A local veterinarian has decided that she will be hanging up her scrubs at the end of the month, after more than 40 years of work in the community.
Dr. Alida Jong has worked in the region since 1978, taking care of animals of all shapes and sizes. Her current office, which she established in the early 2000s, sits on Hwy. 148 in Clarendon.
After graduating from university in 1976, Jong worked with small animals in Montreal for a period of two years. She said that the move to Pontiac was due to a need for large animal vets at the time.
“I needed a job and they needed a vet,” she said. “In those days there were no jobs, if you wanted one, you had to make your own or you may have had to be content with conditions that weren’t the greatest.”
Jong’s parents emigrated from the Netherlands in 1951 and settled on a dairy farm near Montebello, Que. She said that her experience around livestock eased the transition to working in a rural environment, but there were still some things about the Ottawa Valley that were foreign to her.
“It’s quite different, I grew up in a French-speaking community,” she said. “Coming here, even though I spoke English, it was very difficult to understand the Pontiac accent at first. I think I can do pretty well now.”
When asked if she had any funny stories or anecdotes from her time on the road, she said that she could fill a book with them, but most wouldn’t be suitable for a general audience. Originally, Jong focused on farm animals, a gruelling line of work that meant lots of odd hours and driving to remote corners of the region.
“I would cover from near Aylmer to Sheenboro, she said. “I did it 24/7 pretty well and during calving time, well, 3 a.m. you don’t get to choose where the cow lives. I still lasted a good while.”
Jong said that by 1995, she was burnt out and needed to step back from some of her duties. She ended up cutting out the large animal portion of her practice and focused her attentions on house pets and smaller beasts. She said that she still misses some aspects of her life on the road.
“I enjoy making a difference for the animals and for their owners too,” she said. “I liked the people. Most of them were thankful for my services, especially if I made a positive difference.”
For a time, she ran her small-animal practice out of her house, but discovered her current office location in 2001 and moved in a year later. In addition to a homeopathy certification that she completed in 1992, Jong also became an acupuncturist in 2008, a service that she said some of her clients travel great distances for.
She said that the decision to retire was a difficult one, and that she spent several years attempting to entice another vet to join her practice or buy her out, to no avail. On top of the language tests in Quebec that limit the hiring pool, rural areas are often overlooked by recent graduates.
“I think the biggest thing, is a lot of the students are from the city, they have no idea of the quality of life out here,” she said. “Often they’re not even interested in trying. There’s so much demand for veterinarians in the city.”
Jong added that a shift in the nature of animal care has increased the demand for veterinary services, which, in turn, has also exacerbated the labour shortage.
“There’s a general shortage, because animals have become a larger part of the family situation,” she said. “A dog used to be a dog, now he’s their baby. They’ll often talk about their fur babies. So they expect a different level of care, where you would see them only in dire circumstances, now prevention, treatments, it’s much more of a … reason for consultation. So the number of visits per animal goes up. Veterinary medicine can offer 100 times more than when I graduated.”
She said that in the months leading up to her departure on Aug. 28, she did her best to ensure that her clients had
their needs dealt with and their medications up to date. When word got out that she was retiring, she received an outpouring of support from many.
“People wanted to come in one last time, they bring us flowers, they bring us cookies, they bring us lots of cards,” she said. “It’s emotional, my staff is finding it extra hard too.”
Jong’s two employees have worked at the clinic for 17 and 18 years respectively, and she said she was grateful for them sticking with her until the end.
She expressed sadness that her departure would mean that Pontiac residents would need to travel further to get care for their pets.
“It means [more] driving, it’s a lot less accessible,” she said. “A lot of these places you have to wait three weeks for an appointment, and if you go to the emergency clinics in Ottawa … there’s often a 12 hour wait to be seen. We’ve kind of matched human medicine on that front, [it’s] not a good thing.”
Jong said that the thing she would miss the most is the interaction with clients, but with more free time, she will be able to connect with people outside of a professional setting.
“I’m not an outgoing person that goes to see people, put myself front and centre, so I’m probably going to try and work on the friendships that I’ve made over the years,” she said. “There’s so much personal time that I haven’t had. I’m hoping to ‘get a life’ as they say.”
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