By Jennifer Gallus
What appears as any other home just north of Howard Lake actually doubles as an animal clinic that welcomes just about any critter imaginable and treats those animals as if they were their own.
“We pride ourselves on being a high-quality clinic,” said owner of Crow River Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic Dr. Melissa Shelton, DVM. “We are very personal well, this is done in our home, you can’t get more personal than that.”
The clinic is located in the basement of Shelton and her husband Winston’s home in Middleville Township, complete with a full-size x-ray machine, surgery room, autoclave, and human-grade dental exam equipment. The clinic also provides human-grade gas anesthesia, which is something many veterinarians don’t provide, according to Shelton.
As a child, Shelton would tell everyone she wanted to be a vet. Women vets were not common back then, so people would tell her she could be an assistant or a nurse, and she would reply, “No, I’m going to be the doctor.”
Shelton started working in vet clinics at the age of 12. She called every vet in her area willing to volunteer to do any type of job.
“I just wanted to be in a vet clinic,” Shelton said. “I started as a kennel person. I walked dogs, I was a super duper pooper scooper, and all of it I’ve done my time,” Shelton laughed.
In 2001, after graduating vet school, Shelton was looking to buy an animal clinic, but changed her mind when she and her husband found out that they were expecting their first child, Ramie. Instead, Shelton opted to make house calls, which provided the flexibility she desired with a new baby.
“I did that for a few years; it was fun,” Shelton said.
Then the couple’s second baby, Reiker, came along, and Shelton decided to back off quite a bit from her house call business.
“That was when I got my biggest compliments. People didn’t want to go somewhere else, they wanted to wait for me,” Shelton said.
Knowing that the animals would possibly be overdue for shots or checkups, Shelton would advise her clients to go elsewhere for the sake of the animal.
“That’s when people started to say, ‘Well, can I bring them (the animals) to you?’ and ‘Can’t you just look at them in your driveway?’” Shelton explained.
So, the basement storage room of the couple’s home slowly morphed into an exam room, and later a surgery room.
The Sheltons applied for a conditional use permit with Middleville Township to conduct business in the basement of their home, while continuing house calls, as well, and has been remodeling room after room to accommodate the business ever since.
Four years ago, Shelton’s husband became her technician and the two enjoy working side by side.
“I call Winston the office manager, technician, husband, dad Joe everything,” Shelton laughed.
“We’re not about high volume,” Shelton said. “We schedule only one appointment per hour. I don’t want to be rushed, and I don’t want 20 people in the waiting room.”
In fact, the animal clinic has only been listed in the phone book for the last three years for fear of becoming too busy.
“We’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know you were here,’ which is something we were okay with because we were growing just by referrals,” Shelton explained.
“We pride ourselves in state-of-the-art care. We don’t skimp on anything. A barn cat is treated just like a house cat. We provide university quality anesthesia, surgery, and hospitalization,” Shelton said.
Shelton will recommend the type of care she would provide her own animals.
“While they’re under my care they’re mine for the day,” is the attitude Shelton takes toward all animals who come to the clinic.
Several clients even drive to the clinic from the Twin Cities, which is where she first began her house calls when she lived in the Como Park area.
“I’ve had dog owners sleep on my living room floor while their pet is recovering from surgery because they didn’t want to leave its side. Absolutely, I’ll allow them to do that. We only have our pets for a short time. It’s nice that I can provide that,” Shelton said.
Another creature comfort Shelton provides, because she works out of her home, is to have critical patients sleep in their crates next to her bed at night. They also have IV pumps that work all night, and often have baby monitors in place to listen if the pump were to shut off in the middle of the night.
“I’d love to find a pediatrician who offers the same care as I do,” Shelton laughed.
If needed, Shelton will call board-certified specialists to come to the clinic for certain procedures.
The clinic is open to just about every kind of animal from cats and dogs, to exotic birds, lizards, snakes, chickens and geese as pets, not as a flock.
Shelton trained at a school in Florida for exotics, and received orthopedic training for birds at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.
Other vet clinics have sent patients to Shelton for procedures like spaying and neutering companion parrots, cockatoos, and even rabbits.
“I even see fish and frogs any weird critter,” Shelton laughed.
Shelton said she has a special interest in dentistry and exotic pets, while dermatology and dog training are niches she enjoys.
In fact, Shelton has a special love for pit bulls and offers training seminars to pit bull rescue groups focusing on dog aggression.
“We’ve owned, rescued, and trained pit bulls. They’re very misunderstood, and the problem dogs you hear about were raised to be aggressive,” Shelton explained.
Yet another special service the clinic offers is a genetic blood test that can tell dog owners of mixed breeds what breeds are really in the genetics of the dogs.
“So if you’ve always wanted to know what’s really in ‘Muttly,’ you can find out now,” Shelton said.
The test costs about $100 and comes with a report of what breeds are in the dog and how much of each breed is in the dog.
As if the Sheltons weren’t busy enough, they also run a cat rescue out of their home called Meadow’s Edge Feline Rescue.
The Sheltons have taken in cats that have been found half dead on the side of the road, found in an abandoned building, or don’t have owners. The cats are then welcome to live out their lives at the Sheltons, although some of them are available for adoption.
Shelton recently offered to take in problem cats that the Minnesota Humane Society couldn’t place. The humane society was so grateful that they offered to fulfill a dream of Shelton’s to build a cathouse on their property.
“It’s a perfect match for them and for us. We can continue to take in cats for the humane society and those that are found with no homes, and the humane society won’t have to spend thousands of dollars trying to find cat sanctuaries across the country to place certain problem cats,” Shelton explained.
The animal hospital is located just north of Howard Lake on Wright County Road 5, and for more information about the clinic or to adopt a cat from the cat rescue call (320) 286-3277.