When someone meets Jackie Kieler and asks what she does for a living, her answer immediately sparks a conversation.
When Kieler, a veterinarian at Platteville Veterinary Clinic, answers that question, she in turn hears all the details of that person’s pet, or pets.
“I think it’s the human–animal bond — for some people, it’s their first child,” said Kieler, a veterinarian for more than 31 years, all but the first five years at Platteville Veterinary Clinic.
Caring for a pet therefore requires that a veterinarian communicate with its owner.
“We try to educate people so they are better owners, and they’ll have healthier pets,” said Kieler. “You have to be able to communicate with the owner.”
After 31 years, Kieler said she appreciates the “variety — every day is different, every day is interesting. It’s not just working with animals, it’s working with people — pets don’t come in on their own.
“On a normal day I do three or four surgeries, and then depending on the day we probably do 12 to 15 appointments. To be able to work with an animal and figure out what needs to be done, that’s what makes my life interesting.”
One morning in late January featured spaying of a dog and a cat, a neutering and declawing procedure, a worming, euthanasia, and treating a bladder infection.
“I might have one appointment and it’s euthanasia, and then I’ll walk out and there’s a new puppy,” said Kieler. “And you have to be able to separate.”
Kieler can say “every day is different” because of events such as these: a Caesarean-section birth of 13 puppies, all of whom survived; care for iguanas, rabbits that are 4-H projects; ferrets; “the occasional bird that comes in”; and a baby calf and sheep brought in.
“It’s just randomly interesting,” she said.
There are many similarities between medical school and veterinary school, as demonstrated by the common subjects Kieler studied while her friend, who was going to medical school at the same time, studied. One less-obvious difference is that vets are generalists, whereas human doctors generally specialize.
“We see all the same things human doctors do,” she said, including some maladies that can affect both pets and their owners.
Veterinary medicine apparently is a good career choice for women. When Kieler graduated from veterinary school, her graduating class was split evenly between men and women. Now, about 80 percent of vet school graduates are women.
“I have always enjoyed doing what I do; I have never felt that I was being discriminated against,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful field for women.”
The irony of Kieler’s career choice is that she’s allergic to many of her patients — cats.
“I don’t have a problem; I wash my hands well, and I enjoy working with cats,” she said. The clinic also has filters attached to its HVAC system. “I would have more of a problem if I went to somebody’s house.”
The animal theme continues on the Kielers’ farm. They are part of a dairy farm family corporation with milk and beef cattle, horses, chickens and, most recently added, a pony. Kieler is also allergic to horses.
Kieler does not treat large animals — care for which, except in the case of the very young, has to be done on the farm.
“They’re out on the country all day working,” said Kieler of the clinic’s three large-animal veterinarians.
One of them is Kieler’s husband, George. They met in vet school at the University of Minnesota and married two years after getting their degrees. Their oldest son, Dan, is finishing up vet school.
“The perspective of a small-animal owner is completely different from the perspective of a large-animal owner,” said Kieler. “Here, we’re treating animals because of the bond with the owner — a totally different perspective with the same medical education for the veterinarian.”
The Kielers’ oldest daughter, Katie, is a cardiovascular nurse at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Their youngest daughter, Maddie, is a freshman at Luther College.
Some pets are anxious at the vet, but many are not. “A lot of pets come in, they get treats and they’re petted,” said Kieler. “It’s a great social time.
“Dealing with frightened pets isn’t as much an issue as dealing with aggressive ones. It comes down to experience and how to handle them properly so no one gets injured. We try to work with the pets so no one gets harmed. We’ve had very, very few instances where someone gets bitten or scratched.”
Kieler is a member of the Take Your Dog to Work club. The Kielers’ nine-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Chesney, comes to work each day.
Chesney is a potential blood donor for other dogs, though he’s rarely needed; “he’s here in case we need him,” she said.
Kieler is a frequent guest speaker at area schools about her profession. She typically is asked to name the hardest part of her job.
“When I go to schools and they ask if that’s the hardest thing, it’s not euthanasia,” she said. “I think the hardest thing is people come in and their pet has a problem and it’s something I can work on, and they don’t care enough to want to have it fixed — they don’t care enough for their pet.
“If a pet is suffering, it’s the wishes of the owner; it’s not my wishes. If an owner thinks that’s the right decision for them and their pet, I’m carrying out their wishes.”
The biggest problem Kieler sees with her patients is excess weight.
“Obesity is huge right now, both in dogs and in cats,” she said. “Animals are not getting the exercise they need, and people use food as love.”
Kieler is one of those lucky people for whom work doesn’t seem like work.
“I still enjoy going to work,” she said. “I’m not thinking about the day I retire, because I still enjoy doing what I do.”