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Devoted to our animals

Dr. Dwight Sinner looks back on his 40 years as a local veterinarian

Editor's note: Community Builder is a periodic Q&A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today's conversation is with local veterinarian Dr. Dwight Sinner, who recently retired after 40 years at Siskiyou Veterinary Hospital.

Courtesy photoLocal veterinarian Dwight Sinner recently retired after 40 years.

Q: Congratulations on your retirement. What has given you the most satisfaction in your work?

Dwight: The satisfaction comes with the bond that I've had with my clients and their pets. It was joyful going to work every day knowing how much pets mean to their owners and their family. Caring for their pets and then learning about their families has been very rewarding.

Q: You started working with Dr. James Bayliss as a high school student. Did that set you on a career path?

Dwight: I used to mow Dr. Bayliss’s lawn. I’d just started Mid-High when he asked me if I wanted a job before and after school at his veterinary office cleaning kennels. My mom would take me to his clinic before school and then I'd ride the bus to school. I worked for him all through high school and summers. It was a great exposure to being a veterinarian. I started thinking, "I can be a vet too." I enjoyed science and math classes and thought caring for pets would be a wonderful, challenging and satisfying profession. And it was. When I graduated as a veterinarian in 1982, I worked for Dr. Bayliss for two years and bought his practice when he retired.

Q: Where did you go to college?

Dwight: I graduated from Medford Senior High in 1974 and went to Oregon State for my undergraduate degree in zoology. I was accepted into the veterinary medical program, but Oregon State didn't have a small animal facility. Oregon students were accepted into Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. I earned my doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at WSU in 1982. I was the last class of Oregon students to complete the program at WSU. Oregon State established its own vet school the year after I started.

Q: There must have been many memorable moments in your practice. What is one that stands out?

Dwight: The day my son was born, we were at the hospital for his birth. But I went by the clinic, and someone rolled in with an emergency. They had been throwing a stick for their dog. The stick impaled the dog through its mouth ... it was actually sticking through the ribs. I was able to remove it surgically through the rib cage. My training just took over, and amazingly the dog lived, and I cared for him for many years.

Q: You're retiring from the only job you ever had. What advice do you have for people about choosing a career?

Dwight: Being exposed to different experiences you find out what you like and don’t like. It’s important to pick a career that you enjoy and figure out if you're going to be good at it. I feel sorry for people whose jobs are a drudgery. I've just always loved my work, and that's a huge blessing. When our kids were considering colleges, we learned that the average student had seven different majors. My wife always wanted to be a teacher, she retired after teaching for 32 years. This is my 40th year as a veterinarian at Siskiyou Veterinary Hospital and 51 years since I started there as a kennel assistant. Find out what you love, would be my advice.

Q: You served as a veterinarian for the Medford Police Department K-9 unit. What did that entail?

Dwight: Siskiyou Veterinary Hospital took care of the Medford Police Department dogs for over 30 years. We focused on wellness care and treated the dogs if they became sick or injured. It was fascinating to see the incredible bond the officers had with their canine partners and the invaluable service those dogs provide to the community.

Q: Do the canine partners live with their police officers?

Dwight: Yes, and they get really close. Many of the police officers have other pets as well. The K-9 unit are working dogs, and they're not pets in the same way. One of the police dogs is going to be retiring soon, and the police officer is going to adopt him. He'll then become a family dog with his other pets.

Q: I recently read research showing that pets are an important part of human health. Do you think that's true?

Dwight: Absolutely. Having pets reduces stress. And the companionship pets provide is a big factor. Just the responsibility of caring for a pet is very important. A pet for an elderly person might be all they have. Animal love and companionship is a two-way street. Love from a pet is unconditional, it fills our hearts, lowers blood pressure, makes us happy, and gives us joy.

Q: How has veterinary medicine changed in 40 years?

