Ligonier vet following in grandfather's footsteps
As a child, Constance Matson often spent time with her grandfather at his Donovan Veterinary Clinic in Ligonier.
“I wore his white coat. I got some first-hand experience and saw what the practice of veterinary medicine was all about,” she said.
Now 35, Matson works out of the office the late William Donovan built in the 1950s. The Ligonier native earned her undergraduate degree at St. Vincent College and her doctorate in veterinary medicine at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va.
Since 2010, she has cared for creatures large and small, as her grandfather did, in the office where he practiced until his death in 2004.
Donovan learned of her acceptance to medical school shortly before he died, she said. Her family did not sell the building, anticipating she would return and open her own practice.
“We didn't want it to be anything else,” said Matson, who lives in Fairfield with her husband, Justin; son, Gunner, 2; two dogs, a cat and a horse.
For the woman who grew up with horses — her “first love” — dogs, cats, and participated in 4-H until she left for college, filling her grandfather's shoes was a good fit.
“There is never a dull moment. It's ever-changing, fast-paced,” Matson said. “That's what I love about it.”
As the only surgeon at the practice, which has a support staff of five, Matson often works long hours. It's something she watched her grandfather do and learned to accept as a part of a veterinarian's life.
“You could always get hold of him. He went out on emergency calls. It's demanding and it's tiring, but that's part of the job,” she said.
Matson's mother, Julie Donovan, recalled that her father grew up on the Elmer E. Deeds farm, a working dairy farm in the Millbank area of Ligonier Township, near Idlewild Park.
“His mother's family were early homesteaders in the Ligonier Valley, with the farm being in the family for more than 200 years,” Julie Donovan said. “He milked cows, used horses to plow the fields and raised other farm animals. He understood that the health of the animal was important to the livelihood and survival of the farm family.”
She said her father specialized in large farm animals while studying at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Her father's practice later evolved to small companion animals. He practiced veterinary medicine in Ligonier for more than 55 years.
Matson's practice focuses primarily on smaller, domestic animals, but she also treats horses and other farm animals.
She said her grandfather had a wonderful bedside manner with clients and patients, a trait she tries to preserve in her own practice.
“If there was one person or 25 people in the waiting room, you had his undivided attention. And if you were from Ligonier, he would tell you about your genealogy. He was very personable,” Matson said.
Ligonier resident Andrea Niapas said Donovan treated her cats for years.
Visiting his office was like “going into a (Norman) Rockwell painting,” she said. “He was just a good, old-time doctor.”
Niapas met Matson at her grandfather's office when she was still in medical school.
“She said, ‘If I wasn't going to be a veterinarian, I don't know what I would have been.' She had it in her DNA,” Niapas said.
Matson now cares for Niapas' cats, old and young.
“It's like a geriatric, pediatric and psychiatric ward over here,” Niapas joked.
Matson brought in more technology and hired a compassionate staff, she said.
“She doesn't get rattled,” Niapas said. “They educate you. Whatever the problem is, they explain it to you, whatever follow-up care is needed. They take their time. I appreciate that.”
After six years in a small office with five parking spaces, Matson soon will move her business across Route 30 into a building that formerly housed a medical practice.
“This is a great location. The opportunity arose to be able to buy that building, and we jumped on it,” she said.
The old Donovan building will not go unused. Matson intends to open a dog day care and grooming business there. The practice name will remain the same.
“I kept it as homage to (my grandfather),” Matson said. “It confuses people a little bit. But that is what this always was and will be.”
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.