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North Union doc nominated for 'best vet'

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
Dr. William Sheperd takes 'Bub' out of the holding cage
Karl Polacek | Daily Courier
Dr. William Sheperd takes 'Bub' out of the holding cage
Veterinarian Bill Sheperd discusses some of the problems he's dealt with in his Fayette County practice.
Karl Polacek | Daily Courier
Veterinarian Bill Sheperd discusses some of the problems he's dealt with in his Fayette County practice.
Dr. William Sheperd takes 'Bub' outdoors for a quick walk.
Karl Polacek | Daily Courier
Dr. William Sheperd takes 'Bub' outdoors for a quick walk.

For local veterinarian, Dr. William “Bill” Sheperd and his Camelot Veterinary Services of Uniontown, located in North Union, winning a nationwide “My Vet's the Best” contest could mean providing more services for pet owners who cannot afford to pay.

The contest, created by Idaho-based Pets Best Insurance, honors the top veterinarians. The winner will receive $1,000. Those interested in voting for Sheperd have until May 10 to go online.

Sheperd, 59, said he does not know much about the contest or who nominated him for the award, but winning the award would help him cover the cost of services.

“We have so many people who come through who cannot afford pet care,” he said. “Even with how we try to help them, giving discounts and things, sometimes it's not enough. Sometimes they don't have any money at all.”

Fayette County has been hard-hit by the recession, Sheperd said. And, as an area without many well-paying jobs, he said the county would probably take longer to recover.

“We have calls every day for people who don't have money,” he added, including the elderly who are on fixed incomes.

Preventing problems

He also hosts a weekly radio show on WMBS where he tries to emphasize to pet owners the importance of preventive care.

“If you do preventative care for your pet, you will save so much money in the long run,” he said.

As an example, he said spaying and neutering were ways to save. Surgery on dogs would reduce the chances of prostate cancer in males and breast cancer in females. Surgery on females would also eliminate the possibility of a small female being impregnated by a large male, resulting in a C-section.

“That could cost $1,000 to $1,500,” Sheperd said. “Those folks can't afford that. That could all be prevented for $100 (to) $150 surgery.”

Sheperd will not euthanize a pet for what he considers a less-than-necessary reason, however.

“When it's time, you'll know,” he said about a pet who is suffering and for whom there is adequate recourse.

“And when it is, you call me and bring it in. And I'll have a look. And, if in my opinion, I think it's time and we agree, then we'll take care of it.

“We won't just put an animal to sleep just because somebody is moving from Uniontown to California. We won't put an animal to sleep because somebody is moving into a new home. I don't need the money that bad and I couldn't sleep at night if we did things like that.”

During the interview, he took a dog he nicknamed “Bub” outside to see how well he was healing after a bout with kidney stones. If well enough, he was scheduled to go home that day, Sheperd said.

After the walk, Sheperd and his assistant, Kelly Zavatsky, took “Bub” into the X-ray room for a last check before being released.

Sheperd and Zavatsky placed the dog on the table to get the X-ray. “Bub” lay quietly while the work was done.

“Bub” is owned by a retired man on a fixed income. If Sheperd wins the Best Vet competition, the $1,000 prize money would go to help cover the cost of “Bub's” treatments.

For Sheperd, a vet for about 30 years, working in the field has gone by quickly. He rarely takes holidays or vacations.

“I love it,” he said. “I couldn't imagine doing anything else.”

Sheperd lives in an apartment above the clinic, which is located on a farm near Uniontown. There also is an old farmhouse where his mother used to live, which he is renovating.

Sheperd says he does not plan to retire. He said his wife, Michelle, puts up with his work.

“She loves animals, but I don't think to the extent I do,” he said. “She is not involved in the practice.”

Working with animals has cost Sheperd physically, though. He suffers from back problems and has had more than his share of injuries, including a number of broken bones and muscle injuries. He has even worked with a fracture without seeking medical attention.

He said he is a bad patient. Once, following surgery, he was back to work in less than a week when his doctor said he should be off for a month.

Big cats

In addition to his practice, Sheperd is also president of the nonprofit Western Pennsylvania National Wild Animals Orphanage. His organization keeps large carnivores — examples are lions and tigers — on a former farm in Smock. They have provided homes for confiscated, abandoned or abused animals since 1986. But they have had to refuse animals because of a lack of room.

Sheperd said he would not accept animals to put them back into conditions as bad as those from which they were removed.

Sheperd emphasized the standards used at the Smock facility exceed the guidelines for housing large carnivores. The fences are higher and the spaces are larger than required. And they try to enrich the lives of the animals. The lions have places to climb up on and sun themselves, for example.

He has told workers at the facility that if he is attacked, they are to shoot him, not the carnivore.

“I wouldn't want something to happen to one of my cats because of something I did,” Sheperd said.

He said it is difficult to find volunteers to work at the Smock facility. They must be trained to properly handle cleaning, grass-cutting and feeding the animals.

Occasionally, he offers tours to schools, so the students can learn about the carnivores and why they do not make good pets. The students are not allowed to have contact with the cats or be placed in situations where they would be in danger.

He and 28 other veterinarians have opened an emergency clinic about 10 minutes from Morgantown, W.Va., to provide after-hours veterinary services. He said the trip south is much quicker than a trip to Pittsburgh because of a better highway system and few traffic lights.

Each of the other vets put in some time at that facility. They also have hired two vets to handle the hours when they cannot be there.

He has had several hobbies over the years. He has been a private pilot with a single- and multi-engine license and is a skin diver and has been in the water with sharks.

Sheperd also has another assistant, Michelle Soroka, who mans the desk, phones and computer.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-626-3538.

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