"It’s actually a very slow day.” Frankly, I was a little stunned when mobile veterinarian Dr. Amanda Paulhamus stated this as we headed up the road to her next patient. I do not consider myself a lazy person, but by 2 p.m., Amanda had put in what I would consider a full day—starting with a seminar on guinea pig breeding and vet inspection at 6:15 a.m. in Elimsport. There are large guinea pig breeding facilities in that area and, by law, to sell young pigs, they must have a USDA inspection, which includes a vet inspection. The animals bred here in central Pennsylvania are then shipped by air all over the country.
Then, it was north to Liberty, where there was a cow who had been off her feed for a few days. This was a case of bad pneumonia, and Amanda takes care of her and the other herd members—all her patients. Pneumonia is more prevalent when the temperatures are changing dramatically over the course of a day, and is more likely in the spring and fall. Then it’s on to cat and dog vaccinations, one feline neutering, and, by afternoon, we were calling on a horse farm north of Montoursville. There Amanda gave some early inoculations, and, just as a matter of course, gave each horse, including a mare in foal, the once over. Final stop was a home with a beagle—a wriggly bundle of energy—who needed booster shots. From March to August, Amanda says, this schedule doubles, as animals give birth, and young animals need a good start in life. As the days lengthen, her day stretches, sometimes to the middle of the night. For instance, a mare may need to have an ultrasound every six hours when breeding via artificial insemination. That means Amanda, who is based in Linden, may work a spring day from 6 a.m. to around 9 p.m., then head back to a barn at 1 a.m. for the next ultrasound.
But there’s no office to call—no dispatcher, no trips back to the office for supplies, dropping off tests, or refrigerating medicines. For Amanda Paulhamus, DVM, carries the entire office in her mobile vet unit truck. It looks like a huge stainless steel work box that fills her long-bed, but when she opens it up, it looks like a food truck.
“I’m asked [if it’s a food truck] all the time (usually by drunk people),” she says. There is a laboratory with wireless connections, so many tests are done “stall-side,” with immediate results for swift diagnosis. That means fewer are sent to facilities to conduct the test and less time waiting days for results. There is a refrigerator on one side, and a heater in the box to keep the temperature inside at a minimum of fifty-five degrees. There is an inverter, so that the truck has standard electricity, along with floodlights. That can be helpful anywhere, but especially when going to an Amish farm. The heavy-duty truck can get into a pasture where Amanda is needed for a sick or injured animal. There is water on board for washing equipment and wounds. And then there is all the specialized storage space for equipment and medicine. “The technology is becoming amazing, and you have to be on the cutting edge,” she says. “If another vet has something you don’t, you’re at a disadvantage.” Amanda is one of the first vets in our area to use this system, although she says it’s getting more and more popular.
It’s clear that this is more than a job or a career—it’s a calling. Amanda hasn’t always wanted to be a vet. “When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher,” she admits. A trip to Cornell Veterinary Hospital in Ithaca, New York, when she was twelve changed that.
“We took some horses to Cornell for a purchase exam (an examination before her family decided to buy the horses) and by the time I left, I wanted to be a vet.” It was a natural progression for a woman who has always been around animals. She grew up on a dairy farm, rode horses, showed stock. Her life revolved around animals, and with her training at Ohio University Veterinary School, she merged the roles of caretaker and physician.
But life as an independent veterinarian is anything but easy. In other areas, particularly out in the western states, the veterinary staff has an office, and the animals, both large and small, come to the facility. The only time a vet goes out to the farm or ranch is for working on an entire herd—vaccination would be a prime example. Around here, the vet has traditionally gone to the farm for either an individual or a herd. And, to have a successful business, a vet needs to cover a lot of ground. Amanda serves five counties. “Some of the problem with a vet shortage in rural areas is because you have to cover a large area to make a living,” Amanda says. That may sound odd, as we tend to think of vets as being in rural areas. But in an urban setting, both large and small animal veterinary practices have a smaller geographic footprint. Amanda noted that in Ocala, Florida, there are hundreds of vets serving the horse community that is there in the winter. You would never have that concentration of animal doctors here. So the long miles between patients only makes for a longer day for the rural vet who travels.
In addition, Amanda still lives on a farm, and raises prize pigs—which is a family affair. She and her husband, Greg Steppe, both raise pigs as a hobby, and, as a matter of fact, is how they met—“We met while castrating pigs,” she recalls. Greg is a finish carpenter, but he also grew up on a farm, and had his first sow to show at fifteen. Today, they have ten sows, and the day I rode with Amanda, one of their sows started farrowing. They had twelve piglets before Amanda headed off to the guinea pigs’ facilities in Elimsport at 5:30 a.m. She and Greg take care of the sows and the piglets in the Pig Taj Mahal—a building heated to a balmy sixty degrees, since piglets like it warm. So, they are working day and night with the beloved porkers. In addition, on those long spring and summer days, Greg often works with Amanda on the evening calls after he comes home from his own job.
It is a perfect description of a labor of love, with love.