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Veterinarian Ali Hawthorn (right) is the owner of Highland Animal Hospital in Central Square. On the left is associate Veterinarian Lindsey Chadwick. Photo provided

Highland Animal Hospital

From the kitchen counter to reality: How Ali Hawthorn’s dream veterinary clinic was built

By Stefan Yablonski

Dear Father (in Heaven) hear and bless

Thy beasts and singing birds

And guard with tenderness

Small things that have no words

Ali Hawthorn, 33, owner of Highland Animal Hospital in Central Square, knew she would be a veterinarian at a young age.

“I was born and raised in Oswego. I left Central New York after high school to continue my education — but I am thrilled to be back home!” she said.

She had many animals over the years growing up — “probably many more than my parents wished!” she quipped.

“I had hamsters, mice, lizards, cats, a bird and my golden retriever, Bo. Bo has since passed — but I owe a lot to her. She was my heart dog, one of my biggest motivations to get where I am today.”

Hawthorn completed her undergraduate degrees from SUNY Delhi, where she received her veterinary technician license and then went to Cornell University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree.

“I then went on to veterinary school at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine [in the Caribbean]. I completed my clinical year at Texas A&M University,” she said.

To Arizona and back to Oswego County

Veterinarian Ali Hawthorn shown with a patient.

“During my clinical year at Texas A&M, I treated some rather large animals — horses, cows and a zebra. During my undergraduate studies, I spent a few weeks in Africa shadowing a wildlife veterinarian,” she said. “Although I did not a personally treat the animals, I was able to assist with treatment of animals such as kudus, impalas, rhinos, cheetahs and a lion.”

The lion’s paw was caught in a snare, she recalled.

“He tried to chew himself out and subsequently needed dental work as well. When he woke up from surgery in his cage, his roar was so unbelievably loud — it rattled right through me. He gets the award for both the largest and the loudest!” she said.

She started her veterinary career in Arizona, “but began to think about a move back home.”

When she was approaching graduation from medical school, she began to look for her first job as an associate veterinarian in the northeastern part of the U.S. or Arizona “because I have family in both of these regions,” she said. “I accepted an offer of employment in Kingman, Arizona. I worked at a private veterinary practice named Low Cost Spay and Neuter clinic where I gained invaluable experience in a fast-paced, high-volume hospital. I will always have fond memories of the doctors and staff there.”

“I had now been away for more than 10 years and I while met some amazing new friends and colleagues along the way, I missed being around family, old friends and the beauty of Upstate New York,” she explained.

She discovered the original owner of Highland Animal Hospital in Central Square was ready to retire — and had listed the clinic for sale. The practice was originally established in 1995.

“In August of 2019, I became the new owner of the practice and my journey with Highland Animal Hospital began,” she said. “Although I currently reside in Oswego, I spend so much time in Central Square with the wonderful people that work and reside here; I consider it my ‘second home.’”

Over the next two years, the practice progressed and they simply outgrew the building, she explained. And at this point, she decided to build a new hospital.

“Yes. I considered an expansion on the existing hospital. But opted to purchase an adjoining piece of land to construct a new modern building that I could design from scratch,” she said.

“This was a long-awaited dream of mine. I still remember being about 13 years old; I was sitting at the kitchen counter with my mom where I drew out my dream veterinary clinic,” she added. “I was beyond thrilled to finally be able to make this a reality.”

She worked with Rowlee Construction over the next year on technical drawings. The new building was “a significant investment in Oswego County and commenced during a time when the cost of construction was extremely inflated,” she said.

With the guidance and assistance of TD Bank, the SBA and the Oswego County IDA, she forged on and in July 2022 site construction began. The Rowlee team set about making the hospital design and layout that she envisioned a reality.

“Between the cost of the practice itself, the existing building, land, the new building and new medical equipment, I have invested approximately $3 million in Highland Animal Hospital. TD Bank has been my financing bank since my initial purchase of the practice in 2019,” she said.

Award winner

Staff at the reception area, Highland Animal Hospital (left to right): Virginia Dupre, client care receptionist; Holly Schell, practice manager; Brianna Bush-Vashaw, client care receptionist; Audra Goly, client care receptionist; Jennifer Spohn, lead client care receptionist. Photo provided.

She was recognized in April 2023, winning the Small Business Association Woman-Owned Business of the Year Award.

Hawthorn thanked everyone involved in making her dreams of expanded, cutting-edge vet care possible and her team of “dedicated workers who go above and beyond in making sure every animal receives the best care possible.”

“I opened the doors to our first clients and patients on July 10 of 2023,” she said.

The building is 7,200 square feet and has plenty of space for the staff to do the important work that they perform daily, she said.

“We felt as though we were on top of each other in the previous building. So, we all take great joy in the ample space that the new building provides — a spacious treatment room with three treatment tables, a surgery suite with two surgery tables, a roomy dental suite, and separate dog and cat wards for hospitalized patients who also deserve the best in comfort while they are being treated,” she added.

Medical equipment has come a long way over the years and the modern medical equipment in the new hospital — from life monitoring equipment, to exam room tables, to surgery tables — allows them to continue to extend ‘gold care standard of service’ to their patients, she said.

The reception area has a fun Adirondack feel and offers a private cat waiting area, she added.

“It was also important to me to incorporate a private comfort room into the hospital design,” she explained. “This is a separate space with a private entry-exit for our clients who, sadly, are visiting us for end-of-life care.”

Looking ahead

For now, she said she is focused on expanding services the clinic offers to its clients.

Highland Animal Hospital currently offers well visits, urgent care visits and surgery — and it just opened a dental suite and has begun offering dental services.

“We also recently added class IV laser therapy to aid in post-op recovery, healing wounds, easing arthritis and more. We plan on offering acupuncture in the near future,” she said. “We currently have a limited number of urgent care appointments offered on a daily basis and I will continue to grow this division of the hospital as I add to the staff in the future.”

Fur family

“I currently have two rescue dogs — Charlie, a long-haired Chihuahua mix, and a mixed breed named Walter,” she said. “I think there are a great number of veterinarians who always knew they wanted to be a vet and that was the case for me also.”

As a child, she was obsessed with the show called ‘Animal Cops.’

“Watching the animals on the show be rescued and cared for most certainly played a role in my desire to become a veterinarian. I still have that passion for helping the animals that need it most and I bring that passion into the hospital by working closely with numerous shelters throughout Central New York. There are so many organizations right in our backyard, who tirelessly rescue, house and then adopt out abused, abandoned and stray cats and dogs,” she said. “I cannot emphasize enough, how important the work is that they do. I am humbled to be able to assist on the medical side of their mission by offering our services at a discount. For our doctors and staff — it is one of the great joys in our field — playing a role in the healing of these animals so they can go on to live their best life.”

“Your readers can help, too. Look up local shelters and adopt!” she exclaimed.

‘Amazing staff’

“I have the most amazing and hard-working team! There are 27 of us — four doctors, licensed veterinary technicians [the equivalent to nurses in the human field], veterinary assistants, receptionists, hospital managers and building maintenance,” she said. “We spend a lot of time together and we are family!

“Owning my own practice is often challenging and can be quite stressful. But to see so many good souls gathered together on a daily basis, doing such good things for our patients, is undoubtedly one of the best aspects of this job.”

“At the end of day — and some of them are very, very long — the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that got us there is something that I am not sure I can successfully put into words,” she said.