By Cody Hooks, The Taos News
Dr. Kim Sides of Salazar Road Veterinary Clinic.
Kim Sides has been a veterinarian in Taos since she bought Salazar Road Veterinary Clinic in 2005. It’s a non-stop job that, like a human hospital, is filled with routine sickness and life-and-death situations. She took a few minutes of her lunch to talk with The Taos News about the clinic, trauma, pet insurance and why Taos is such a pet-friendly place.
Hey, Kim, can you tell me about Salazar Vets and your history in Taos?
It used to be Animal Health Clinic on Kit Carson [Road] way back when. I bought it in May 2005. The two other vets have been here since I bought the clinic, so they’ve been here longer than me. It’s been a Taos structure for quite a while.
I came here to buy the clinic, but I lived in the area in the early to mid-’90s, in Angel Fire, moved to Albuquerque and then to Oklahoma for vets school. And I lived in Durango, Colorado. This opportunity came up to buy this clinic, so I’ve been back since 2005.
How’s the clinic changed since you took over?
It’s just grown and grown. As you can see, it’s under construction right now, and we’re expanding — we’re going to have an open house in the springtime once everything’s done. We would like to bring in another doctor this year, which means we can accommodate more people in [a] day … because we are really busy and sometimes have to tell people no, which we don’t like to do.
So what all do you do?
We do lots and lots of spays and neuters. We work with the animal rescue groups, doing the spaying and neutering. And then we do all of our medical stuff, too, which is a lot. There’s the routine things. We see lots and lots of emergencies throughout the day, especially trauma.
What kind of trauma?
We see a lot of dogfight wounds, coyote wounds, animals getting hit by cars … a lot of that trauma. Mountain lion attacks, bear attacks, too. It’s a full-service clinic.
What’s the rhythm of things around here?
Busy. As soon as we open at 8 a.m., the phones are ringing. Between 8 and 9 a.m., we’re bringing and checking in surgeries for the day. And then we start seeing appointments at 9 a.m. until noon, and then again from 2:30 to 5 p.m. We have our scheduled things, but all day long, we’ve got sick animals. I would guess we see about 40 animals a day, if not more.
Our average days are 10-12 hours. And that’s when we’re not on call. When we’re on call, it just depends on how many emergencies we see.
We always have a vet on call after hours. We share calls with Taos Vets. When you’re on call, you have an emergency cell phone on you, and you could go in at 3 a.m., or at midnight. Or you could not get any calls at all.
How many vets work each day?
Usually, only two vets are working a day. One is doing surgeries. In the afternoon, both are doing appointments unless we have an emergency surgery.
Is it mostly cats and dogs?
Mostly cats and dogs. We see the occasional goat, llama, alpaca; some birds and some turtles; pocket pets, like the gerbils, hamsters, rats, rabbits.
Taos is such a pet town, wouldn’t you say?
It is. It definitely is. People love their pets here. And why not? They get to go hiking, they get to play in the snow. I think it’s because this is a very active place. There are people skiing and mountain biking and cross-country skiing and hiking, and people take their dogs with them. I think the West in general is a very dog-friendly place. I grew up back East, so I know the difference. You can stay in hotels more easily. There’s specific rooms. If you forgot your water bowl, they’ll have one for you. That sort of stuff.
I’m a new pet owner myself, so I’m still learning this — how does the pet world differ from the human world in medicine and health care?
It’s similar in aspects and different in others. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to make decisions about pets because of finances. In the human world, you have Medicare, Medicaid, just insurance or that sort of thing. As far as the medical care, we can do just about as much as they can do in the human world.
One of the big differences between vets and human doctors is us vets have to be the doctor and the surgeon and the G.P. and the oncologists and everything all in one. In the hospital, you’ll go see the one doctor and then radiology, then to surgery.
How do you make sure you’re keeping up with the profession and medical advancements?
In order to keep a license in New Mexico, we have to go to continuing education every year. We go to conferences and seminars. We read journals and keep on top of it. That’s all similar to the human world.
In the industry as a whole, what’s changed most?
Just the technology. MRIs, CAT scans and kidney transplants — things we aren’t necessarily doing in this clinic, but there’s the capability to do them. People a lot of times see their pets as family, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes.
Is there pet insurance?
Yes, and I’m a huge fan of it. There’s a bunch of different companies out there. You pick whether you want it just for emergency stuff or for wellness, which would include yearly blood work plus whatever emergencies. If you came and made an appointment, you’ll turn in that invoice to the insurance company, and then they reimburse you. We have to fill out claim forms, but the clients deal with the insurance companies.
Do many folks in Taos have pet insurance?
No, not enough. It’s a huge thing — especially for emergency situations. It can save a lot of people a lot of money.
The other thing we have is called CareCredit. Some of the dentists and doctors do it. You apply, are approved for a certain amount and use it just like a credit card — but with no interest (if paid off in a specific time). We have quite a few more people who use that instead of insurance.
Y’all work with The Wildlife Center in Española, is that right?
We’re a drop-off point for them. We assess them and decide if they’re releasable. The ones who are, we stabilize them and do what we can. Then they go down to Española for rehab.
Like with ambulances, that system must work fast.
Yeah. We have the life-and-death situations here, too. Every day. It’s stressful. It’s emotional.
Do you see a lot of pet owners freaking out over every little thing?
Yup, especially the ones who’ve never had a pet before. So we try to make a new pet exam. We go over everything — talk about vaccines, spaying and neutering – and we’ll talk about overall wellness. We usually recommend seeing all the pets once a year, just to talk about the things that are going on. … Same as the human world.
Any free advice for pet owners?
Vaccinate your puppies. Vaccinating them is a lot cheaper than treating them for parvo. And try not to let your pets run loose because that’s when they get into trouble … getting hurt or doing the hurting.
Not everyone around here gets their animals fixed. Forgive the pun, but do y’all see the tail end of those decisions?
Absolutely, we see it. Go to the shelter in the spring and see how many litters of puppies and kittens they have. Cats and dogs need to be spayed and neutered because, unfortunately, we don’t have enough people here who can take that many pets.
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