Community Feature Local Vet Continues Treating Animals During Pandemic
Local veterinarian Ronald Lenington is taking the current coronavirus situation in stride. Perhaps because it’s not a stretch from his usual routine. “I’ve been socially distancing all of my life – I love animals,” he said with a laugh. While running his vet clinic in Cedar Vale, he tends to spend more time with them than people. Being an essential business came as a bit of a surprise though. “I didn’t realize that until corona!” he quipped.
Regardless of the virus situation, both farm animals and household pets continue to need medical care, and there’s no stopping the Bluestem Veterinary Clinic from caring for their patients. “Whatever it takes – we’ll be alright,” he said.
Dr. Lenington has known that he wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as he can remember. What inspired him? His childhood. Growing up on a dairy farm in eastern Oklahoma between Sallisaw and Stillwell, his father, his uncles, and his grandfather were all dairymen and the local veterinarian was part of their team. “I kind of looked up to that guy,” Dr. Lenington mused.
Staying the course in reaching his goal of becoming a veterinarian, he first attended a little country high school where he met his wife, Linda, and graduated with a class of 16 students. “Linda was my high school sweetheart – from the 9th grade – and we dated all the way through high school and college. I got my Bachelor of Science at Panhandle State University – across the state from where I grew up – at Goodwell, Oklahoma, out in the panhandle.” From there he went to New Mexico State University for his Master’s in Animal Science, and then on to Oklahoma State University where he earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
During his senior year of veterinary school, Dr. Lenington began looking for a practice that was for sale, knowing that he didn’t want to go to work for somebody else. Not only that, he wanted to work in “cow country” because that was what he was interested in – COWS! And of course, he was also interested in dairies. The Bluestem Veterinary Clinic in Cedar Vale, Kansas, was for sale, and at that time, there were also several dairies in the area. “That’s what brought me here – the fact that the practice was for sale and I thought it had a lot of potential … which it did,” Dr. Lenington added.
The Bluestem Veterinary Clinic was started in 1958 by Dr. Don Cox, a “local boy” from Cedar Vale who attended veterinary school at K-State. Dr. Lenington is the fifth veterinarian to own the practice. “I’ve owned it since 1978. I’ve been here longer than any of them,” he laughed.
The clinic is located at 202 Mill Street and basically serves within a 35-mile radius of Cedar Vale – but in some directions it goes even further. It’s open five days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. They take emergency cases or “if someone absolutely has to have an appointment” on the weekends, and ranchers pick up supplies there on Saturday mornings. Linda Lenington is the business manager and the glue that holds the business together. Their only other employee is Lacy Barham. “She’s awesome. She is a veterinary technician and does us a really good job. She has been a great asset,” Dr. Lenington said. Lacy has been with the clinic for eight years now. She grew up in Sedan and joined the U.S. Army after high school. Upon returning home and starting a family, she attended Independence Community College where she was one of the first graduates of the newly-inaugurated Veterinary Technology program. He adds, “She’s very good. She loves animals. Veterinary technician? I put them up there between an RN and maybe a nurse practitioner … but they’re more like a nurse practitioner than they are an RN. They are veterinary nurses.”
Bluestem is a mixed-animal practice, offering a variety of services ranging from herd health to treating beloved pets. For individual calving problems, a cow will be brought to the clinic’s indoor facilities and those issues often happen during inclement weather; otherwise, they do a lot of work out on the ranches, using the ranch’s facilities, and do farm visits too.
The Bluestem Veterinary Clinic subscribes to SKT phone and internet services, which they use daily. “The phone, of course, you know – that’s essential – and we’ve always had it for scheduling and all that sort of stuff. We use the internet for most of our ordering, as we dispense a lot of products made especially for the cow/bovine world, such as de-wormers and vaccines, to the local ranchers,” Dr. Lenington explained. They also use the internet to transmit health certificates, required for interstate or even international shipment of animals. All of that is computerized now, with vaccination records and health certificates going directly to Topeka and then distributed from there. Dr. Lenington added, “That’s simplified a lot – we used to do that by mail. The internet is great. You guys (SKT) are doing a great job with the internet. We have had zero problems. We’ve had good luck with the internet since day one.”
Although he admits it’s changed some over the years, Dr. Lenington said that probably the best thing about his work is the people. “Farm and ranch people are the salt of the earth. There’s no doubt about it. They do a wonderful job.” He added, “We keep trying to provide a product that the consumer wants and that is healthy. I’ll tell you, we’re in an area here in the Flint Hills – these ranchers are very dedicated. And I really enjoy getting out there on the ranches and working with them … and I do that a lot.”
When asked to share a couple of his best experiences, Dr. Lenington said, “No, you know, you forget all those things as they happen … I guess. The things I remember are the funny things!” When pressed, he came up with this one:
When I turned 40 years old, my wife decided that she’d invite the entire county into the clinic that day and celebrate my birthday. I’m now 72. So, here’s all these old ranchers out here at the clinic – there’s about six of them back there in the large animal area — and I’m doing a c-section on a heifer. I have my back to them and they’re standing over against the wall, watching. I told my wife, Linda, “Take my hat – it’s in my way!” So, she takes my hat, and one of those old boogers, he says, ‘Look at THAT! That boy’s got gray hair! He is just 40 years old! Did you have gray hair when you were 40 years old? Noooo, no, no, no. I didn’t have gray hair when I was 40 years old’ – just on and on, you know. So, I just stopped, turned around, and I said, “Listen guys, the reason that you didn’t have gray hair when you were 40 and I have got gray hair when I am 40 is because you didn’t have to put up with a bunch of old _____ like you!”
He chuckles, “That’s one of the things, you know – the genuine people – that’s really the biggest thing. They’ll aggravate you and then turn right around and fight for you.”
His hobbies? Dr. Lenington says, “We have a ranch and we raise cattle and horses … that all ties together. I love to fish, but don’t get much time to fish!” At this time in his life, Dr. Lenington is trying to find a replacement – a young veterinarian who wants to come to the rural area, and it’s been pretty hard. Although there’s someone who is interested, they’re still trying to work out the details. “I don’t intend to quit, but to get some young veterinarian in here and try to help them get started. They can carry on this practice. It’s been here a long time. People are used to it being here. We need a veterinarian here. So, that’s the plan,” he shared.
Reflecting on his course, he said, “The only thing is, you know, I couldn’t do it by myself. It’s been a family effort, I guess – my wife and my two sons. They grew up here in the clinic and they’re both grown and married and got kids of their own now. But Linda and I – it’s been a team effort. I couldn’t have done it without her. And I couldn’t do it today without her and Lacy,” he laughed.
We thanked him for his time, and he humbly said, “Glad to do it. I never thought that I would ever be featured in anything … gosh – and I was hiding too! If that’s all you need, I better get back to work …”
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