“It was not something girls grew up to be,” said Dr. Cheryl Howerton, owner of Alpine Animal Hospital in Flagstaff. “I wanted to be a teacher.”
Still, she had an affinity for animals.
“I brought a lot of animals home. I spent a lot of time on my grandmother’s farm near Modesto,” she said. “One of my first experiences was a kitten choking on a chicken bone. She got it out. That really impressed me.”
Antioch, Calif. was home for the family where her father was a steelworker and her mom a homemaker.
Howerton’s mother had wanted to be a pediatrician before World War II broke out and put an end those plans. Unable to follow her own dream, she taught her daughter well.
“She instilled an interest in learning and following your heart. She was a big influence,” Howerton said.
When it came time for college, she chose the University of California, Davis, majoring in physiology.
“I was really into the sciences at that time,” she said.
She spent her summer working for the local vet. One of her professors asked her if she had any interest in applying of veterinary school.
“I enrolled and got in right at the time when they were trying to get more women,” she said. “I remember when I called home; my mom was thrilled, but my dad didn’t know why I wanted to be a vet. Girls just don’t become vets. He was worried I wouldn’t get married and have kids,“ she said.
Not to worry – she is happily married and has a daughter.
That was in the 1970s, when there were few women in the profession.
“At the time, there were less than 20 percent women, now the graduating classes have more than 50 percent,” she said.
She went to Boston for her internship in small animal medicine and surgery for two years. The internship was grueling, but invaluable.
“We went from 8[:00 a.m.] to 8[:00 p.m.], every night. We saw a lot of animals. You get exposed to a lot things, but you’d have input from 32 experienced specialists,” she said.
Then she went to Ventura, Calif., where she worked in a private practice.
She came to Flagstaff because her fiancée took a job at the university. When he decided to leave, she stayed and opened her own private practice. That was 1989.
“We’re right in the same building. We do mostly cats, dogs and birds. My associate does reptiles,” she said.
She has seen many changes over the years, including more advanced diagnostic technology and computers. And her clientele has become more informed.
“I love it as much as the day I started, and that’s saying something. It’s not just the love of animals, it is the love of helping our clients,” she said. “Flagstaff is still a small town to me. You see the people you help on the streets. They go to the same school as your child. I have developed a relationship with families. I love that part about it. I am here when they bring in that new puppy and I’m here 12 years later when it is time to let them go.“
She said some people are closer to their animals than anyone else and with some, their relationship with their dog is the longest relationship they have had in their lives.
In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her family and her 48 alpacas.
She decided after 20 years of practice she needed a hobby, so she bought a couple of alpacas to raise and to learn how to weave things from their ultra-soft hair. She even shows some of them and they have won.
The family also has four dogs, seven cats, a chinchilla, two parakeets and a salamander that a cat had cornered in the garage and now lives in a luxury terrarium and hibernates in the winter.
“I don’t see myself retiring. I love it. It is my passion. It’s one of those careers that challenges. Every animal is a new experience,” she said.
Her two-person practice is very busy. “We see our patients and do surgery from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. We are open on Saturday and are available for emergency calls, most of which are those who need advice. FBN
Alpine Animal Hospital is at 1066 W. Route 66. It can be reached by calling