ROCK HILL — The veterinary profession has changed dramatically since Dr. Roger Troutman came to Rock Hill 35 years ago.
When he arrived, there were two older doctors who had been practicing longer than I had been living, Troutman remembers.
In February 1978, Troutman and his wife, Kathy, opened a mom-and-pop practice in rented space on India Hook Road. They did everything, on call 24-7 except for when Clemson University, his alma mater, played football.
His first patient got a rabies vaccine, a bath and a flea collar, and its owner paid $6. Often sick pets came home with him when they required more constant attention.
Now the Catawba Animal Clinic is among the largest in the state with nine vets. Each has his or her own area of expertise and access to numerous specialists. Nearby 24-hour animal hospitals care for sick or injured animals, so no one has to be on call.
One constant connects the extremes of then and now: Troutmans focus has always been operating a clinic that treats families.
While animals are his patients, Troutman has understood the bonds between owners and pets and has made relationships the hallmark of his practice.
Last week Troutman, 61, announced his retirement, which was effective the end of September. He said its simply time to make a change. He has no firm plans, other than he wont be coming to work each day.
Its uncharted territory for Troutman and the clinic he started.
He is a brother in every sense of the word, said fellow Catawba Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr. Bert Platt. In faith, in family and in work.
Platt and Troutman were briefly students together at the University of Georgia where they earned their doctorate degrees in veterinary medicine.
As his practice expanded, Troutman looked for help. He told Platt he needed about half a vet.
Thats OK, I told him, Platt said, Im about half a vet.
With him leaving, I now again feel like half a vet, Platt said. Its like separating Siamese twins.
In those first years of practice, Troutman admits being scared, but he was without doubts. While he cant point to a specific moment or experience, he says he knew he wanted to be a vet since middle school. Working as a vets assistant on weekends and summers confirmed his passion.
As his original practice grew, Troutman started envisioning the clinic he wanted. He and his wife called it the Wonder Clinic, wondering if it would ever be built. The clinic opened in 1980 and expanded in 2001.
His trademark has been his demeanor, said Platt and others at the clinic.
Doctor Troutman always took the time to thoroughly evaluate the animals, technician Shannon Hill said. His demeanor was calm, and the animals sensed that.
His demeanor also relaxed me and it relaxed the pet owners, Hill said.
His compassion for the staff was exceptional, Platt said. He was there for their milestones and their difficult times.
Platt said Troutmans passion comes from his relationship with Jesus Christ. Troutman is a member of First Baptist Church, where he has served in a variety of capacities.
Hill said she and Troutman had a running joke. I would say, Whatever you need, Boss, and he would reply, Were here together, Hill said.
Attention to families
At his India Hook Road office, Troutman
taught families the importance of annual checkups and to not wait when a pet seemed sick.
He helped nurse pets through difficult times, sometimes advocating for new treatments.
He performed surgeries to remove the odd things that pets, especially dogs, always seem to swallow. He remembers one dog that swallowed a rubber ducky. The image of the duck was clear on X-rays.
Platt remembered the time Troutman operated on a dog named Wags. The dog had ingested a valuable cocktail ring, which Troutman recovered.
The surgery was less expensive than the ring, Platt said.
When the time came to euthanize a pet, Troutman took his time.
Its a stressful time, he said. Often, we had to lead families to make a decision for euthanasia. You have to be compassionate, mindful of the time. Tears are shed, and rightfully so.
His efforts to help families deal with the grief of losing a beloved pet led him to work with his business neighbor, Hospice & Community Care. They developed a grief care program for pet owners.
His work wasnt always in his India Hook office. Every year but one since 2001, Troutman left Rock Hill in March and flew to Alaska to provide veterinary assistance for the Iditarod sled dog race.
He and about 40 other volunteer vets cared for the dog teams usually 16 dogs to a team for the 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. Fatigue, stress, diarrhea and lameness are frequent problems of the dogs in the race, he said.
Troutman said he may continue that work.
He said he also plans to continue his work at the Come-See-Me festival where he performs surgery on donated teddy bears.
Looking back over 35 years, Troutman said he has no regrets.
Every single case mattered, he said.
And that, Platt said, is his friends legacy the countless times he cried with someone whose pet had passed away or shared a smile with a new pet owner and their new journey.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066