New vet hospital set to be best in the north

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The purpose-built clinic will act as a regional veterinary hub as the local population grows.

Six years of planning and investment come to fruition this month with the opening of Warkworth Vets’ new 465 square metre veterinary hospital in Hudson Road.

The state-of-the-art clinic is at least twice the size of the old Neville Street premises, with four consulting rooms, two theatres, four anaesthetic and prep areas, large recovery rooms, a digital imagery area, dental suite, laboratory, pharmacy and isolation room. There are also observation areas and viewing panels for better monitoring of recovering animals. Outside, there are pens for sheep, goats and alpacas, plus a fenced off dog walking area and a large car park.

Partner Jon Makin says designing the purpose-built clinic has been a massive project, but they are confident they now have the ideal premises for their growing customer base.

“This will be the best facility of its type north of the Waikato,” he says. “We have put a lot of thought and resources into making this very special. We think it’s right up there so far as quality and the ability to provide the very best care for animals.”

He says the increased floorspace area will allow the vets to treat more animals simultaneously and cut down waiting times for treatment. They will also be able to carry out more complex procedures and work more in conjunction with specialists, instead of having to refer some cases.

“We envisage this building as a central hub for vet care in the region,” Jon says. “We’ve already got a surgeon who uses our facility, and we can see other specialists doing that as well. We really like the idea of this being a meeting point for specialists, so people don’t have to go down to Auckland.”

A lot of thought has been put into the layout and flow of the clinic, such as incorporating space for future installation of MRI and CT scanners, and one of the consulting rooms having a separate entrance, so that if an animal needs to be euthanised, its owners can arrive and leave with privacy.

“The whole thing that motivates us is providing the best care and best service to our pets,” he says.

“We really do feel strongly that we always show up every single day to provide the best service we can.

Having this purpose-built facility will improve the quality, morale and care we can give to people’s animals.”

The building itself is a fully air-conditioned kitset timber building, with a bank of solar panels producing the bulk of its power. Outside, there are three retention tanks to mitigate the flow of stormwater, native planting along the front of the site and giant pawprints painted on the tin roof that are visible from nearby State Highway 1.

Partner vet Roger Dunn says the investment in a large-scale facility simply had to be done, with Warkworth growing so quickly.

“Everywhere you look round here there’s something being built. It’s going to be a different place in 10 years and we have to go with that,” he says. “We selected this site with great care – we were looking for a long time – and we feel very lucky to have found this. It is definitely the best site we looked at.”

Warkworth Vets provides a 24-hour, seven-day service and all its vets are locals. The clinic is also independently owned, something that is increasingly rare in Auckland, Jon Makin says.

“Most are corporately owned now, in a lot of instances by Australian corporates buying up NZ vets,” he says. “We want to remain as we are. Being locally owned and being run by private owners, I’m sure it improves the quality of service. We’re motivated to do what’s right, rather than just what’s profitable.”

Artistic animal and bird cut-outs decorate the grounds and consulting room doors.Artistic animal and bird cut-outs decorate the grounds and consulting room doors.

Thanks to those who made it happen

It’s takes a lot of people to create a state-of-the-art vet hospital, and Warkworth Vets are grateful to the mostly local experts who have turned their dream into reality.

Thanks go to McKergow Builders – Gus McKergow, Richard Mason, Irwin Webber, Sean O’Sullivan, Darryl Hutchison and Will Green; Jason Wech and staff at J G Wech; Mike Mills and the lads at Mike Mills Painters; all the crew at Davco; Chris Drinnan Contractors; Mason Contractors; Atlas Concrete; ITM Matakana; Andy and Paula Tomkins and staff at Vacuum One & Ventilation One; Customkit Buildings; Flooring Xtra; Hawthorne Geddes; Warkworth Glass; SVS; Provet; Boeringher; Ethical Agents and Zoetis.

Senior vets Roger and Jon said they wanted to give special thanks to Richard Mason.

“He has impressed us all with his work ethic and willingness to come up with innovative solutions to the unique building problems our clinic has presented,” they said. “And we, being two of the building owners, would like to give special thanks to the third building owner for his expertise in managing this project. Thank you so much, Dave Cash.”

From left, partners Jon Makin, Danny Cash and Roger Dunn lead the team.
From left, partners Jon Makin, Danny Cash and Roger Dunn lead the team.

