PawSteps ʽnot your grandfather’s veterinary clinic!’
By Rod Lee
Not in their wildest dreams could animal lovers who turned out for an open house at the new PawSteps Veterinary Center on Granite Street in Whitinsville on December 8 have imagined the kind of facility they were going to be introduced to.
In breaking away briefly from his other responsibilities that afternoon to give two visitors who are members of the media a personally guided tour of the premises, Dr. Sean Douglas Sawyer expressed pride in his team having created the most impressive veterinary operation of its kind for miles around.
“My partner (Dr. Mark Crootof) and I had a vision, and we’re trying to come as close to achieving it as possible,” Dr. Sawyer said.
With a broad smile and in acknowledgment of what has been accomplished in repurposing a building that once was home to a community hospital and after that to other several other ventures for the use that is now intended for it, Dr. Sawyer said, “this is not your grandfather’s veterinary clinic!”
Dr. Sawyer describes himself as “practice owner, veterinarian and chief everything officer.” He might add “head cheerleader” to that title as well, taking into account the enthusiasm he projects in telling prospective patrons about all that PawSteps has to offer.
There are, to begin with, in a completely renovated downstairs, four exam rooms for dogs. “We have a nice lift table,” he said, pointing out that particular feature. There is a pharmacy and checkout area. A lab. An outside play area with artificial grass and fencing. Upstairs, a day care and boarding component (“cats and exotics have their own side”). A radiology suite. An operating room (“mostly for soft-tissue work”). A dental suite (“we do more oral surgery these days than anything else”). Cameras (“you can get on your cell phone and check on your pets!”). City skyline and sports-themed suites—including one in which a dog lay perfectly content on a cushioned surface with the Michigan State-Florida basketball game playing on the overhead TV (“I’m actually thinking about crashing here tonight” Dr. Sawyer chirped). A physical therapy area. Weatherized flooring (“we are climate-controlled year-round and we will have potty areas inside”).
Like Dr. Catherine Claunch and Dr. Caroline Barr who are his medical colleagues at PawSteps, Dr. Sawyer enjoys having pets around as a testament to his fondness for them. His own four-legged family (he is also father to children Allison and Kevin) includes “Hazelnut, a mutt of questionable beagle ancestry” (obtained from the Animal Aid Foundation) and “Rowan McCoy, the Redbone coonhound also known affectionately as ʽClifford the Big Red Dog’s crazy cousin.’”
His lifelong interest in animals developed early on, as a boy at the family farm in Maine and as an adult in the woods of New Hampshire.
When Dr. Claunch, who is associate veterinarian and clinical services manager at PawSteps, told her mom that she wanted to become a doctor, her mother said, “animals are cooler—you should be a veterinarian instead.” Dr. Claunch’s passion for animals started with wildlife and exotic animals. Her “fur kids” now include “Isabella,” “Penney” and “Tipsy.”
Dr. Barr, who is associate veterinarian, hails from a line of “human doctors,” but like Dr. Claunch she wound up becoming a veterinarian and the owner of a dachshund-Chihuahua mix named “Nutmeg,” a Chihuahua-rat terrier mix named “Benny” and a Himalayan mix called “Little Cat.”
As guests made their way from a table of refreshments in the lobby on through the building, Dr. Sawyer was asked “why here?” for PawSteps’ new home, to which he replied, “I live just down the street!” To the extensive and costly work that went into transforming the building, which was not so long ago even considered as a satellite campus for Quinsigamond Community College until that plan was abandoned, he said “it was mostly demolition for starters, and it’s an old building so there were surprises every day. We had to install brand-new furnaces. The old ones died one night. It was terribly dark in here; we put in more lighting. We’re still deciding if it works. Ultimately it’s a leap of faith.”
A TIF (tax-increment financing) deal approved at Town Meeting coupled with rezoning of the site is what enabled Dr. Sawyer and his cohorts to pull off the revamp (Harry Berkowitz of the Northbridge Planning Board said when PawSteps “came before us to rezone, I said ‘we’re going to get this approved!’”).
With a strong allegiance to causes including Dog Orphans’ “Walk for Paws,” to its affiliation with the Veterinary Care Charitable Fund, and to its clientele with a rewards program that earns them points towards a range of services (wellness care, sick care, pain management, cat and dog microchipping, laser therapy, etc.), PawSteps is dedicated to nothing less than maintaining the health of the animals that come into its fold.
Of its state-of-the-art equipment and spaces, Dr. Sawyer says “modern veterinary medicine has become quite sophisticated.”
“Fido” and his pals know that—and are thrilled that this is the case.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.