Don Wolczko’s early days at Fair Isle Animal Clinic were trying ones.
The young veterinarian was on call every night of the week. His hours were long. It didn’t help that for two months he lived at the clinic, sleeping on the floor with his two dogs.
The small Vashon-based clinic has come a long way since Wolczko, a single man without children at the time, purchased it in 1982. Within a few months, he brought in Nell Coffman, another veterinarian, to co-own it with him. Over the years, other vets have joined the bustling place, transforming it into a large, full-scale operation, busy enough to support four veterinarians and 17 other employees.
Now, Wolczko and Coffman are passing the torch. They’ll continue to work part-time at the clinic, but they’ve sold the practice to Dana Ness, a veterinarian who came on board in October 2003.
Both Wolczko and Coffman feel great about their decision. They had solicitations from corporate chains interested in Fair Isle, Wolczko said.
“For the practice and for the community, we really felt that Dana was by far our best option,” he said.
Coffman agreed. “I adore Dana,” she said. “Once we decided we’d sell to her, it didn’t make sense to wait.”
Ness, for her part, said she was pleased for the opportunity, a perfect segue in her professional life.
“It’s a great place. Why wouldn’t I want to buy it?” she said.
Clients won’t notice much in the way of changes, she said. In fact, the actual purchase took place Jan. 1. The clinic’s fourth veterinarian, Alan Givotovsky, will continue to work there.
But in selling the clinic, Wolczko and Coffman say, they’ll have more time to pursue other aspects of animal care; Coffman, for instance, will continue to take courses enhancing her skills in acupuncture for pets.
“I love having less administrative work to do,” Coffman said.
And Wolczko is looking forward to more time at home, pursuing his wide range of interests. He hopes to take up welding, plans to build a solar tracker for his front yard and hopes to construct “a sailing vessel big enough to carry some freight on it,” he said.
“I’m just in my late 50s. I’ve got another 20 years to do something else,” he said.
Wolczko and Coffman got to know each other as young vets straight out of vet school in 1982, when they both worked at a Kirkland clinic. Wolczko wanted to work in a rural setting, and he bicycled to Vashon one Sunday afternoon in April. He discovered the clinic — called Martin Animal Clinic, owned and operated by Ron Martin at the time — and, even though it was a Sunday, found Martin quietly at work there.
Wolczko and Martin had a great conversation, Wolczko recalled. “A month later, I decided to buy the practice,” he said. Wolczko was 26 at the time.
The practice was far different from the one he’d left, a place where he mostly saw dogs and cats. Fair Isle is considered a mixed animal practice, and for Wolczko and later Coffman, it meant treating llamas choking on fruit, delivering lambs stuck in the birth canal and treating the occasional eight-foot-long boa constrictor.
Asked about one of his most challenging moments as a vet, Wolczko mentioned the time a horse fell into a well and had to be lifted out of it — alive and well — with a backhoe. “It turned out very well for the horse,” Wolczko said.
Over the years, he and Coffman have had to sedate deer helplessly tangled in fishing net, rescue a feral cow on the west side and stitch up far too many goats and sheep attacked by dogs. They’ve also sat with many people who’ve made the painful decision to end a beloved pet’s life.
“I feel very blessed to have experienced that — dealing with life and death … of an individual a person cherishes. So revealing and raw and real,” Wolczko said.
Ness said she’s eager to continue the tradition that Wolczko and Coffman began more than 30 years, with the only big changes being ones clients won’t notice — such as a move toward a paperless system.
“Ever since I was hired on, the intent was that I’d buy into the practice or buy out Don and Nell when they were ready to sell,” Ness said. “Not all vets aspire to practice ownership. But for me, it seemed like a good fit.”
Fair Isle Animal Clinic will host an open house to discuss changes, answer questions and show their appreciation to their customers from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 24.