DENVER – While he didn’t head to college to become a small animal veterinarian, that’s where David Wilson, who grew up on a dairy farm in Mitchell County, ended up.
Wilson, who owns East Lincoln Animal Hospital, has served the animals and people of Lincoln County for more than 40 years. While he only does a few surgeries a week these days, he was recently found helping out other veterinarians on his staff with neutering and spaying cats and dogs for Lincoln County Animal Services.
“Back in the 1950s in the mountains, there was no such thing as veterinarians,” he said as he worked on neutering a Boxer. “I had very little idea of what a veterinarian was when I was in high school. I was going to go to N.C. State and get a degree in agriculture, and that did happen.”
When he first got on campus, Wilson met another student who was instrumental in changing his ultimate career course.
“He was a city boy who wanted to be a dog doctor and met the country boy who didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I decided it would be a good match, a farm boy in vet school, and I was able to make the grades. I went to veterinary school from 1972 to 1976.”
Even after 43 years, Wilson believes that veterinary medicine is the perfect career, particularly because of the people who come “hooked” to their animals. While working at a mixed animal practice in Mooresville, he decided to focus on small animals rather than large (farm) animals because he enjoyed the exam room and working with the animals and their people.
“I got a call from the veterinarian at Lincolnton Animal Hospital in 1977, and he suggested that I work for him and if it worked out we could become partners,” he said. “In that day and time there was no such thing as an after-hours veterinary clinic. You went home and your phone may ring with someone asking you to come back in and work on a hurt dog or something. We routinely saw after-hours cases throughout the week.”
Wilson worked at Lincolnton Animal Hospital until he opened East Lincoln Animal Hospital in 1978 in a 1,000-square-foot building in Denver. In 1985, Wilson became the sole owner of the hospital, and in 1986, the practice moved into a larger, 3,500-square-foot building.
Of course, veterinary medicine has changed dramatically throughout the past 40 years. When Wilson graduated from veterinary school in 1976, parvovirus in dogs was unknown.
“When it hit in 1979 and 1980, demand for service skyrocketed because people didn’t want their dogs to get parvo,” he said. “All of a sudden when we were just doing spaying and neutering and routine care in the late 1970s, it became ‘vaccinate my dog and don’t let it get parvo.’”
The concept of annual visits for vaccinations, heartworm testing and worming pretty much grew out of the parvo outbreak. His practice was formerly walk-ins rather than by appointments. The monthly heartworm medicine Heartgard came out in the 1980s as did the first effective flea preventative, Advantage.
“When pets had fleas on them, they stayed outside, but when they got Advantage or Frontline and the flea problem went down, pets moved inside more,” Wilson said. “They were there already, but a higher percentage came inside and became more closely attached to their owners, and the attitude toward care changed. All of sudden there was more attention to long-term care.”
In 2004, the 10,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art veterinary hospital was opened at 7555 N.C. 73 East. Today, there’s an array of tests and procedures that can be done for pets, including oral surgery.
“Most pets have trouble with their mouths, and taking care of teeth has been a growing thing,” Wilson said. “At one time, if teeth were rotten, they were just pulled and you gave them an antibiotic. Pain relief for animals was not really researched and approved until the mid-1990s. That’s crazy, we used to tell people that pets didn’t hurt like people. They hurt just like people hurt. It’s amazing what we didn’t know.”
While he primarily manages the practice, employing eight full-time and two part-time veterinarians, Wilson still does several surgeries a week, primarily doing cruciate ligament repairs and other orthopedic surgery in dogs and cats.
“Lincoln County is the ideal place to raise a family and watch the practice expand like it has,” he said. “People think that that you ‘make’ money as a veterinarian, but the best thing I’ve made in Denver in 40 years are the friends that I’ll have forever. I have great gratitude for the support I’ve received over the years.”