Veterinarian on four wheels

Dr. Mel White works on a dog in his mobile veterinarian van that travels throughout Hollister and other areas.

The white, fluffy dog with big, brown eyes stood on its back legs and looked briefly at the veterinarian before turning away.
Sugar, a nervous, 11-month-old Hollister resident, wasn’t seeing the typical veterinarian. She was standing before Dr. Mel White, a house call vet, who rolls up to homes in San Benito County in a giant van that is 26 feet long and nine feet tall and, in this case, carefully removes tiny stitches.
White, from Salinas, and his veterinarian technician Ann Azevedo, of Hollister, have visited almost 3,000 clients over 12 years at abodes in Aromas, San Juan Bautista, Hollister, Paicines, Prunedale and other cities.
“No two days are the same,” he said from inside the van, as it stopped at the Jack in the Box parking lot for a quick lunch break. “For the most part, the clients are really nice and they appreciate you coming to their home.”
Before he began his current practice, White grew up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming where he saw a few caesarean sections on cattle and decided he would be a large-animal veterinarian.
“My father never hired a man in his life because he had six sons,” White said.
About half way through vet school, White decided caring for small animals might be a better fit and told his father, who informed him there were lots of purple-haired ladies with poodles, he recalls. But when White came home from vet school during a break and found himself outside in 30 below zero weather, checking cattle for his father to see if they were pregnant, he knew the job wasn’t for him.
“And I said ‘This is really not very enjoyable to me,’ ” White said. “And I actually found there were more weird horse owners than poodle owners.”
Of the more than 40 years White has worked as a vet, he spent about 14 years working at the Animal Hospital of Hollister, off San Felipe Road, and about one year running a small animal practice at the Ausaymas Veterinary Hospital, off Orchard Road, before taking his practice on the road. White saw a rising demand for house call services. So 12 years ago, in March 2004, he had a rig—specially designed to hold a scale, an x-ray machine, a refrigerator for vaccines, cages for pets recovering from procedures, and an entire back room for surgery—custom built in Columbus, Ohio. In July of 2004, he and his wife, Kathy, picked it up, visiting children that live across the country on the drive home.
White cares for family pets, feral cats, and even working dogs in San Benito County. Friday, for instance, he started the morning at 8:30 a.m. in Prunedale, took stitches out of two dogs that had just been spayed at 9:30 a.m. in Hollister, drove to Quien Sabe Road where he fixed a 125 pound guard dog that barely fit on the van’s surgery table, and then continued on to stops in San Juan Bautista and Salinas, he explained.
The large vehicle gobbles up about $12,000-$13,000 in fuel each year, White said. It gets about 8-10 miles per gallon and he fills it about two times a week, the veterinarian said.
The practice’s clients include seniors that can’t drive; stay-at-home moms that don’t want to keep track of multiple kids in a vet’s office; and cat owners, whose pets get stressed easily, White said.
Space is well utilized in the van, and has to be since there’s not much of it. Bandages and wrappings are in one of the compartments to the left. So is computer and a scanner. The refrigerator holds lots of tiny containers with fine print and a sandwich shaped plastic container.
“We have all our vaccines in there and also my lunch,” White said.
The surgery room at the back of the van is just big enough to clean animals’ teeth, take off tumors and spay or neuter, the veterinarian explained. Some of his clients only give him a call when it is time for them to have an at-home euthanasia, he said. People like having the service done at their house since pets are becoming more and more a part of the family, he said. His practice gets about four to five of these calls a week, he said.
“I guess the big thing is I appreciate the compassion people have for their pets,” White said, adding that he grew up on a ranch where if it cost more than $100 to help an animal, it was put down and replaced with another one.
His heart is probably still a little rough some days but it has softened some, White said, and added the job has made him a better person.
For Sugar’s owner, Allacyn Spears, 40, of Hollister, having a house call vet means less stress for her timid pet who—while scared inside the van—needs only to be carried outside to see she was home, she said. Spears works from home.
“I think mostly it’s convenience because I don’t have to get in the car and stress them,” she said.

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