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Two Clinics, One Goal

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CENTER POINT – For one of the two veterinary clinics in Howard County, three and a half decades is not enough by far.
Dr. Bonnie Harding, who opened the Center Point Animal Hospital in 1980, says that retirement in at best in the back of her mind after a combined 37 years of practice, and that while she may someday look for a vet to take over the clinic, she is in no hurry.
“I’m going to practice as long as my health permits,” she said in a recent interview, shortly thereafter proving that her health permits quite well while handling a large and frightened hound with ease.
One factor that makes it so easy for Bonnie Harding to keep going so strong after so many years is the fact that she is surrounded by family in her work. Her husband Dan has been assisting her almost from the beginning, leaving his job with Weyerhaeuser soon after the clinic opened, and the couple’s daughters Alicia and Nicki handling reception and technical work when they grew to adulthood.
Bonnie Harding talks about coming to found the veterinary hospital in Center Point, saying that she knew from an early age that working with animals was what she was meant to do. “My mother always doctored our animals, and I was there with her when she did,” Dr. Harding recalls. Her family, from Magnet Cove, encouraged her passion, and she attended college first at SAU, where she met Dan Harding, then to the University of Arkansas for a year before being accepted into the veterinary program at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She intended to run a mixed practice, seeing both small animals and livestock, from the very beginning. She worked under an established veterinarian in El Dorado for two years before coming to her husband’s home to settle into her own career.
Dan Harding talks about the construction of the first building used for the animal hospital, which he and other family members worked on, saying that they were very lucky to get the design so usable through all the years that it has served them. The expansion that serves as the clinic’s entrance and main exam area now was added in 2005, and he states that aside from maybe some extra room for boarders, they have everything that they could want at the clinic.
Their clinic is fully equipped for large animals, with an ability to handle 20 to 25 cattle at one time – though cattle, horses or other large animals must be attended as they do not have long-term pens.
Fewer farmers are bringing them livestock, he explained, saying that many of their longtime customers had moved away from cow-calf operations to gain-calf systems, which require less intervention.
Dan Harding estimates that they make only around 100 trips out to farms in a given year – which is difficult in any case, because with only Bonnie Harding being an actual veterinarian, she feels that she should be close to the clinic in case of emergency. They are able to get out only two to three times a week to work with herds in the field he estimated.
He mentioned that their business has moved very much more in the direction of small animals and pets, claiming that small animals make as much as 90 percent of their work in a month – with Bonnie saying that it is at least 75 percent.
The business has moved in that direction, and so they have adapted to it, adding capacity to board nearly three dozen animals, a full grooming room, and facilities that are easy for pet owners to bring their beloved family members into, he explained.
The clinic is very busy tending to those small animals, daughter Alicia Lovewell noted, stating that she logs a cat or dog though her reception desk at least every 30 minutes. She took over the role of receptionist for her family’s business in 2007, and says that she has noticed the increasing emphasis on small animals through the years.
Her younger sister, Nicki Penney, went to college initially to become a nurse, but found herself drawn back to being a veterinary technician. She officially began working for the family business around the time that they opened the expanded wing. She assists in exams, but also largely in the clinic’s small laboratory.
“I always knew that I’d come back home. We grew up in the clinic, my sister and I,” Nicki explained.
The animal hospital is a small operation, and they recognize that the community of pet owners and veterinarians in the area work together.
Dan Harding mentions that they have never had an x-ray machine in their clinic, and says that they often send animals that need specialty care for broken bones to Nashville, just as they often see animals that are referred to them for more extended care. Cooperation to get the best care for animals is their goal, he said.
That pragmatic view of their role in the community is a strong part of the success of the Center Point Animal Hospital, and the Harding family, and likely will be for many years to come.

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