keeping regular office hours, although she hopes to resume at some point.

In the meantime, veterinarians Sears, Van Hoff and Nancy Groth keep the clinic running, with help from a relief vet when need be.

She speculated that the building itself has had something to do with its occupants’ traditions.

“We just figured out that this is the 75th anniversary of this building being used as a veterinary hospital,” Schroeder said. “It was opened by Sandy Davis in 1947, and has been used nonstop as a veterinary facility ever since. And it was the first veterinary facility in McMinnville back then.”

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