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Ken Fletcher by Cathy Ingalls

Albany Democrat Herald 2003

Caring for sick and injured animals is second nature to Albany vet with a big heart

fletcher.gifAlbany - Veterinarian Ken Fletcher concentrated on the gait of a 150-pound English mastiff that two technicians led around the parking lot of Albany Animal Hospital.

One at a time, the technicians picked up the dog's hind leg. Fletcher watched the 3-year-old dog's reaction. Unable to maintain it's balance, the dog sat down.

He ordered X-rays to try to detect what was causing the lameness in his hindquarters.

Fletcher, who bought Dr. Fritz Kaiser's practice in 1996, does not resemble or act like most veterinarians. Nothing about his appearance suggests doctor.

He comes to the office wearing long-sleeved T-shirts, jeans and soft leather loafers.

Fletcher makes house calls and drives to his clinic from his home in Independence on nights and weekends to serve a clients' pet or to do what he can for an injured or abused animal, reptile or bird brought in by the Albany Police Department.

"He's very compassionate about animals." said Jim Dohr, Albany's animal control officer. "He's the only one in town who provides service seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If we call him at night, he comes in. He provides an extremely valuable service to the city."

Dohr estimates that in his seven years as animal control officer, he's taken about 100 animals to Fletcher.

"When I took this job, I sent letters to veterinarians telling them we wanted a veterinarian who would do work on weekends and evenings on injured animals. He was the only one to send a letter back and said he would do whatever it takes, whenever," he said.

Fletcher made himself available because "there is a need," Dohr said.

For Fletcher, there was no doubt how he would respond to the request.

"The police don't know what to do with these animals, and that stresses them out," Fletcher said. "It's hard on them to sort out what to do with an injured animal, and the pound is closed at night."

Fletcher treats the animals and "if I get them well, I try to find out who the owners are, and if I can't, I try to find homes for them."

He estimates he's adopted out about 500 animals.

The latest animal looking for a home is a kitten with a broken leg. Someone ran over the cat's leg in the parking lot of Pop's Branding Iron Restaurant. As soon as the pins are out, the cat's ready to go, probably in about four weeks.

Some animals never make it out of the clinic because they become office pets.

Right now Spooge, a cat with a repaired broken jaw that is minus some bones and lower teeth, has the run of the office. The staff has become too attached to the cat to give him up.

During an interview, Spooge crawled all over Fletcher, batting the veterinarian with his paw and nuzzling into his beard and long hair.

Spooge enjoys the company of three other cats, two iguanas and a healthy Rottweiler that was abandoned in the woods with a broken jaw and leg.

"He was a biter, so I took him," Fletcher said. "Now he's pretty good. He's mellowed out."

When Fletcher was 6 years old living in Pennsylvania, it came to him that he wanted to be a veterinarian. He realized how much he enjoyed wildlife.

"I had a collection of snakes, frogs and snapping turtles that I found in ponds," he said. "I imagine they stressed out my mother. But my parents were supportive. They were great parents."

He also had a number of dogs. His particular favorite was Lady, who he got when he was 12 years old.

When he was 21, Fletcher's parents left for Europe. Without a place to live, Fletcher and Lady hitchhiked to Oregon: Fletcher had dreams of getting a master's degree from Oregon State University.

He got his degree and taught high school in Portland for 12 years, was an aquatic biologist in the Bay area, and he worked construction.

Raised a Quaker, fletcher sought conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. He did an alternative service at the former Dammasch State Hospital in Wilsonville.

"I realized at one point I wouldn't be happy unless I did vet school," Fletcher said. "I applied three different times at Oregon State to get in. There were a lot of applicants, but when I was accepted, I was the oldest at 38 in the class."

Fletcher does the job he does and works the hours he does become of his compassion for people and their animals.

"I want to help things. I'm a healer, or I want to take things out of their pain," he said. "I'm busy because people appreciate the type of service I offer. I'm like a family doctor because I do house calls."

Fletcher usually starts at the clinic about 9 a.m. and leaves about 9 in the evening. When he gets a break during the day, he runs.

A caring, compassionate staff that can multi-task helps Fletcher keep his office running as smoothly as possible under often trying circumstances.

"Every day I go out of here rewarded. Every day I come in here happy. I love my work," he said. "It helps to be able to compartmentalize. All veterinarians and doctors have to do that."

Because of the service he provides, the rewards he gets and the appreciation of his clients, Fletcher said his career moves are over. It feels so good to help animals and people.