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Dr. Liisa Carlson, owner of Carlson Pet Hospital, examines Cooper, the 8-week-old beagle of Steve and Lory Simpson. After initial reluctance to enter the practice of her father, Delbert Carlson, Liisa joined in 1988 and took over when he died in 1990.
Dr. Liisa Carlson, owner of Carlson Pet Hospital, examines Cooper, the 8-week-old beagle of Steve and Lory Simpson. After initial reluctance to enter the practice of her father, Delbert Carlson, Liisa joined in 1988 and took over when he died in 1990.

Business Spotlight: Carlson Pet Hospital

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As a kid, Liisa Carlson was certain the last thing she wanted to be when she grew up was a veterinarian.

"I wanted no part of this business," Carlson says of the veterinary clinic her father founded nearly 50 years ago. "I remember the dogs and the cats in the bathtub at night ... there were five kids and one bathroom, OK? 'Dad, could you move the dog so I can take a bath?'"

The world in which she grew up at first steered Carlson away from the industry.

"I saw that complete dedication and it was a strain - getting called on Sundays, we rarely went on vacation," she recalls. "I thought, I know how much this takes, why would I want to do this?"

Then one day, while watching winning lottery numbers on TV, she thought to herself, "What would I do with $250,000?" Her answer: Go to veterinary school.

"Subconsciously, it was what I wanted, and it took a little nudge," Carlson says.

Her father, Delbert G. Carlson, founded Carlson Pet Hospital, 311 W. Sunshine St., in 1960. Liisa Carlson joined the practice in 1988 and took over after her father's death in 1990.

Carlson credits her father for much of her success. In the years they worked together, the elder Carlson was suffering from Parkinson's disease, which limited him physically.

"I became his hands, and he taught me," she says.

The digital age

What began as a "shoebox" operation has grown to a full-service vet practice, specializing in dog and cat care, and offering in-house lab services, dental care, digital radiography, surgery, boarding and grooming.

Technology plays a big role in the modern incarnation of Carlson Pet Hospital. About two years ago, a new computer system streamlined the process so that when lab results are run, the system automatically loads the results into the patient file and updates billing.

The digital radiography also allows Carlson and her staff - including vets Shaun McCracken and David Prigel - to send images to specialists for consultation. "All they lack is putting their hands on that patient," Carlson says. "But I'm doing that on this end."

About the same time, the clinic launched www.carlsonpethospital.com, which allows clients to schedule appointments, e-mail their doctor, check their pet's records and order medicines.

Manager Jason Randolph says the clinic's prices are competitive with other online pet stores. But there's a key advantage for Carlson's clients to shop the local site.

"If they buy it online at (other sites), the manufacturer doesn't stand behind the product because they don't have any idea what the quality control's like," Randolph says. "They don't know if it sat in a warehouse at 150 degrees for a year before they got it, or if it's actually that product. This way, it's in a controlled environment, a vet's prescribed it, they know exactly what's going on."

He says that recently paid off for one of Carlson's clients. When a dog tested positive for heartworm after taking prescribed medicine, the manufacturer of that medicine paid the bill for the dog's care.

"The client would have been out $600," Randolph says.

It's about people, too

Anna Freeman can't imagine what she'd do without Carlson Pet Hospital.

"It's the most wonderful office," says Freeman, a client since the late 1980s. "Liisa's just priceless - she's kind and gentle and smart." She's also compassionate.

When Freeman's oldest son died two years ago, she was grappling not only with her grief, but the addition of his two bluetick coonhounds to her existing pack.

"We had three dogs at that time - one of them was a little aggressive - Liisa boarded them, all of the dogs, at no charge. That's really something," Freeman says.

Carlson adds, "This business isn't just about animals. You are helping people through the most wonderful times and probably some of the worst times."[[In-content Ad]]

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