by John D. Schroeder in May 1993
Four generations of veterinarians, all named Dr. Bennett Porter, have been caring for Minnesota animals for the past 100 years. It is a family tradition that continues today at the Westgate Pet Clinic and Park Pet Hospital. What began as a practice of being a horse doctor in the wilds of Minnesota has evolved into a sophisticated high-tech veterinary clinic that uses computers and the latest in medical technology to care for household pets in Southwest Minneapolis.
Dr. Bennett Porter III and his son, Dr. Bennett Porter IV, operate Westgate Pet Clinic where a staff of six treat all breeds of dogs and cats. It is a family practice where every day is different and changes have been plentiful over the years.
The history of the veterinary practice began in 1858 when Thomas Portier brought his family from Quebec to Minnesota. His son, Bennett, became a horse doctor, farmed and raised stallions. He was one of the first in North America to get a degree from Ontario Veterinary College in 1904. It was the same year that his ninth child, Bennett II, was born. His wife, Edith Adelle Prescott Clark, was also a pioneer in Veterinary Medicine. The family name eventually changes to Porter.
Bennett Porter II continued in his father's footsteps and obtained a doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1931 from Iowa State College. He practiced in several locations around Albert Lea, Minnesota before coming to St. Louis Park in 1947 and opened Porter's dog and Cat Hospital. it became Park Pet Hospital and is still operated by the Porter family. Westgate Pet Clinic opened in 1973.
Dr. Bennett Porter III remembers going out with his father on large animal calls and helping around the clinic. He developed a natural interest in caring for animals which led to his degree from the University of Minnesota in 1961. His brother, Gene, who operates Park Pet Hospital, graduated from the U of M in 1959.
As a veterinarian for 20 years in Southwest Minneapolis, Dr. Porter III has seen many changes. New drugs and new diets are lengthening the lives of pets. Twenty years ago, dogs had an average life expectancy of seven years. Now it is twelve years.
Pets are living longer because people are taking better care of their pets and he also credits technology as another factor. "Today a vet clinic is much like a small human medical clinic in that we have a central lab and computer technology. We can get test results from our lab in fifteen minutes, where in the past we would have to sent them out. We now use electrocardiograms and even do our own radiology."
Bennett Porter IV notes that today people view pets as a member of the family and take their health quite seriously. He says owners generally take good care of their pets and ask questions to understand what's wrong when a pet is ill. They want their dog or cat to be happy and healthy. "The hardest thing about being a vet is when it is time to put an animal to sleep," says Bennett IV. "We end up focusing on the issue of quality of life. For some people it is the most difficult decision they have ever made."
His father points out that it is sometimes hard to treat pets because pets can't talk. Veterinarians must use their powers of observation and gather information from their human owners. What many of those owners do not realize, according to both doctors, is that their pet can get most of the same diseases that people do, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The same drugs and treatments that are used to help humans can save the lives of pets.
Like humans, pets are also benefiting from the computer revolution. Westgate Pet Clinic makes extensive use of computers to free the doctors from paperwork, giving them more time to be with people's pets. Their computer contains pet health histories, reminds them to telephone clients to check on pets, tells when vaccinations are due, and produces their billing and newsletter. They say that in the future, computers will help diagnose pet disease, provide vet training and even more medical information.
Both father and son say that life as a veterinarian is gratifying because pets are such an important part of people's lives. As to whether there will be future generations of Porter vets, Bennett IV says it is a possibility, but he doesn't think so. His three-year-old son, Bennett Porter V, is interested in animals, but right now is afraid of big dogs.