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Veterinarian will miss his 'clients'

Retired veterinarian Paul Fredrick spends his days enjoying the view - and going fishing - on Blue Lake, rat terrier Ruby by his side. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Fishing and dogs and cats have been Paul Fredrick's consummate pastime/passion since the age of 3.

"I think I was the one who got hooked," he said of sending fishing lures into the depths in northeast Iowa.

And from an early age his fondness for critters eclipsed his affection for people.

"Since the age of 3, I've liked dogs and cats better than most people I know," the affable veterinarian joked.

Dr. Fredrick bid farewell after more than 32 years of practice in Park Rapids this summer, Dr. Gretchen Pearson purchasing the clinic on Pleasant Avenue.

"I miss my clients," Fredrick said of the "social life" he enjoyed on a daily basis, many of them second generation pet owners that he'd known as children.

But the time had come, he said, to bid farewell, noting it had become increasingly difficult to euthanize dogs and cats "I'd cared for since they were babies.

"I've seen thousands over the 32 years, but it still was not easy," he said of euthanasia. "Pets give owners such great joy. They are always kind and understanding..."

The right choice

Growing up in a family of six kids - born within an eight-year timeframe - squabbling was standard in the household.

"I was certain no one liked me," he said. "Until I got my first dog, Duchess. She adored me," he said of their camping and fishing adventures and her presence at the end of his bed each night.

After graduating from college, he was accepted in medical school, physical therapy or veterinary training.

"I made the right choice."

Fredrick arrived in Park Rapids in April 1978, a single father of two sons, 5 and 10 at the time. He was 30 years old.

"We almost starved to death the first two years," he said of getting the practice off the ground.

But the Iowa native was happy to be out of the city (St. Paul) and into the "big woods" - hunting, fishing and camping soon to become the family's routine.

"We had a blast," he said of Nathan, now an emergency room physician, and Aaron, who teaches high school calculus.

"If there's one thing I'd do at the drop of a hat is raise my sons all over again," he said of parenthood. "It was so fun, so easy. The house was a half-block from the clinic. The town was so safe.

"And they could fish off the Red Bridge," he said of Park Rapids' landmark amenity.

"I feel like one of the luckiest to live up here," he said of his home on Blue Lake for the past 20 years.

Honored and blessed

Dr. Fredrick performed three to five surgeries each morning at the clinic. In the afternoon, he'd meet with clients and pets. "We were swamped Saturdays," he said.

For the most part, days at the vet clinic ran smoothly, Fredrick crediting his longtime vet tech and office manager Patti Feil. "She worked with me 26 years. Very few techs know animals and can handle animals - and clients - as smoothly as she does."

His advice to grieving dog owners: Get a puppy. "It's not a replacement," he counsels. "But it has a soothing effect.

"Love conquers all," Fredrick said of animals' predisposition to be happy and forgiving - "if loved."

He reads attitude by looking at dogs' faces and how they respond, recalling Dick Rothermel's dog Tucker's grin. "He had us in stitches," he said of the affable canine.

"I had so many great clients. I look back and feel honored and blessed to have known people who own pets. They are the kinder, sweeter people. That's the public I got to take care of."

Technology has impacted veterinary science, "but 98 percent of what I do is basic veterinary medicine."

The emergencies, he admits, were wearing him out. "I was burned out. We need a person with more energy. And I have so many hobbies."

Fishing is paramount, photographs from Costa Rica and the Bahamas lining the wall and another trip to Alaska on the docket. But woodworking is also a priority, several rooms in the house bearing testimony to his skill.

A pup on the horizon

Ashes of his three deceased dogs and a cat are in urns in his living room, Fredrick's sons given specific orders at the time of his death.

"I want them to be mixed with mine."

But in the meantime, he's planning to have a black Labrador puppy take up residence by late fall.

"When I'm too old and decrepit to have a dog, that's when I don't want to be here anymore."