Of Pets And Vets
Our local bipeds aren’t the only wonderful and important residents of beautiful Costa Mesa. This city also has a strong contingent of purrrr-fectly fabulous and furry Costa Mesans for whom life is enjoyed on all fours.
We’re talking, of course, about local pets: pooches, mousers, fur babies! Those cuddly companions who make life worth living and are as much a part of the family as any human. But sometimes our domesticated darlings get sick, or require expert help to overcome life’s bumps and bruises.
Well, that’s where today’s featured (and historic) organization – the Newport Harbor Animal Hospital – comes in.
‘Featured,’ because they’re such a valued part of the local pet community in Costa Mesa. ‘Historic,’ because they just celebrated their seventieth anniversary – that’s right, seven-zero, 70!
We sat down with Veterinary Doctors Sarah Wind and Kevin Ashbran – and Office Manager, Alexandra Andersen – to talk vets, pets and all the history we could get.
Then and Now: “The Barn” (above) and Doctors Wind and Ashbran (below) at the Modern-Day NHAH
NHAH began in 1947 as a humble veterinary practice, when Costa Mesa was mostly rural. At that time, locals were as likely to have horses, chickens and goats as they were to have cats and dogs.
“It started out as a very small practice,” said Dr. Ashbran. “And it has only had three other sets of owners in seventy years. We’re the fourth. The previous owners had it for over thirty years. So this animal hospital has been a constant within the Costa Mesa community for generations, now.”
The original “barn” building is still attached to the more modern, expanded structure.
“We call it ‘The Barn’ and when you come in, you can see where the old building ends and the newer wings begin,” said Dr. Ashbran.
There are other visual clues to the hospital’s past.
“We’ve got some great local history here,” shared Andersen, a long-time, Costa Mesa resident who now manages the office at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital. “Out in our yard we have a sort of horse cemetery with gravestones and everything. As the story goes, a lot of the horses that were treated here eventually ended up being cremated here. So owners would have gravestones made with their names to celebrate their lives.”
Visitors can walk along the perimeter of a grass plot and see the names and dates that mark the lives of horses long past.
“And then we also have something that’s really historic and special here on our grounds,” continued Andersen. “A decorated war dog from WWII – a German Shepherd named ‘Oki’ – is buried here. Oki saved the lives of a large group of Marines that were trapped behind enemy lines. He managed to go get help even though he was shot. Oki was even awarded a medal from President Truman, so that’s pretty cool.
“His handler and owner, Robert Harr, had Oki buried here. Robert brought in a full, military funeral procession and ceremony for Oki’s burial. It was pretty special. So now that Robert has also passed away, we feel like it’s up to us to preserve that history.”
Historic Grounds: Horse gravestones (above) and the burial site of ‘Oki’ (below) a decorated war dog from WWII
While there’s no denying that the history behind Newport Harbor Animal Hospital makes it a special place – that’s just part of the story. The modern-day veterinary practice itself, under the co-ownership of Dr. Wind and Dr. Ashbran, is equally impressive.
As we toured the facilities, we found the hospital to be clean, well-staffed and definitely full-service. They offer everything from acute medical issues to board-and-care, spay-and-neuter to reproduction-and-breeding, dermatology to deworming. They even have their own pharmacy. The full list of services can be found here.
“I really love working here,” said Andersen. “Everyone is very dedicated and compassionate. I always knew I wanted to work with animals – but I didn’t know how great it would be to work alongside fellow animal-lovers. We have that in common here, our love of animals.”
“You can’t go into veterinary medicine without loving animals,” agreed Dr. Wind. “I especially enjoy seeing all their different personalities. Each pet is so unique and no two are the same. I have a cat at home and he’s a bit of a bully but he can also do a lot of great tricks.
