50-year-old animal hospital notes evolution in society’s view of pets

Dr. Charmel Rodick has experienced her first full circle of pets’ lives as a DVM at Deer Park Animal Hospital.

“I’ve watched puppies grow, have a life and now enter the last years of that life,” she said.

Rodick joined the hospital, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, in 2011 to work alongside his father, Dr. Dale Lonsford.

Father and daughter are co-owners of the practice at 2822 Center Street, and oversee a staff of 15 that provides a full range of services to cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, wildlife and everything in between.

“I grew up watching my dad, and I wanted I wanted to follow those footsteps,” Rodick said.

Rodick, 44, will become a co-owner with medical director, Dr. Dominique Gras, later this year, when her father moves to a mentorship role.

Rodick plans to build on the hospital’s history of quality care with a heart for its pets as well as the people who love them.

Deer Park Animal Hospital is marking its 50th year.

Where: 4320 East Blvd, Deer Park


“I think it was the compassion and seeing how much that meant to the people who brought their pets to my father — that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

Witnessing years of changes in veterinary medicine

That legacy started with Dr. Tom Godwin, who founded the original Deer Park Animal Hospital in 1972 on West San Augustine.

“There were not as many veterinary practices back then,” said Godwin, now 76 and retired. “There was one in Deer Park, and that was ours.”

Starting in the late 1960s, Godwin worked several years at Airport Animal Hospital in South Houston, where because of its proximity to Hobby Airport and international travel, he saw and treated a menagerie of animals.

“Hobby was a major airport; so we took care of a lot of exotic animals,” he said. “Monkeys, owls, tigers, leopards, lions — it was not a very regulated business back then.”

In August 1972, he opened the Deer Park clinic. It was not uncommon, he said, for young veterinarians to open their practices after spending a few years at an established facility because the financial burden and risks of starting one were not as great.

This was also a time when veterinary medicine was evolving from more rural-based practices to ones that saw communities transition from farming to residential in which more animals were kept as personal companions than as part of agriculture-based businesses.

In the 1980s, veterinary medicine experienced a revolution, Godwin said, in terms of vet’s level of expertise, the sophistication in equipment and facilities and care for animals.

Today, Deer Park Animal Hospital provides everything from internal medicine and diagnostics and preventive care and surgery to services including dental, rehabilitation, acupuncture and laser procedures. The hospital also provides avian surgery.

Clients’ ideas have changed about their pets

The attitude and culture also gradually changed.

“There was an increase in the idea of ​​animals becoming more of a child rather than a dog out in the backyard,” Godwin said. “I can’t give a date (when that happened), but it did change. Both Dr. Lonsford and I have experienced that change in veterinary medicine.”

Lonsford, 72, had begun his practice at a renovated Shell station at the corner of Center and Eighth streets in 1978 before purchasing Godwin’s practice on West San Augustine and moved to the current location in 2005.

There are two ways to look at animals, he said. One is the utilitarian principal, where the animal has a practical purpose, such as livestock. The flip side of that, Lonsford said, is the pet who sleeps with their owner.

“We still have customers that have dogs in their backyard. Unless it’s a case of abuse or mistreatment, we can’t make a critical judgment,” said Lonsford. “Some people have a higher priority on that bond with their pet, and others may not have that deep attachment, but they still need our help, they still need our service.”

Good vets, added Lonsford, treat all animals, pets, and owners, with the same level of compassion.

“You not only have to treat the pets, but the people who bring them to you,” he said. “We’re trying to run a business and make money, but at the same time, we’re not money-driven. It’s about the pet.”

Longtime client Pete Hanik didn’t grow up with dogs but they eventually found their way to him and his wife, Brenda.

Their tiny Chihuahua, Peanut, lived to be 20 years old — a long life for a dog — but that didn’t make the loss any easier, said Hanik, who lives in Houston.

Staff there for the end of Peanut’s life

What did make a difference was the care Peanut and her human family received at Deer Park Animal Hospital.

“On several occasions, we called on a Sunday and the staff came in to take care of her,” said Hanik, 75. “When you get that kind of service out of love, you don’t what to lose that.”

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