Some people struggle with professional decisions well in to adult life. Kate Oliver has had it all figured out since she was five.
You see, the family dachshund, Otto, needed a checkup, so Oliver’s mother took her and her twin sister along for a visit to Dr. Schroeder. From the moment young Kate stepped into the veterinary hospital in her hometown of Arlington, Texas, she was hooked.
“He showed me everything, let me touch things. He was so gentle,” she relates, still a little awe-struck after all these years. “My dog had very bad back pain and he was helping. I remember thinking, to me, he was kind of a miracle worker.”
Now Dr. Kate Oliver is getting to perform her own miracles. The South Austin veterinarian, who’s practiced the art of healing on Central Texas dogs and cats for the last decade, opened her own clinic a few years ago. So far, business is good for the soft-spoken and patient Oliver.
“I love to solve problems,” she says, sitting in her office early one evening after finishing a phone consultation with a client. “For us, as veterinarians, you want to make your patient feel better but they can’t tell you what’s wrong. So it’s a bigger challenge to figure it all out. When you do, the rewards are tremendous.”
Oliver’s career arc is not unlike others in the business. She graduated from vet school at Texas A&M University in 1998 and worked as an associate in a local veterinary clinic for more than four years. Later, she got involved with relief work at an Austin emergency veterinary hospital and also worked in more than 20 clinics in the area, helping to relieve other doctors.
“That was invaluable experience,” she contends. “Everyone does things a little different, whether from a management standpoint or medically. There are all kinds of ways to practice and I got to learn a lot.”
That experience in hand, Oliver opened her own clinic, Oliver Animal Hospital, in September 2006.
Practicing in Austin, which she describes as a very pet-centric city, was a foregone conclusion. “I’ve always identified with my clients here,” she says. “I think the people in Austin are very diverse, but they are a kind, good-hearted people. I feel this is more of a close-knit community than other places I’ve been.”
Having established relationships with clients through the years and with some referral help from the emergency hospital she’d worked with, Oliver didn’t have tremendous difficulty getting her practice off the ground. But she says she’s also had a lot of help from a core group of clients.
Oliver estimates that at least 20 percent of her clients are members of the gay and lesbian community, including seven or eight of her top 20 clients.
“I think most of my colleagues would tell you it’s a huge part of veterinary medicine,” she conveys. “My clients in the gay community are fantastic; they are very in touch and emotionally drawn to their pets. They often want the best care and they want you to educate them about their pet’s disease and what they can do. They are there every moment of their pet’s life.”
A 2003 study conducted by New York research group G/L Census Partners showed that pet ownership is more common among gay people than their heterosexual peers. What’s more, research has shown that gays are more apt as a group to spend money on their pets – whether for a sweater or a necessary yet expensive medical procedure.
“Animals play a very different part in today’s society than they did in the past,” Oliver says. “They aren’t just pets anymore, they are companions and friends. And for some people, they are their children.”
For such pet owners, finding the right veterinarian is a critical decision. And like any other group of professionals, no two veterinarians are exactly alike.
“It’s like going to a dentist or a doctor or even a hairdresser,” Oliver says. “You go to a few until you really fit with one. All of us are different, from our practice technique to our bedside manner. We’re really not competing against one another as much as we’re competing against ourselves to better our service.”
Though passionate about medicine and healing, Oliver says she also enjoys getting to know her clients and educating them on what their pets are going through.
“The client is just as important as the patient, because if they are feeling guilty about a decision or uncomfortable about something, they’re going to be upset,” she says. “You have to make time, show patience and offer a gentle hand.”
It’s that marriage of science and the ability to connect that’s crucial to a veterinarian’s success, she claims.
“I think, for me, it’s an easy relationship with animals,” Oliver says. “There’s no questions asked from them. They love you no matter who you are and what you do. … They don’t judge, they just want to be there for you. Because of that, I don’t know if there’s any human bond that is like the bond that exists between human and animal.”