UNION COUNTY — The clock was ticking 25 years ago at the Country Animal Clinic in Island City.
An injured feline was in peril, a young cat, with green eyes; gray, black, and white fur and a calm, lovable disposition.
The cat had been badly hurt after apparently being run over by a train days earlier. Its injuries included a crushed left rear leg and tail.
Animal control officer Becky Maddock of the Union County Sheriff’s Office found the cat near railroad tracks and brought it to Dr. Mark Omann’s Country Animal Clinic in Island City. It appeared euthanasia might be the only humane course of action for the feline, which had significant dead tissue in its injured leg and tail that could spark a deadly infection.
Omann and his staff, though, saw hope instead of darkness.
“We felt he deserved a chance,” the veterinarian said.
Omann mapped out a surgical plan to save the animal’s life. He performed the operation with Maddock’s permission, amputating its left rear leg and half of its tail. The cat, which apparently had no owner, survived and later thrived, becoming a star.
Casey, the three-legged cat, became a fixture at the clinic, greeting people coming in with their pets for years.
“He was like an ambassador,” Omann said.
The story of Casey is one of many fond memories Omann has of his 31-year career in veterinary medicine, all spent working in Island City. Omann retired Dec. 30, 2020, although he will continue to provide voluntary services.
Omann, who lives near Hot Lake, said deciding to retire was difficult because of the close ties he has made with community members during his career.
“It is with humble gratitude that my career comes to a close,” Omann said in a letter he wrote to the community. “Many of you started as clients and then became more like friends and family.”
Omann came to what is today the Country Animal Clinic in 1988 when it was the Grande Ronde Animal Hospital and owned by Dr. Bob Shoup. Omann knew Shoup well because he had also worked under him while a pre-vet student at Eastern Oregon University. Shoup died not long after Omann arrived. Omann purchased the clinic in 1989 and renamed it the Country Animal Clinic. Omann credited the support he received from the community in those early years with playing a big role in his development.
“I started as a new graduate filled with book learning; your wisdom, kindness and patience forged me into a veterinarian,” Omann wrote in his letter.
Omann also credited co-workers including Stephnia Harris, who worked at clinic for 23 years, with playing an important roles in the success of his practice.
Omann, who owned the clinic with his wife, Lorna, whom he met there as a pre-vet student, sold the clinic’s small animal practice to Dr. Jeff Henry and his wife, Tina, in April 2017. He then did contract work for Henry, which “allowed a more leisurely schedule over the past four years,” Omann said.
Omann welcomed the reduced workload, but he was on call for emergencies. This took a toll.
“You wear out,” he said. “I suffered from sleep deprivation.”
Regardless of how tired he might be, Omann always strived to put the animal he was treating, and its owner, at ease by remaining calm and showing empathy.
“Even if you are busy, it is important that you make it seem you have all the time in the world,” Omann said.
The Country Animal Clinic is different from many today because it continues to treat small animals plus large ones, including horses and livestock, in an era when many clinics are specialized. Omann said he enjoyed caring for a wide range of animals. He also said the revenue his clinic generated from treating small animals helped him to be able to afford to provide medical care for horses, which he also has a level of passion for.
He said veterinarians can do more for animals today than when his career began because of advancements in technology, including CT scans and MRIs available in larger cities, for which Omann provided referrals. The information from these diagnostic tools made it easier for Omann to restore the health of his patients.
“It is very gratifying to see an injured or sick animal recover so that it can live a normal life,” he said.
Omann said he found himself treating fewer animals with broken bones as his career progressed, perhaps because fewer people drive with dogs in the back of open vehicles.
The veterinarian said his interest in becoming a veterinarian started in his childhood, growing up on a ranch in Halfway. There, he became deeply interested in animals.
Omann, after doing his pre-vet program work at Eastern, transferred to Oregon State University where he was a student in a veterinary medicine program operated cooperatively with Washington State University. This was before OSU and WSU had their own veterinary programs.
Throughout his career, Omann has worked to educate owners about how to care for their animals when sick or injured. One point he emphasizes is that animal owners need to be careful when approaching an injured animal they normally are comfortable with.
“It is not the same animal. Don’t expect it to react as it normally would,” Omann said.
Today Omann remains ever fascinated not only by the world of animal medicine but the intelligence and the clever nature of pets.
“They tend to train us more than we train them,” the veterinarian said.
For example, pets often dictate when their owners let them outside and when they are fed.
Omann and his wife of 31 years, Lorna, whom he described as his “greatest blessing,” plan to explore Eastern Oregon more extensively in retirement.
“This is an amazing area,” the veterinarian said, “but because of my work I have not gotten to see as much of it as I would have liked.”