Animal house

“Any time one of those miniature animals gives birth, there’s a chance of something going wrong. If that happens, you’ve got to do a C-section,” says Margaret Pressley, founder of Fox Run Veterinary Services in Weaverville.

Keeping things stable: Margaret Pressley tests horses at the WNC Agricultural Center for infectious anemia. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Pressley should know. She’s been handling these and other sorts of animal emergencies locally since 1991, when she came back to Buncombe County to establish Fox Run.

“I’ve always loved to work with animals, and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, working on them and trying to see what’s wrong so I can fix it,” she explains, leaning on an examination table after wrapping up the day at Fox Run. As she speaks, a large orange cat named Rumble hops up onto the table.

“I had been working in Rutherford County. I’m a native of this area, and I just wanted to come back to the mountains.” Unlike most veterinary clinics, Fox Run treats both pets and livestock. “What keeps it interesting is that it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen,” she notes.

Of course, it’s not all high-anxiety situations. “We do a lot of routine, preventive medicine, such as vaccinating dogs and cats,” says Pressley. “We also do work with livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats and a few horses too. There’s also what we call our ‘fire-engine work’—emergency house calls to take care of cuts and breaks. This time of year we see a lot of problems with cows, in birth and delivery. We do a lot of C-sections on goats and potbellied pigs, too.”

Nestled just off Highway 19-23’s New Stock Road exit, Fox Run has a full waiting room most days. About the only animals the clinic doesn’t treat are birds and exotics such as lizards, both of which are handled by other local practitioners. But the wide variety of types of care offered produces its own set of challenges, she notes.

“The biggest is just that it never seems to end. You think it gets to a resting place, and then it picks back up. It’s a good thing, too, but sometimes after 12 or 14 hours you’re tired, and that’s always when the big emergencies splash down on you.”

Hold steady: Pressley cares for Rooster at the Fox Run clinic.

And then there’s the sheer amount of information veterinarians have to access on a daily basis. “There’s just so much knowledge out there—it is hard to keep up,” confesses Pressley. “Part of that is knowing who to call: There are specialists in this area, and we have to know them. Animals are part of people’s families, and it still amazes me how much they’re willing to go the extra mile for them.”

And like other local residents, veterinarians have been affected by the area’s changing character. “When I started, there were a lot more beef cattle in the area—fewer goats, fewer sheep. My practice then was truly half-and-half: small animals and livestock,” she recalls. “As time goes on, this is becoming less and less of a rural area. We had 22 dairy farms in Madison County when I started; we have none now. So with less land per farm, you’re seeing people increasing their herds of goat and sheep, especially as people become more interested in sustainable agriculture.”

One positive trend, says Pressley, is the increasing respect for veterinarians as health professionals. “The last 10 to 15 years, veterinarians are becoming more recognized as people who can answer questions about public health on health boards in the area of contagious diseases,” she notes, adding, “I’m happy to provide a service when I can. North Carolina is probably pretty close to the front of the nation in trying to establish a rapport between different parts of the medical profession, recognizing that with globalization and all the emergent diseases, they need to bring together veterinarians, biologists, physicians, nurses and others to fight it and keep the lines of communication open.”

Indeed, Pressley seems to thrive on the diversity of her work. “I like working with livestock, even though I don’t get to do it as much as I once did. I like helping the well-being of the farm and helping to contribute to public health.”

Happily, however, the job also has its quieter joys. “I love seeing people with their new puppies, and I love it when I can actually do something to help an animal and see the puppies and kids are happy,” she reveals.

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