BROOKLYN, NS — Rushing out the door in the wee hours of the morning to help give birth to a cow is no longer on Dr. Sue Walker’s to-do list.
But if it was an emergency and she was handy, she would always find a way to help.
The friendly Hants County vet recently retired from his full-time job and is taking a well-deserved break after 35 years of caring.
“I know I should say I appreciate the animals, but I appreciate the clientele very, very much,” Walker said, reflecting on her time at Avon Animal Hospital in Windsor.
“I think it’s mostly them that I speak for, that I want to make sure they’re okay, and if I can do that by looking after their animals then that makes me a very happy one Girl.”
From Deep River, Ontario, Walker grew up with a passion for science and a love for animals, so pursuing a career in veterinary medicine was a natural choice.
“I come from a scientific family. I was the only animal lover and it just seemed to fit. I really love solving puzzles and I love working with living beings,” Walker said.
She graduated from the University of Guelph in 1987 and spent three years in a dairy practice in southern Ontario. Drawn to the East Coast, she moved to Nova Scotia in 1990, where she joined a mixed animal practice in Middleton in 1990, caring for residents of the Annapolis Valley.
When Avon Animal Hospital opened in Windsor in 1994, Walker signed on as a vet and stayed there until her retirement on December 31, 2021.
“It was really undeveloped territory,” said Walker of Hants County in the ’90s.
And since then, she has helped care for countless animals in need.
From exotic jungle cats — “These aren’t just big kittens,” she said, laughing — to pets, livestock and injured wildlife that have been dropped off at the hospital, Walker can’t estimate how many animals she’s come into contact with over the course of the year years, let alone the people.
Walker said her career has been interesting and constantly changing.
“After 35 years, I still learn and see something new every week. It’s a wonderful career choice for that.”
change of trend
Walker has witnessed the rise and fall of various trends, as well as advances in technology and healthcare.
“Twenty years ago it was blocked cats – cats with urinary tract obstruction. We could have three or four of them in the clinic at one time,” Walker said.
After changes in the pet food industry, with more quality controls on food, Walker said it’s now rare to see urinary blockage that’s only related to kidney stones.
Feline leukemia virus cases have also dropped significantly, she said.
But what is on the rise are developmental issues, particularly in large breed dogs.
Skeletal issues “have become a huge problem that’s terribly costly and very sad when you have a young large breed dog that’s in chronic pain,” Walker said.
“As the demand for large breed dogs increases, breeding has not quite kept pace with the screening available there.”
She said dogs also seem to live much longer. While that’s a positive for many pet owners, it does have a downside – older dogs tend to be more likely to be diagnosed with diseases.
When asked what the most challenging aspect of her career was, Walker said it was taking personal time.
“Personally, I have a hard time switching off on a weekend,” Walker said.
“When we started, I was on call every other night and every other weekend, and I managed to do that for 15 or 20 years before I just got into a terrible situation of anxiety, depression and exhaustion,” she said.
“That’s the biggest challenge – being able to live at home, which makes this retirement a big challenge.”
She spent her first day of retirement cleaning the bathroom, she laughed.
After finding a better work-life balance, the Brooklyn-based vet returned to helping after hours whenever possible.
“When I graduated, you sort of accepted that you were on duty a lot.”
Since then, and especially since the pandemic, the collective workforce no longer believes in the idea of working 24/7.
“People want outdoor living, and now I’m going to test outdoor living.”
Well deserved retirement
Your vet Dr. Janet Comeau has known Walker for around 20 years and has worked at Avon Animal Hospital since 2002. She can attest to Walker’s passion for helping and said her retirement is well deserved.
“She’s definitely very committed to her patients and her staff,” Comeau said, adding that Walker would “go out of her way” to help.
Comeau said it wasn’t uncommon for Walker to take an animal home when it needed overnight care.
Comeau said Walker has always indulged himself outside of the job and has managed to perform some miracles at the veterinary clinic over the years.
While she has many fond memories of working with Walker, Comeau said she’ll never forget a particularly bad snowstorm a few years ago.
“I was also living in Brooklyn at the time and would pick her up at her house,” Comeau recalls.
“We got stuck in the snow three times between Brooklyn and Windsor trying to get to the clinic to attend to some patients in need. We got there after a very, very close encounter with a snowplow that I’m sure none of us will ever forget,” Comeau said, noting that Walker’s dedication rubbed off on her.
Comeau hopes Walker finds joy in retirement and knows she won’t be idle for long. It’s not in their nature.
“I hope she finds an outlet for her skills and compassion, and I know she will.” I know she plans to continue helping with the SPCA and other volunteer organizations,” Comeau said.
Walker, who has seven cats, a Pomeranian with neurological issues and a quirky canary, has long been involved with various animal rescue and animal health initiatives.
As part of Friends of Ferals, an organization focused on capturing, neutering and releasing feral cats, Walker has helped provide a humane and effective way to control the situation of feral cats in Hants County. During her time with the organization, more than 1,000 animals were repaired.
Many people also have Walker to thank as she has adopted countless animals over the years.
“I enjoy rescuing kittens from a situation where they’re growing up wild and half the time they’re prey or road kill — and they’re just so darn cute,” Walker said.
“But my passion, I would say, is diagnostic medicine.”
Walker said she retained her veterinary license and intends to continue helping after a brief hiatus.
“I will always say how much I love the vet office and how much I love people and their animals. I just have to do less of it,” Walker said. “I see myself again to provide local help in the province and across the country.”
If the pandemic allows, she also wants to travel and provide veterinary care. She hopes to visit Bermuda to help out at an animal clinic where a former colleague works.
Counseling for students
Walker said people who want to pursue a career in veterinarians need a few things — a basic understanding of science and math, a willingness to learn on the job, and perhaps most importantly, a love of people.
“To be happy as a veterinarian, you have to be comfortable with humanity and not judge people, just enjoy everyone and their little quirks,” Walker said.
“You have to love people, which is funny because I was quite an introvert.”
Since her retirement, Walker has received numerous thank you cards and messages, many of which indicate she was so much more than just a vet.
“People have supported us. A lot of people have been kind enough to acknowledge me as a friend, as well as their vet.”