CROWN POINT | When James Willard Smith began practicing veterinary medicine in the late 19th century, he began a line of veterinarians that continued from his son, C. Harvey Smith, to his grandson, Harvey R. Smith, and to his great-grandson, Kirk A. Smith.
Kirk A. Smith takes pride in his family’s allegiance to the profession. The third-generation owner of Smith Animal Clinic in Crown Point and DeMotte, he never had a doubt that he would be the fourth generation in the field.
“I fell in love with it as a kid helping my dad, so it’s sort of a like a dream I’m living,” said Smith, who believes his great-grandfather would be proud of the line of veterinarians he initiated when he began practicing in Winfield in 1865. “His son went into it and he certainly must have felt good about it.”
Kirk Smith received his degree in veterinary medicine from Purdue University in 1989. Four months later his father died and he became head of the clinic his grandfather opened in 1909. The practice, which treats dogs, cats and other pets as well as horses and domestic animals, opened the DeMotte satellite in 1977.
During the 24 years Smith has been a veterinarian, changes in the area’s demographics, technology, pharmaceuticals and economics have affected the industry and his practice.
The 2008 recession and its effect on the economy have taken the biggest toll on the both. When the care of animals competes with the care of the family, the animals' care suffers.
The growth of Crown Point and surrounding area reduced the percentage of the practice treating horses and other farm animals, Smith said.
But good things also have occurred. Technology has become more affordable, so clinics can have more equipment.
“That means we can do more things in-house,” Smith said. “It helps diagnoses. We don’t have to wait for results when a day or two can make a significant difference. We continue to get pharmaceuticals and newer antibiotics almost every year. There’s a lot of progress with dermatology issues for skins and ears. Those factors have made big strides.”
Smith said now the bond between pet owners and their animals has never been stronger.
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“We’re seeing a lot of older pets because people are taking better care of them,” he said. “We see a pet and assume we’ll see him for 13 to 18 years and we plan our approach to his care with that in mind. People really bond with pets and that’s part of the fun of it all, and we bond with the people as well. We get to be pretty good friends.”
Smith said he loves all animals and has no favorites.
“We see a lot of good pets: dogs and cats, and many gentle horses,” he said. “I guess I like the friendly ones a bit better.”
With a solo practice, Smith puts in 14 hours a day, six days a week at his clinics. Although he watched his dad do the same, it didn’t affect his choice of a profession or his plan to be part of it.
“As a kid, you think that’s how life is, and the hours aren’t – and have never been – an issue,” Smith said.
Smith and his wife, Tracy, have 9-year-old twin daughters. Smith also has two stepchildren, who are both in college. The couple doesn’t know if any of them will follow in the Smith family profession.
“We’re putting no pressure on them to follow this line of work,” he said. “I think they’re interested and like animals, but kids can change their minds. I’m hopeful, but if doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen.”
He credits his success for his background, which taught him to love animals and to help them to live good healthy lives, and his family and his staff.
“I love what I’m doing,” Smith said. “I have a great staff and great support from my wife and family. Without them I couldn’t do it all. They deserve as much of the credit as I do.”