How to find a Veterinarian -- A First Timers Guide

The smells are great outside Long Animal Hospital.  

The smells are great outside Long Animal Hospital.  


One of the things I did soon after bringing Murphy home is find a vet. My criteria were simple at that time -- close and convenient. A friend of mine said, “of course, you’ll take him to Long Animal Hospital.  My family has been taking our pets there for over 30 years.”  I did some quick internet research and settled on Long.  It was a great decision, but I know more now than I did then about the things that matter. 

Long is just a few blocks away from my house, and convenient on South Boulevard.  When Murphy arrived, they were in the old building they had been in for decades.  Now they have a beautiful state of the art building a block or so from the old building (which has been torn down) in the popular South End area.  One of the things that appealed to me was their hours – they had extended hours, very appealing for a working dog mom.  At the new facility, they not only have weekday hours from 6:45 am to 8:00 pm and Saturday from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, they have 24-hour emergency service.  It is very nice to know that in an emergency, we could be at the doctor within minutes.

They take appointments, but they also take walk-ins.

When we made our first appointment and went for our first visit, we felt very comfortable.  The desk staff are welcoming and friendly.  In fact, I got referrals for grooming and training from them. 

Meeting Dr. James

We were assigned to Dr. James randomly, but I liked her immediately because she liked Murphy.  She called him “dumpling” and did a very thorough exam.  The Humane Society vet had provided a report and had done his initial shots, but he needed some additional vaccines. 

She saw a few things that I had not seen.  One of Murphy’s eyes does not dilate.  It is not a problem, but it does give him a little googly eyed look.  She kept saying that she could not understand why someone would let him go.  Of course, I agreed.  Later, she developed a hypothesis – more on that when I talk about allergies. 

We’ve seen a number of the vets in the practice and I’ve been very pleased, but when I can schedule ahead of time, we see Dr. James.


Long has a large staff.  You can ask to see the same vet if you are booking ahead of time, but, but if you just go to be worked in, you may have to see someone else.  They do general surgery there as well. 

In the new facility, they have added services including rehabilitation and acupuncture. It is very nice to have everything, but the most specialized services, in one facility. 

We have had limited use for the emergency services, but that is great also. Prior to the 24-hour facility, I called the on-call doctor when I had overheated Murphy’s food and was sure I had burned his mouth.  The doctor called me within minutes and calmed me over the phone and told me what to do when before I could take him in in the morning.  (It was fine, by the way)

I used the emergency facilities one night when I was traveling the next day and could not get him in during normal hours.  You pay a premium for that convenience, but that one occasion it was worth it. 

As I have learned more, I have been interested in holistic options.  They are very limited in this region. There is one holistic vet in Charlotte and another in Kings Mountain.  That is something that I would like to see more traditional vets incorporate into their practices.  What I have done holistically, I have learned through on line research.

The trade off with a larger practice is that you may not build a relationship with an individual vet.  We see Dr. James more than the others, but if we have an issue and she isn’t there, I’m happy to see one of the other vets. I have said, and it is true, that Murphy and I get service, support and follow up from Long that is better than that that my personal doctor.  

When we first started going to Long, Murphy loved it.  He loved to see the other dogs there. Now he has figured out that sometimes when he goes it hurts, so he is less enthusiastic. 

He still, however, like to go to their downstairs retail space. Every week or so on one of our walks, he insists on wandering in.  He likes to smell the food and the treats and they are very tolerant of our meandering visits.

Lessons learned:

Word of mouth – the experience of others matters

Convenience – is it close to your home?  That isn’t the only thing that matters, but it does matter.

Hours – do they work with your availability?  Are they flexible about walk ins?

Emergency services –  if your vet doesn’t offer them, you need to have a plan for what you would do in an after-hours emergency. 

A number of clinics have booths at key pet festivals. That is a good way to meet members of the staff.  And sometimes they offer specials at these events.

Relationship with a doctor – how important is that to you? It may be achievable in a larger practice.  It certainly is achievable in a smaller practice, but perhaps with other trade-offs.

Holistic expertise – I think we will begin to see larger practices incorporate holistic techniques, but it is not widespread currently. 

You aren’t married to the first vet you visit. Trust your gut and if you don’t feel comfortable, try someplace else.