Variety is the spice of life for vets

What started as a single vet practice has grown into two surgeries, in Warkworth and Wellsford, with eight veterinarians, eight vet nurses and two all-rounders managing reception, stock and accounts.
Practice director Dr Roger Dunn is the longest serving team member, having joined Warkworth Vets in 1984. He lives with his wife on a lifestyle block, along with some heifers, a cat, dog, chickens and, occasionally, two grown-up children.

“I enjoy the personalities of the animals – mostly – and interacting with their owners and our lovely staff,” he says. “I enjoy building up the technical skills and knowledge to best help our patients.”
Partner Dr Jon Makin spent nine years as an equine vet in the UK before settling in Warkworth in 2004. He’s an avid pest trapper and loves fine detail surgery and the variety of the job.

“There’s never a dull moment. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something new. I was recently called to examine an ostrich which had caught fire from standing too close to a barbeque. That was a first.”

Third partner Dr Danny Cash also loves the variety. He is a Warkworth local, but had a stint as a network engineer for IBM in Sydney and Spark in New Zealand before he followed his veterinary calling.

“You never get bored,” he says. “You get to be a surgeon, dentist, medical specialist and farm animal wrestler all in the same day. Saving a life is also always a good buzz.”

Dr Jackie Niccolls joined in 1992 and has worked full-time, part-time and as a locum since then, while also bringing up four children, working on the family sheep and beef farm, playing clarinet in two local bands and teaching woodwind at Warkworth Primary. She loves working out what is causing a problem with each animal and then solving it, though is far less keen on giving enemas to constipated dogs.

Along similar lines, Dr Chelsea Gill, who joined as a new graduate from Massey University in 2017, enjoys interesting cases and the challenge of diagnosis, but says the worst part of the job is dealing with canine anal glands.

“They don’t tell you about that before you sign up,” she says.

Dr Justine Miller operates mainly out of the Coast to Coast Vets branch in Wellsford but on Fridays she works from Warkworth. Along with all the modern facilities, Justine is particularly looking forward to the air conditioning at the new hospital.

The two most recent additions to the vet team are Dr Samantha Eaton, who joined the practice as a new graduate from Massey University at the end of 2019, and Dr Neil Warnock, who graduated from the University of Edinburgh vet school in 2012 and moved to Warkworth from Wellsford Vets last year.
Adding vital surgery support to the vets are nurses Alice Murray, Nicola Dewar, Abbie Green, Nicola Brady, Georgia Robson, Emma Clarke, Kim Voss and Gayle Draycott. Keeping the entire practice running smoothly, solvent and well-stocked at the front of house are Becky George and Carmel Colville.

A youthful Justine Miller and Roger Dunn wrestle with an avian issue back in the 1990s.
A youthful Jackie Niccolls and Roger Dunn wrestle with an avian issue back in the 1990s.

Seventy years in the making

Warkworth Vets started life in the 1950s as the Warkworth District Veterinary Club, with just one veterinarian operating out of Kauri House in Neville Street, the current home of Blue’s BBQ and The Jeweller.

In those days, it was a dairy cow-based practice and the vet lived next door. That situation continued until 1982, when the then two-vet mixed animal practice moved to a new clinic built on to the front of the old vet’s house.

In 1984, lead vet Dr Bas Schouten was joined by then recent graduate and now senior partner Dr Roger Dunn. In 1988, Bas and Roger followed the trend for vet clubs at the time by privatising the practice to form Warkworth Vets.

Roger Dunn says the practice has since seen steady growth, with a branch clinic at Wellsford being added in 2007, and two more partners – Jon Makin, who joined in 2004, and Danny Cash, a local who joined as a graduate in 2012.

“Recent years have seen a dramatic improvement of technology and services offered, including high quality digital X-ray, ultrasonography, in-house laboratory services and complex surgical procedures,” he says.

The range of animals treated has expanded dramatically, too, with a team of eight vets and 12 other staff now dealing with everything from mice and fish up to farm animals and horses, plus the odd exotic animal, such as ostriches, zebra and giraffes from Gibbs Farm and reptiles from Ti Point Reptile Park.

Straight from the surgeon’s mouth – top vet tips

• Select your pet carefully; some require much more time, effort and cost than others.

• Seek help early, even if only for advice. The number of times we have said, “If only you had come in earlier …”

• Pet health insurance is very helpful towards achieving a good outcome when things go wrong.

• If buying a pedigree animal, do your research on health problems associated with the breed.

• If possible, get your cat used to being locked inside at night to reduce predation on native birds.

• When you book a call, mention everything you want done.  The old “while you’re here …” all too often throws a vet’s day way behind schedule.

• You can’t go wrong with a Labrador.

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