Dwight: About 10 years into my profession, there became many more female veterinarians. Three quarters of my class was men, but now there are probably only 10% men in current classes. Another change is the whole online thing, online prescriptions, and corporate veterinary medicine. People can miss the one-on-one relationship with their vets. Seeing the same vet is important. … You get to know and trust their care. With the internet, Dr. Google becomes your vet. Limited information and self-diagnosis can lead to wild diagnosis like, "My dog has bubonic plague." Probably not. But that's the internet diagnosis.

Q: You've lived in Medford your whole life. What was Medford like growing up?

Dwight: Medford was much smaller. I went all through grade school at Hoover. And then I attended Hedrick, Mid-High, and Senior High. Medford was relatively close-knit. I think there was more of a bond with people and their neighbors. It was smaller, and you had more relationships with those around you. I had good friends. My parents had good friends and neighbors, so it was a good place to grow up.

Q: I moved here in 1975 and my first impression of Medford was as a smokey mill town.

Dwight: Not only smoke from the mills, but there was smudging season to protect the pears from freezing in the spring. I've got three siblings. Because I worked at the veterinary hospital, I didn’t smudge, but they all did smudging in the spring. They’d get called out in the middle of a cold night and would light the smudge pots, basically burning diesel in the orchards. Everybody at school would have these black rings in their noses from breathing it all night. Fortunately, the air quality has really improved.

Q: Has life in Southern Oregon changed for the better?

Dwight: I don't think life here has necessarily changed for the better. Working with the police officers, I’m aware of ... an increase in crime and homelessness. These aren’t changes for the better. The political dialogue here and elsewhere is so polarized and often hateful. Friends can have opposing views on an issue, have an argument, and maybe not speak to one another again. That’s not positive.

Q: What would make life better in Southern Oregon?

Dwight: Love, communication, respect, the Golden Rule, listening and compromise. When you have a difference of opinion, have the patience to listen to someone else and say, "Could it be done this way as well?"

Q: What's ahead for you in your life?

Dwight: My wife, Jan, and I are hoping for continued good health in the next stage of our lives. We want to travel, be with our kids and grandkids and enjoy the fruits of our long careers. We’ve visited about half of the national parks in the United States. We’d like to see the other parks. Two of our three kids and three of our four grandchildren live in Bend. We bought a house in Bend, and we are going to be moving there this summer. We want to get active in a church there. I really enjoy the High Desert Museum and might consider being a docent and sharing some knowledge about animals and history.

Q: What memories of being a vet will you take with you?

Dwight: The first day of veterinary school at Washington State in 1978, we had an introduction and a welcome from Dr. Leo Bustad, who was the dean of Washington State College of Veterinary Medicine. He strongly believed and stressed the importance of the animal/human bond. I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s real. I've gotten so many cards and letters thanking me for caring for their pets.

I don't know how many thousands of condolence cards I have written over the years to owners whose pets have died. And many times, we'll follow up with a call, “I’m sorry for your loss and calling to see how you are you doing."

We have all had to go through this because unfortunately pets don't live as long as we do. It can be heartbreaking thinking about elderly people who feel, “My pet is all I have left." When it’s time to say goodbye I frequently counsel people by telling them that we're the stewards for their care. Our job is to look after our pet, but when life changes and they're in pain, they don't have to go through that. It is personally satisfying to hear from people I haven’t seen in years thank me for sending that card about their pet, "It meant so much to me when you sent that note." That's what I’ll take with me.

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

Dwight Sinner bio

Dwight Sinner was born in Portland and moved to Medford when he was 3. He attended Medford schools and graduated from Medford Senior High in 1974. He earned a degree in zoology at Oregon State University in 1978 and earned his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Washington State University in 1982.

Dwight and his two brothers are Eagle Scouts. He appreciated the positive impact the scouting program had on the development of young men. Dwight was a scoutmaster for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for over 10 years. His son followed the family tradition and earned his Eagle rank.

Dwight has been active in First Presbyterian Church of Medford for over 60 years. He served in several leadership positions in the church. His wife, Jan, is Catholic, and they were married at Sacred Heart Church in 1984. For 37 years they alternated attendance each Sunday. In June, Dwight became Catholic and now their Sunday attendance is unified to one church.