Call of the wild

Veterinarian driven by passion for medicine, animals

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They arrive at his hospital day after day, mangled by cars, mauled in fights, wounded by gunshots or simply ailing. Some are lost, neglected or abandoned. Some come in from the wild, and others are accompanied by worried families.

They are dogs, cats, cows, raccoons, horses, snakes, deer, bobcats, hawks, pigs, alpacas, buffalo and even skunks in need of medical attention.

They can offer neither symptoms nor gratitude.

"It's tough sometimes because our patients can't talk to us," said Kelly Hepworth, veterinarian and owner of McCandless Animal Hospital.

On a November morning at his office, with his purebred Absynnian cat, Tilly, purring on his lap, Hepworth reflected on the rewarding moments of his profession.

A few weeks ago, a family from Baggs, Wyo., brought its dog, seriously injured by a car, to his practice at 2430 E. Victory Way.

"He had major lacerations and a broken pelvis," Hepworth said. "Now, he looks like a million; those are the highly rewarding moments."

Natural fit

Hepworth, 45, grew up in Laramie, Wyo., and always wanted to practice some form of medicine. He considered studying human medicine, but his love for wildlife prevailed.

He earned a master's degree in range management at Wyoming University and worked in related fields, including for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The move seemed natural. His father made a career of wildlife management.

But he was getting further from his goal of practicing medicine. So, at age 33, he enrolled in veterinary school at the University of Colorado.

In 1999, he acquired McCandless Animal Hospital from Neil McCandless. Hepworth had roots in Craig. His grandparents taught school here and in Baggs during the 1960s.

"Some people remember my grandparents and talk to me about them," he said. "We have some roots in Craig that go way back."

On any given day, Hepworth performs about six surgeries and sees 15 to 20 patients.

Some veterinarians go into the field because they'd rather work with animals than people.

That isn't a good idea, Hepworth said.

"You can't be a vet if you don't enjoy working with people," he said.

High, low points

One of the most enjoyable aspects of his practice is working with pet owners, he said. High points include the excitement of a family with a new puppy or kitten. Low points include putting to sleep a beloved pet that has become too sick or too old and is suffering. Even then, it's rewarding to help a family make a humane decision and help ease its grief, he said.

One of his least favorite parts of the practice is the business and administrative duties, he said.

"I'm not always prepared or want to deal with that," he said.

Finding homes

Around almost every corner in the hospital is a resident cat or dog. Hepworth has a reputation among animal rescuers for helping strays find homes.

The Craig Animal Shelter operates in the animal hospital. It uses a section of the boarding kennel to house animals from Craig and the surrounding area. The arrangement ensures all puppies and kittens that arrive at the shelter receive vaccinations and medical attention.

'Good-hearted man'

"He does a lot of stuff as far as the shelter goes," said Kathie Johnson, animal control officer with the Craig Police Department. "We're only allowed to keep animals for 10 days, but he allows us extra time to hold the animals and try to find homes for them."

Hepworth also contributes his own time and often reduces fees to help strays, Johnson said.

"We just brought in a dog that was shot in the back leg," she said. "The leg was shattered; we raised money to get his surgery and he gave us a discounted rate. He said if the dog needed further surgery, he would do it. He's a good-hearted man."

Does Hepworth see a lot of animal cruelty and neglect in Craig?

"You might say neglect," he said. "There are animals people never attempt to claim. I don't understand the mentality. Why don't they try to come get it?"

Puppy love

Hepworth's love of animals extends beyond his veterinarian practice. He and wife, Sarah, and daughter, Emily, 15, have several house cats and dogs. The Hepworth family owns horses, and Emily raises sheep.

The family also owns Bear Creek Labradors, a business next to his veterinarian practice. Emily has trained Labs for youth contests in obedience and showmanship. Clients from as far away as Canada and Venezuela have purchased dogs from Bear Creek Labradors. The Labradors are suitable as gun dogs and family companions, he said.

Each fall, Hepworth hunts waterfowl and upland birds in several states.

Labradors are his passion, he said.

"I just think they're intelligent, real nice looking dogs and they're suited for things I like to do," he said.

"They're athletic and have a bit of purpose."

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