“When I first got my cat, I was doing a rotation at the Lansing Zoo. I saw they had ‘target trained’ their tigers to focus on a toy containing food so the veterinarians could draw blood and take blood pressure without needing to sedate the animals. So I thought to myself, ‘Hey, if you can target train a large cat, I can do that with my cat, too.’
“So I trained my cat to ‘sit.’ He gives ‘high fives.’ He goes to his post; and the best trick of all is that he uses the toilet by himself. I haven’t scooped a litter box in years because he’s ‘toilet trained’ and it’s really wonderful.”
The Full-Service Vet and Pet Setup at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa
While Dr. Ashbran enjoys animals of all types, he admits to having a soft spot in his heart for dogs.
“My favorite dogs are the Retriever breeds, specifically Red Goldens,” said Dr. Ashbran. “They’re usually named after spices. When I was a boy, I had a Red Golden named Nutmeg. I was 11 years old when Nutmeg died and I remember thinking I didn’t want anyone else going through the pain of that. Obviously that was a very child-like thought because we can’t stop death from happening. But that idea of helping animals and the humans who love them, well, it sparked my interest in veterinary medicine as a career.”
We asked Dr. Wind and Dr. Ashbran for some expert advice on how to keep our Costa Mesa pets their healthiest. What should every pet owner do?
“I always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Dr. Wind. “Pets can be expensive, but putting off necessary procedures can make it that much more costly down the road. Pet insurance is really helpful in dealing financially with sudden illness. So I would say getting insurance early on can help relieve the burden of financial strain should your pet ever fall ill later on.”
“I want every pet owner to know that the routine stuff is really important to keeping pets their best,” said Dr. Ashbran. “The blood work, the heart-worm meds, the basics – that stuff matters over the long run.
“But if the worst case happens and your animal gets really sick, we have some of the best doctors here at Newport Harbor. It’s a very busy surgery and medical practice with a high level of skill and experience. I would put our team up against anybody. Our staff is the best I’ve ever seen.”
Dr. Ashbran relishes not just the staff, but also the clientele at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital.
“A majority of our clients come from the surrounding community,” said Dr. Ashbran. “Costa Mesans make up a big part of that. We have such good clients. Lots of families who bring their pets here because their parents came here, and their parents before that. We have three generations regularly coming into the practice.
“We get to know the families and it feel like a close circle, a real community,” added Dr. Wind. “They might call us up and say, ‘Hey, I had a family emergency. Can you board my pet?’ And we are always willing to help out, absolutely. We will go out of our way to help you. We will take care of your pets while you’re gone. Some of our families have 40-years of history with us. That’s really special and we don’t take it lightly.”
Andersen started out as part of the “Newport Harbor family” as a client and eventually sought a job at NHAH.
“I love working here,” said Andersen. “It’s so close to my house, I could walk to work. So much of our staff is local, too, which is great. If there’s a last-minute emergency, it’s nice to know our technicians are close by and willing to help out.”
“The local community is so good to us,” said Dr. Ashbran. “Not just our clients, but other businesses, the firefighters, the police officers, just local people. Because we’ve been here for so long – and we work really hard to do our best for the community – the city takes care of us in return. It’s really cool to be a part of Costa Mesa. We’re very fortunate.”
While Dr. Ashbran might be amazed by the local support, Andersen isn’t surprised at all.
“I grew up here so I know firsthand that Costa Mesa is a special place,” said Andersen. “I see people I went to school with leave and eventually come back. They want to come back to be near their family and to raise their own kids with the closeness they knew growing up. It’s hard to find in other places.
“Costa Mesa really is a small town. Everyone seems to know each other and that keeps you connected. I love all the great restaurants and shops we’ve been getting in over the past decade. But I do think we need to be mindful – as a city – to maintain the original charm and small-town feel that makes us special.
“If anything, I would say we should get a few more dog parks in Costa Mesa. Somewhere where people can walk from their house, visit with each other and let their dogs play together. Other than that? Well, I just love Costa Mesa the way it is.” ♥
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