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The view outside this window in the vets' office is a reminder of the toughest part of the job: The Joseph A. Strasser Memorial Cemetery, where more than 1,000 beloved pets are buried.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 4, 201512:00 PM EST

Workspace: Jacksonville Humane Society vet balances love and heartbreak of job

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by: Kevin Hogencamp  Contributing Writer

Stan Hill has no second thoughts about his career choice.

But just outside his office window is the Joseph A. Strasser Memorial Cemetery for pets, a constant reminder of Hill’s darkest moments on the job.

Losing patients doesn’t get easier over time for a veterinarian, says Hill.

“It does take a toll on you,” he said.

Indeed, Hill — the Jacksonville Humane Society’s hospital medical director — does call the animals he tends to “patients.”

“We care for them as patients — as individuals,” he said. “That’s what they are. Each one is important.”

Hill, 31, says the bedside manner of his family’s veterinarian in DeBary had a big impact on his decision to someday care for animals as a vocation.

“He was always really caring, really personable, really easy to talk to,” said Hill, whose family had beagles and outside cats as pets when he was growing up. “The veterinarian took the time to make sure that everybody was happy, not just our dogs.”

Hill says personalized service remains a cornerstone of his care, but there are limits to the amount of time he can spend with the animal hospital’s clients and their pets.

He and his two veterinarian colleagues work together at the Humane Society’s Beach Boulevard campus to care for about 80 dogs and cats a day, including 15-20 that are spayed or neutered.

While the animal hospital’s 6,500-square-foot facility has in-house digital X-ray and blood work machines, six exam rooms, a four-table surgery suite, and a laboratory, it sometimes bursts at the seams.

“We are a high-volume operation,” Hill said.

Sometimes, the veterinarians’ care extends to their cramped, shared office, as evidenced by a pet taxi behind his desk.

“We don’t mind, really. We like for our patients to hang out with us,” Hill said.

Hill performs surgical procedures two mornings each week. While spaying and neutering are the hospital’s most common surgeries, the veterinarians also remove lumps and bumps and perform internal and orthopedic procedures, among other operations.

“Our main goal, really, is to get pets altered so there’s not so many coming into our shelters and walking the streets,” he said.

The animal hospital’s other core undertaking is to provide preventive care, including vaccinations and dental health maintenance.

“The people in this community are very caring pet owners and do a very, very good job of bringing their animals in for regular checkups,” Hill said.

Clients whose pets have heart disease, metabolic disorders and many other serious ailments typically are referred to general veterinary practices.

“We are a low-cost facility and that entails that we may not be able to offer all of the attention and services that a general practice does,” Hill said. “But there is a lot that we can do.”

The Jacksonville Humane Society is growing; in February, the organization unveiled its plans to build a $15 million, 40,000-square-foot shelter and education center. It will replace the facility destroyed in a 2007 fire that killed 86 animals.

“We are all very excited about the future. A lot of good work has been here through the years; it’s a great organization to be part of,” Hill said.

Hill and his wife, Kara Mixson, and son, Austin, have two dogs and a cat of their own.

Hill adopted one of their dogs, “a basic brown dog” named Sally, while attending Ross University School of Medicine in the West Indies.

“Nobody would get her because she kept running away,” said Hill, who completed his veterinary degree at Auburn University. “It took her a while before she quit running from me, but she finally settled in.”

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