Spiko, an English bull terrier, was compliant as the children took turns listening to his heart and poking the otoscope into both his ears.
Jon Austin, DVM, owner of Hutchinson Small Animal Hospital, brought his dog, Spiko, for a visit to the pre-kindergarten class at Holy Cross Catholic Grade School. The students had been learning how to care for their pets and were clutching their favorite stuffed animals. They listened, wide-eyed, as Austin explained what to look for to ensure a healthy pet.
“You should know what’s normal for your pet,” Austin said. “That helps you to know if something isn’t normal; then you can tell your parents.”
Austin might have been targeting a young audience for mentoring, but he never knows when he might be making an impression. Over the years, Austin has mentored a number of students who have gone on to seek a future in veterinary medicine.
His own father, Elden Austin, was thrilled when Jon decided to join him in his practice at 1201 E. 30th Ave. However, he said he didn’t pressure any of his four sons to become veterinarians.
Elden Austin grew up in Julesburg, Colo., helping on his grandparents’ dairy farm. While attending veterinary school at Colorado State University, he had to castrate a 2-year-old horse without the aid of pain-killing drugs.
“That was 200 pounds of unhappy,” Elden Austin said. Another case involved having to shove a huge uterus back into a cow in the middle of the night.
“I decided, ‘No thanks,’ “ Elden said. “I changed my focus to small animals.” However, over the years he has handled his share of hefty dogs.
After serving as a public health officer in the military, Elden began his veterinarian practice in Hutchinson on Dec. 7, 1961. He bought the business from Melvin Stiefel. He chose Hutchinson because it seemed like a nice community to raise a family.
“I could have a life,” Elden said. He was able to grow his practice and his family. Plus, he coached his sons’ baseball teams and was a Boy Scout leader.
“I loved what I did,” he said.
Jon Austin remembers coming to the clinic after school at Union Valley. That was back when 30th Avenue was two-lane and a milo field was across the street rather than a car dealership.
“We all did our homework here,” said Jon Austin.
Coming back from Kansas State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Jon began working with his dad, who he says has a gentle, kind and soothing voice with animals. Elden retired from the clinic in February 2009.
Over the years, the mentoring has continued. Jon said it’s important that young people interested in becoming veterinarians are exposed to the reality of the profession. It can be traumatic: Pets get old, and they’re seeing more cancer in the animal population.
Several of those who have been mentored at the clinic include Angie Krause, a vet in Denver; Erica Biel, a vet in Oklahoma; and Jason Banning, a student at Kansas State University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Meanwhile, back at Holy Cross, Jon Austin asked one potential future vet who was peeking into Spiko’s ear, “What do you see?”
“Nothing,” the child replied.