New Veterinary Facility Pays Homage to Old Roots

Sally E. Bahner PhotoIt’s fitting that an 80-year-old veterinary practice built on caring for farm animals is reinventing itself on the site of a well-known Branford farm.

Sally E. Bahner PhotoBranford Veterinary Hospital, the oldest veterinary practice in Branford, will soon relocate to a new facility in a former cornfield adjacent to the former Bahnsen farm on Route 139. Site work is now underway and a July 2018 opening is expected.

The new facility will be a Colonial Saltbox reproduction in keeping with the history of the site, the practice, and the town.

“The property – the old Bahnsen farm – has been a landmark in town for over 100 years,” said Scott Gavaletz, DVM. “We wanted to continue the legacy, so we modeled the hospital after the farmhouse. We wanted the new hospital to look like it’s been here for 100 years.”

He’s checking the site with a metal detector and has found horseshoes, old nails, and stirrups.

Dr. Gavaletz said that planning for the new facility started five years ago. He said he had his eye on the property and put in an offer immediately when it came on the market two years ago. The 5,800-foot hospital is designed by FMD of Ohio, which specializes in designing veterinary hospitals. Munger Construction is the contractor.

The hospital itself will be on the first floor with office space and conference room on the second floor.

There will be four exam rooms, separate dog and cat waiting areas, glass-enclosed cat and dog medical wards, a comfort room, three doctor’s offices, and a conference room. All types of animals will be accommodated, including exotics, wildlife, the occasional chicken, goat or potpellied pig, and, of course, cats and dogs, which compose 80 percent of the practice.

Dr. Gavaltez said that some farm animals are still cared for. “If it fits through the door, we will treat it,” he said.

Cosgrove Animal Shelter PhotoThese days, however, the veterinarians are more likely to treat injured and abandoned animals in conjunction with the Cosgrove Animal Shelter. They were instrumental in treating and saving the life of Hope, a Rottweiler-SharPei-Beagle mix, who was found emaciated and injured in town earlier this year. She became the star of the shelter and was adopted by a BVH veterinary technician who cared for her round the clock. “Hope was hard on everyone, but it had a good ending,” said Dr. Gavaletz. “She’s doing phenomenal.”

A Long History

With PermissionLongtime residents will remember that Branford Veterinary Hospital began under the direction of Dr. Philip Gerlach, who founded it in 1937. He was known for treating Branford’s farm animals when it was a rural town.

It became a satellite of Guilford Veterinary Hospital and purchased by Dr. Robert Schaper in 1988. Dr. Gavaletz, who joined the practice 10 years ago, purchased the hospital from him, but Dr. Schaper still sees patients a couple days a week and owns the building. He will continue to be involved in the new facility. Dr. Gavaletz said that Dr. Schaper was known to treat the chickens at the Bahnsen farm.

Sally E. Bahner PhotoDr. Mary Griffin and Dr. Sarah Reynolds, a former veterinarian technician turned veterinarian, and six staff members are also part of the practice. Dr. Gavaletz said thousands of animals have been treated over the years and the doctors can see around 50 patients a day. Receptionist Didi MacKinnel (pictured)has been at BVH since 1997.

The current 2,000-square-foot facility has been updated significantly from those early days. The waiting room has old photos and a framed architectural drawing and layout of the new hospital.

Sally E. Bahner PhotoDr. Schaper added a second story a number of years ago, which has cozy office space and bookcases that display old medicine containers and manuals that go back to the late 1800s. Dr. Gavaletz said they will be on display in the new building.
Changes in Pet Care

Dr. Gavaletz, who graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida in 2002, said there have been a lot of changes in technology, which at BVH includes computers, video scopes, and high-speed dental equipment. They also offer online access to pets’ records, for making appointments, and for ID cards.

Dr. Gavaletz has his own pets, of course – a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, and two cats, one a “foster fail” and the other left to him in a client’s will. He is married and has two children.

“Pets are more a part of the family than 20 years ago,” he said, adding that he sees so many tight families and the lengths people will go to care for their pets.

Full disclosure: This reporter, and all her cats, have been clients of BVH for 30 years.

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