A new leash on life
Veterinarian Hallett helps four-legged family members get back on their feet

By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff

August 28, 2014

Veterinarian John Hallet cares for ďDozer,Ē a maltese mix who just had skin masses surgically removed as part of an operation on Tuesday.   
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

TOWN OF OCONOMOWOC ó With two hands and a host of implements, veterinarian John Hallett has assisted many four-legged family members in Waukesha County with what ails them.

His practice at 5744 Brown St. in the Town of Oconomowoc was started in 1998, after Hallett had been a practicing veterinarian for eight years. He works with his wife Heidi, partner Michael Fagan and associate Leyla Wirth.

Being a veterinarian combines the two subjects Hallett was demonstrating an aptitude for in high school.

ďI really liked art and working with my hands,Ē he recalled. ďAnd I really liked science. This put the two of those together.

ďThe art background helps in surgery with the manual dexterity,Ē he added. ďAnd thereís a creativity that most people donít realize when it comes to surgery. You have to be able to recognize whatís normal and abnormal and be creative in how you address it. Even though you may be doing the same procedure as before, every operation is different.Ē

Hallett had a healthy discussion with the Enterprise on Monday about his career.

ENTERPRISE: How do you begin a veterinary visit and why?

HALLETT: When I come into the exam room, I greet the owners first. Then, I turn to wash my hands. This means I donít start off by getting in the animalís space right away. Then I sit on a stool and let the patient come to me. This can be accomplished by having treats on my end, by verbal encouragement or sometimes the patient comes on its own. Itís about putting an animal at ease. Cats are more at ease in rooms that donít smell like dogs, for example.

ENTERPRISE: If a patient is agitated by its visit, how do you handle that?

HALLETT: You have to pay close attention to body language. If the ears are back or an animal is cowering in the corner, you have to try a different approach. A technician can distract a patient by rubbing its ears, talking to it or holding it if that is needed.

Fortunately, Iíve never had a serious bite.

ENTERPRISE: How have things changed since you became a veterinarian in 1990?

HALLETT: The technology is allowing us to do procedures we couldnít do before. For example, we use a long snakelike instrument with a digital camera on the tip to do an endoscopy, where we enter through the mouth and go into the stomach to retrieve objects. This method means the the animal does not need to be opened up via surgery. Weíve removed socks, underwear, toys, bones and batteries.

Itís almost like operating a video game; we have attachments that are loop snares and graspers.

On the diagnostics side, we can use ultrasound to look inside of the body, where we can observe internal organs and blood flow. We can also use a needle to collect samples from any mass we see on the screen, meaning we donít have to cut an animal open if we donít need to.

There is also a lot more dentistry, thanks to digital dental x-rays where vets can see what is going on below the gumline. Itís allowed us to be more proactive in that area.

ENTERPRISE: With the endoscopy, what is the weirdest thing youíve removed?

HALLETT: A Labrador retriever had swallowed some lingerie. Other than a bit of chewing, it was mostly intact when we removed it.

ENTERPRISE: What is one of the weirdest injuries youíve seen? And what is the most exotic animal youíve worked on?

HALLETT: Both of these came from the same operation in veterinary school, where we worked on a polar bear that had slipped on the ice at the zoo and fell into the moat, breaking its leg. You wouldnít expect a polar bear to slip on the ice.

ENTERPRISE: Even with all of your experience, do you still feel the pressure of having the well-being of somebodyís four-legged family member in your hands?

HALLETT: It can be hard. With every case we see, there is a problem to solve. We try to do it in the most cost-effective manner; but we donít want to miss anything. It still keeps me awake at night, trying to think of how to do things differently.

Sometimes all the tests come out normal, but you still know the animal is sick. Itís a matter of finding of the right tests. If weíre really stumped, we bring in specialists.

ENTERPRISE: Is there any advice that youíd offer to pet owners based on what youíre seeing?

HALLETT: It is that dental component. Everybody thinks that dogs love bones (and they do), but pet owners need to keep in mind that though a dogís jaw is stronger than a humanís, it has weaker tooth enamel than people do. The likelihood of fracturing a tooth or chipping a tooth is high.

There are also instances where the crown of a dogís tooth looks fine, but chewing on a bone has broken the root of the tooth below the gumline.

ENTERPRISE: What makes a good veterinarian?

HALLETT: Somebody who listens. Somebody who interacts with the owners to offer options. Just because we can do tests doesnít mean itís always the best option.