Compassion for animals, small towns and vets all star in reality show.
Dr. Erin Schroeder made a decision years ago to ensure that she and her husband, Ben, also a veterinarian, would have a life outside the mixed veterinary practice his father once operated. That dedication to family time opened the door to coaching their boys on the basketball court and finding projects that fill their hearts and cups.
Together, the couple renovated a number of buildings, including the historic Hotel Hartington in their hometown of Hartington, Neb. When an article caught the attention of a few television producers, the couple, often compared to mega couple Chip and Joanna Gaines, were approached about a show. Knowing that the opportunity could be a chance to showcase the industry, they signed on for Heartland Docs, DVM, which premiered on Jan. 25 on Nat Geo Wild.
Both graduates of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the two met and Erin said she knew immediately, despite how silly it may sound to some, that she would marry Ben. Upon graduation, he returned to Nebraska and joined his father at Cedar County Veterinary Services. Erin, who grew up in upstate New York, played Division 1 basketball during her undergraduate career at Syracuse University.
“I knew when we came home and visited Ben’s family that I really loved the Midwest and I loved the idea of having a family out here,” she said.
The opportunity to join Ben’s father, now a retired veterinarian, in his practice and to make their home in Nebraska was one the couple seized. They now have two boys, Charlie, 16, and Chase, 14, who grew up in the backseat of the vet truck, much like Ben did with his father.
At one point, Cedar County, Nebraska, was home to more dairy farms than any other county in the state. The numbers of dairies have declined in Nebraska, just as numbers have declined elsewhere in the country, and the dairies once served by the practice are a smaller part of the clientele. The large animal portion of the couple’s practice is rooted in the cow calf operations and feed yards in the area. The companion animal side of the practice, including horses, has been on the rise since Erin and Ben returned to practice almost 20 years ago.
COMPASSION FOR ANIMALS
Be it large or companion animals being treated, Erin said she hopes the compassion shown to all animals will shine through on the show.
“Having clients that raise livestock and ultimately, that’s their livelihood, I feel like there’s misconceptions perhaps for some people that those animals are not cared about and cared for,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Helping show viewers removed from production that animals, even those raised for food or to help humans, are treated with nobility, dignity and care. It’s pretty amazing, she said, the work and love involved in animal care and production.
For Ben, it is the importance of family that he hopes will resonate with viewers, especially as their sons decide whether or not they want to go down the same career path as their parents and grandfather.
“We sure hope they do but we’re laying the groundwork that my father did when I was growing up to possibly be a chance and that’s all we can ask for,” he said. “I really want instilled the hard work ethic that all of us Midwesterners come with. They’re turning out to be good boys and I’m proud of that.”
On the show, tackling animal handling and a business that isn’t always pretty, isn’t handled any differently than it is when the cameras aren’t watching. As a profession, Ben said the veterinary community is pushing toward a fear-free movement whether the patient is a large or companion animal and they’re invested in that as well.
“What you see on TV is not made for TV,” Erin said. “That’s how we handle animals whether the cameras are there or not. Making sure our camera crew is not in the way and educating our clients because not everyone has that same level of comfort and knowledge, especially working with cattle.”
Though the nuts and bolts of animal handling, especially low stress cattle handling, wasn’t something they were able to get into in the first season, she said they’re hopeful a second season may allow the opportunity.
For the couple, their commitment to compassion is one they hope will be reciprocated to veterinary practitioners in all communities. Ben said while sleep may still be elusive for them and other practitioners, they have been able to achieve a work life balance that he attributes to Erin’s decision to make it a priority.
This has allowed family time with the boys, the opportunity for both of them to coach basketball and to share their knowledge and passion for the game with their small town, and allowed them to restore the historical buildings that have proven a creative outlet and an exciting addition to their home town.
“We really try to support our colleagues because I do feel very strongly that there’s a lot of pressure on veterinarians and there’s a very high suicide rate among veterinary professionals,” she said, “People are very emotional when it comes to the animals and sometimes the messenger gets shot. Sometimes the veterinarian gets really tossed under the bus or people get upset when it it’s not really the veterinarian or staff. It may have very little to do with them, but we certainly want to lift the profession as a whole and let people see what happens in the back office.”
If she could, Erin said a Hug your Veterinarian Today movement would be one she would start as an encouragement to support practitioners and staff.
“What makes people join the veterinary community is we are pleasers and we work so hard and take so much emotion from a situation and share that burden,” she said. “It is a huge cross to bear because it’s hard to take that off and leave it at the door when it’s time to go home.” ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.