Melanie Garrett, certified veterinary technician, and her dog Madeline love to travel — seen here near Joseph, Oregon.
Nov. 5, 2021
By Jens Odegaard
Madeline was eight months old when she jumped off the bed. That’s a big leap for a miniature poodle weighing less than four pounds.
Snap. Broken leg. Surgery.
Her owner had had her for one day.
A few weeks later the wound opened back up and you could see the plate holding the bone together.
Madeline needed specialty care, so her owner brought her down from their home in Washington state to Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. The attending veterinarian and veterinary students assessed her at the CCVM’s Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Together with the owner they made a care plan and signed paperwork.
Madeline’s owner was “on her way out the door and she turned around and told the student, ‘you know, I’ve got a lot going on. I don’t think I can handle this.’ Does anyone want her?’” said Melanie Garrett, certified veterinary technician at the CCVM.
Garrett grew up in a small town in Missouri, and over the summers, her “parents would ship us out” to her grandparents’ farm in Kansas. Her grandparents had “a horse, cattle, pigs, chickens, cats and dogs,” Garrett said. She enjoyed spending time with the animals and as she got older decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
She started her veterinary technician education in 1976 at Maplewood Community College in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated in 1978.
Garrett went to work for a three-doctor practice in Missouri focusing on small animal care, mainly dogs and cats “and the occasional snake or lizard,” she said.
Forty-three years later, Garrett is still working with small animals. “The most change has been in vaccines. As I started early on, parvovirus [a deadly gastrointestinal virus] was spreading rapidly and there was no vaccine for it. We had puppies lined up trying to save them,” Garrett said. “And we had feline leukemia and there was no vaccine for it, so cats would die from it.” Both canine parvovirus and feline leukemia are now completely preventable with vaccinations.
Garrett spent the first 20 years of her career in Missouri. Until one day, “I was listening to a radio station out of University of Kansas and they had a program called Trail Mix where they play independent music,” Garrett said. “And I heard his song and I nearly had to pull over, like, who is this guy?! I must find out.”
The musician was Greg Brown, a folk singer-songwriter from Iowa. Coincidentally, Garrett was part of a group of like-minded folks across the nation called In Harmony who were “trying to build community for senior citizens and foster kids,” she said. The plan was to create quality affordable housing where senior citizens and kids in foster care could live and be involved in each other’s daily lives to improve the quality of life for both populations.
In Harmony organized a benefit concert in Corvallis, Oregon with Greg Brown headlining. Many people in the group had never met in person, but corresponded through the mail and via phone, “Facebook wasn’t there then,” Garrett said. “A lot of people decided to come [to the concert]. It felt like a family reunion or a class reunion, but you hadn’t met anybody in person yet.”
The concert was at the Corvallis High School auditorium on April, 2 2001.
Garrett had never been to the West Coast, let alone to the heart of the Willamette Valley in spring. “I set foot on the ground after I got off the plane, and thought, ‘This is it!’” Garrett said. “You know, the Midwest is too cold, it’s too hot! In the winter it’s brown. In my head I thought, ‘This is pretty. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold.’ I could get in a car and go down to the coast, or up to the mountains or all around.”
After her first visit, Garrett came back to Corvallis for vacation the next year and “a couple more years after that.” During a trip in 2004 or so, she saw that the CCVM was putting the finishing touches on a brand new small animal clinic to complement the already established large animal clinic at the teaching hospital.
Garrett reached out to Juli West, administrator for the college’s Department of Clinical Sciences, and said “I’m going to be in the area, I’d love to swing by,” Garrett said. “I talked to Juli and April Simons [a certified veterinary technician at the college]. They were putting together the hospital kitchen downstairs.”
With her love for the area and for small animals, it was the perfect time to try something new. Garrett put in her “two year notice” at work in Missouri and stepped through the doors of the college’s small animal clinic for the first time as an employee on June 30, 2007.
Garrett works on the “front end” of the clinic: receiving animals like Madeline, helping with exams, coming up with a health care plan, scheduling diagnostics, taking care of the patient and getting them set up for surgery if needed. Her favorite part of the job is helping educate the fourth-year veterinary students as they learn on the job throughout their final year in school.
“They come in terrified in June,” Garrett said. “And then in March and April they’re like, ‘I’m ready. I’m a doctor now.’ Seeing their confidence grow and they are making the decisions.’”
February 13, 2019 was another typical work day for Garrett, until she heard that question posed to the student she was working with as they cared for a patient: “Does anybody want her?”
After considering overnight if she had the capacity to give Madeline the care she needed, Garrett said, “Yeah, I’ll take her.”
It was Valentine’s Day.
To get Madeline fixed up, Garrett worked with Dr. Jennifer Warnock, associate professor of small animal surgery at the college, and Dr. Milan Milovancev, a former small animal surgeon at the college now in private practice.
There were X-rays, wound care, a surgery to remove the bone plate “and she was in a splint for several weeks,” Garrett said. Then more X-rays which showed that the leg was healed up.
These days, Madeline is doing fantastically. When Garrett isn’t helping educate students and providing nursing care to the hundreds of animals she helps treat every year, she loves taking Madeline to see the wonders of the “Pacific Wonderland” state.
“She is the best travel companion,” Garrett said. “We go to the coast a lot. She has a little car seat with a harness that connects to it.” The pair like to whale watch at Depoe Bay. They also like it a little further up the coast. “Cape Meares, I love it up there, too. It’s misty and it’s foggy. One time, I was standing at the overlook and this eagle just drifted up on the thermals right in front of me. And then a second one did the same thing,” Garrett said with awe.
Last year, she and Madeline took the 415-mile drive out to Joseph, Oregon and nearby Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon where the rolling grasslands give way to the staggering Wallowa Mountains with their 51 named peaks in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. “I thought, ‘I need to go over there. I’m going to hate it because it’s just grass. But it was amazing,” Garrett said. “We stayed at the lodge on the lake.”
One of Greg Brown’s songs is called “I Must Be in Oregon.” The lyrics in part read:
“My life, it got too wild
Down the hole I followed Alice
When I needed peace and quiet
Well, I popped up in Corvallis
I must be, I must be in Oregon
If you want a little snow
Up to Mount Hood you can go
My baby blows me away
In lingerie and Pendleton
I must be, I must be in Oregon
I'm gonna go up on the Umpqua
Catch me a big old trout
I'm gonna go up on the Umpqua
And drag his bad ass trout ass out”
Luckily for Madeline, Brown’s golden tones led Garrett to pop up in Corvallis.
Together, Madeline and Garrett can travel to the mountains when they want a little snow, to the coast for salted breeze, to the Columbia to watch it flow, to the high desert where Pronghorns run with ease.
Together, they can see what must be in Oregon.