Veterinarian Commemorates New Start with Inspirational Art
Liz Devitt, DVM, Boston, Massachusetts
Photo courtesy of Alex Ann Allen
Photo courtesy of Alex Ann Allen
“It started as an idea to have nice artwork, and it ended up as a tribute to someone I really admire,” said Dr. Karen Robertson, a graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
When veterinarian Karen Robertson and her husband Keith became first-time clinic owners of the Twin Lakes Pet Clinic in Monticello, Indiana, they wanted to brighten up the old brown building. They commissioned a local artist to paint a mural on an outside: a portrait of the late Dr. Sophia Yin and her beloved Jack Russell terrier, Jonesy. They didn’t expect the colorful artwork would also brighten the spirits of people near and far and help spread Dr. Yin’s legacy of handling animals, and each other, with compassion and understanding.
“When people see Dr. Yin’s portrait with her beloved dog, we want people to ask, ‘Who is that?’” said Dr. Robertson. “Then we direct them to our clinic website for information about her and her many contributions to veterinary medicine. We also have a QR code on the side of the building.”
Moving Into Small Animal Practice
The Robertsons bought the clinic in 2021, after Hurricane Ida flooded their former home, and entire town, in Louisiana. Fortunately, Dr. Robertson had spent many summers in the tourist town of Monticello and still owned a house there. The owner of the pet clinic was also looking to retire around that same time. Although the opportunity to purchase the clinic was serendipitous, Dr. Robertson’s entire career had been in swine practice. She went straight from vet school into a swine medicine residency at Michigan State and spent the following 24 years in private or corporate swine practice.
“The crazy thing about switching from swine to small animal medicine is that your veterinary degree is like a passport. Just because you've done one thing, if you're not enjoying it, there’s no reason you can’t change what you're doing. A veterinarian doesn’t have to be miserable in their work,” said Dr. Robertson.
Even so, Dr. Robertson knew she could thrive in small animal practice. She had recently worked a summer stint for a clinician in Indiana. “I surprised myself a lot by really loving it,” she said. Plus, she and Keith raised Jack Russell terriers and rough collies using Sophia Yin’s methods and protocols. During the pandemic lockdown, when neither Dr. Robertson nor her husband (a teacher) could work outside the home, she used online continuing education to stay current on companion animal medicine. The couple also discovered they really enjoyed being “grounded” together. Eventually, the pandemic led to the loss of both their jobs. “We decided if we bought the clinic, Keith would be the business manager, and then we could work together all the time,” Dr. Robertson said with a smile in her voice.
Putting color on the clinic walls was critical to Dr. Robertson, who describes herself as a visual person. Inside, they plastered the walls with original artwork from staff, kids, and Dr. Robertson herself. The outside wall was the perfect place for something with color and energy to welcome clients, locals, and tourists driving through town. Dr. Robertson wanted the mural to honor women in science and inspire young women to consider STEM careers; however, opening a new practice that needed big ticket items (eg, a digital radiography machine) meant there was no budget for a big art project. Dr. Robertson contacted the The Arts Federation in Lafayette, Louisiana, and, with help from the CEO, received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. An Indiana artist with a particular talent for portraits was selected to create the mural.
The Robertsons chose Sophia Yin as the subject of the mural for her contributions to veterinary medicine, but also because they wanted to raise awareness for mental health, something that affected their immediate family. “That's part of Yin’s legacy, too,” said Dr. Robertson, a member of Not One More Vet, the group formed on social media after Dr. Yin took her own life in 2014.
The mural was completed at the end of October 2022, and Dr. Robertson has been receiving positive feedback from clients and pedestrians who stop to take a closer look. For Dr. Robertson, one key response came from Dr. Yin’s mom, who sent word of her approval through CattleDog Publishing, Dr. Yin’s ongoing legacy. There has also been an overwhelming response from a picture of the mural posted on the Not One More Vet website.
“After being a veterinarian for thirty years, I've done a lot of things to give back," Dr. Robertson said, including years of volunteering for the International Council for Veterinary Assessment, twice serving as board chair. “But this mural made me feel like I did something real for all of veterinary medicine.”