The West Coast is always happy to welcome new residents to its communities, but local pet owners are particularly jubilant about the arrival of a semi-retired couple from Ontario because, for the first time in a longtime, a full-time vet service is on the horizon.
Dr. Jeff Berry and his wife Rhonda MacDonald purchased a property in Tofino roughly five years ago and planned to retire in the community, but waited until their two youngest daughters, twins who were both in Grade 9 at the time, graduated high school before heading to their dream destination.
“We had the green light to move permanently to Tofino once all our kids were in university,” she said. “It’s kind of a semi-retirement thing. Both of us have lost parents really young in life and we thought, there is no point in waiting until we’re 65 to retire because, statistically, it’s not good.”
They arrived from their South Hampton Ontario home late last year with their one-year-old retriever named Rosie and 17-year-old cat Smokey in tow.
Berry had spent time tree planting in Tofino during the 1980’s while attending university and he and MacDonald moved to Vancouver Island together after graduating, with Berry taking his first job at a veterinary clinic in Mill Bay.
After two years though, the couple traveled back to Ontario to raise their family.
“We always talked about coming back someday,” Berry said. “I always said if we ever went back to the Island, I’d love to go to Tofino…I love to fish and the kids love to surf and we both love the beaches and the outdoors.”
Serendipitously, all four of their daughters have wound up in B.C., three attending UBC and one attending UVIC, well within long-weekend travel distance of Tofino.
While they had targeted Tofino as their retirement spot and arrived ready to relax, the couple learned that the West Coast has not had a full-time veterinarian since new regulations forced Dr. Jane Hunt to surrender her licence in 2004.
Having owned and operated a veterinary hospital in Ontario for about 25 years, both Berry and MacDonald felt a sense of duty to their new neighbours so they launched the Tofino Vet Clinic.
“Jeff really loves medicine for the sake of medicine, but I think it’s a service that you have to do for a community. It breaks my heart that people desperately need medical care [for their pets] and they can’t get it. I’m frustrated for them. I think you just have to do it as a community service,” MacDonald said.
“As we got to know the community and the need for the vet, we decided that it would be a good thing to do to get at least a small clinic set up,” Berry added.
While Berry has enjoyed a successful veterinary career and treated all kinds of animals beyond dogs and cats, including lizards, ferrets, birds, rats and even a timber wolf that needed surgery on its hip, he cautioned the West Coast against expecting a full-fledged, 24/7, animal hospital out of the gate.
“We’re trying to find that balance between still being able to provide veterinary services because I love doing that, but also not working too much. We’re trying to find some balance in our lives as well,” he said.
“We don’t want to let people down so I don’t want to raise people’s expectations that it’s going to be the emergency room at the hospital, it’s just one person, at least initially,” MacDonald added. “I’ve been joking with Jeff though; I give him six months before he wants a big surgery [hospital]. So much for retirement,” she laughed.
Berry has been maneuvering through the hoops of establishing a vet service in B.C. since May and has nearly navigated his way through with an inspection by the College of Veterinarians of B.C on Jan. 19 representing his final hurdle.
He expressed confidence that he’ll be up and running “a few days” after that.
“The initial accreditation is going to be just a house-call practice,” he said, adding he’s looking for a permanent location to establish a clinic. “We’ll be able to do some medical procedures, minor surgery, lab work and see sick patients. We won’t have a big surgery or overnight facilities set up to start.”
He has a vehicle set up with medical equipment and plans to be mobile and able to serve Ucluelet and local First Nations as well as Tofino.
In the meantime, the new West Coasters have enjoyed settling into their new hometown, which MacDonald noted is similar in size to their previous community of about 2,500 people.
“Despite the fact that I’m not related to anybody in Tofino and I feel like I was related to everybody in my small town, it’s still that vibe,” she said, adding she joined the Tofino-Ucluelet choir last September.
“It’s quite a little family, that choir, and it was really nice.”
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