St. John’s hires staff vet

Dave Bartlett
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Full-time position will save city money, provide better animal care

Dr. Heather Hillier, the new veterinarian for the city of St. John’s humane services, holds one of the cats being held at the facility. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

For the first time, the City of St. John’s has a full-time veterinarian on staff.

Dr. Heather Hillier started working for the city in December, and was officially welcomed at this week’s city council meeting by Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, chairwoman of the city’s animal care and control committee.

Hillier is now based at the city’s humane services shelter on Higgins Line after more than eight years in private practice.

“It’s been really exciting, and it kind of gets down to the core reasons why you go into veterinary medicine in the first place,” she told The Telegram Thursday.

“We go in for the passion of (working with) animals and animal health.”

She said in private practice you are also running a business, but at a shelter her sole focus is the care of animals.

“I knew that this shelter had a really positive momentum,” Hillier added. “The things they have done over the last number of years and their philosophy on pet care and treatment of stray animals was right in line with everything I already believed in.”

Cindy McGrath, the supervisor of the city’s humane services, said having Hillier on staff is “a huge deal,” and something every animal shelter wishes it could have.

McGrath did a lot of research on how a full-time vet would improve the shelter’s services as well as what it would cost.

“We were taking animals out to local veterinarians if they required medical attention, and contracting out other services and to be honest with you the cost was going through the roof and it looked like it was going to continue that trend,” she said.

“Putting it all together, it was actually cheaper for the city to hire a veterinarian and an assistant.”

McGrath said it would be hard to estimate exactly how much a staff vet and assistant will save the city because it’s a new program.

“But I would say, at minimum, $20,000 to $30,000 a year,” she said.

McGrath also noted that having a vet is also good for those looking to adopt because now the city has someone who will make sure all animals at the shelter are examined, vaccinated and tested for diseases like feline lukemia.

Before, if a stray came in with a health problem and wasn’t claimed by it’s owner, it would only be sent to a vet for emergencies, as that’s all that the city could afford. So an animal who was sick with a minor problem sometimes would be euthanized.

That will change.

“We can (now) fix kitty up and maybe find him a good home,” McGrath said.

And animals who are only at the shelter waiting to be picked up by their owners can also be assured their pets are getting top notch care while there.

Hillier will also help with the city’s education campaigns, to make sure people in the city are properly taking care of their pets and are responsible pet owners.

That’s only one of the reasons why O’Leary views a city vet as a win-win situation for all, as she is a firm believer in such public education programs.

“I was completely supportive. I thought it was great and I think it’s just an advancement in the right direction,” O’Leary said of the new veterinarian position.

She said she had lots of support from council, especially when it was shown that the move would save the city’s taxpayers’ money.

Organizations: Higgins Line

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Recent comments

  • Cara Pardy
    January 06, 2012 - 23:39

    The City has chosen a wonderful person to fill this role! Congrautulations Dr. Hillier! I have dealt with Dr. Hillier on many occasions and she is a fantastic veternarian and genuinely cares for the animals and their owners. I wish you the best of luck and Katie sends lots of slobbers your way and says she will miss you :)

  • Mildred Chafe
    January 06, 2012 - 19:14

    Excellent news! I would also like to see a law forbidding tethering of dogs in backyards.

  • Mindy
    January 06, 2012 - 18:09

    Good choice..I have had my pets visit with Dr. Hillier and she is a very Vet. As for some of the comments...please there is such a thing as being able to read the article but you also need to understand what you read.. This is an excellent move for the City of St. John's.

  • Robin Hussey
    January 06, 2012 - 14:30

    Congratulations on hiring Dr. Hillier. She is a wonderful person and a very compassionate veterinarian. I was sorry to lose her as a veterinarian, but wish her all the best in her new position.

    January 06, 2012 - 14:24


  • Kay
    January 06, 2012 - 13:00

    Very good news for everyone, especially the animals!

    • Kevin
      January 06, 2012 - 15:19

      The City couldn't have made a better choice.

    • Kimberly French
      January 07, 2012 - 08:06

      Congratulations Dr. Hillier. Congratulations City of St Johns. You have hired an outstanding vet and amazing person. Sad to see you leaving private practice and my girls will miss you but thrilled to know you will be taking care of those that need you the most. All the best

  • Holly's mom
    January 06, 2012 - 12:55

    Fabulous news. I'm very disappointed to be losing Dr. Hillier, she is a wonderful vet, but congratulations to the city on making such a good choice for disadvantaged animals. They're in excellent hands now.

  • G. Montgomery
    January 06, 2012 - 12:52

    I'm surprised to learn there wasn't already a vet in a busy animal shelter. A good move for St. John's.

  • John Williams
    January 06, 2012 - 12:49

    Congratulations, Dr. Hillier! Thank you for taking this position with the City of St. John's. It was desperately needed. Those of us concerned about the animals in the shelter(s) can now rest a little easier knowing that they'll receive the medical care and attention they deserve. As for your "WTF" comment, Paul, read the article again. The city will save on this an average of $20,000 - $30,000 annually. Get a life!

  • Krista
    January 06, 2012 - 12:18

    Dr. Hillier is a fantastic vet and person. As much as we were upset to lose her as our vet we can't think of anyone better to treat the animals at humane services.

  • John
    January 06, 2012 - 11:31

    Great news!,

  • Paul
    January 06, 2012 - 11:29

    WTF, another waste of taxpayers dollars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Taylor
      January 06, 2012 - 13:21

      If you had read the article, you would see that this move expects to save $20,000-$30,000 per year. So, let's make it simple for you. That would mean that they were paying $20,000-$30,000 more than the ccost of the salaries to local vet facilities.

    • Baby minder
      January 06, 2012 - 13:40


    • Joe
      January 06, 2012 - 14:19

      Some people only have the brain capacity to read just the headlines I guess. Try actually reading the article before spouting off uneducated nonsense...

  • lyly
    January 06, 2012 - 10:45

    Fantastic news ! I am sure that both Vet and Assistant will be pretty busy caring for all the animals at the shelter and educating the public but I do hope that there will also be opportunities to help the other shelters/organizations like the SPCA, Beagle Paws and Heavenly Creatures. I understand that the Vet is working for the city but I would like to think that there will be times where the caring will have the opportunity to expand !! Once again, fantastic news!!

  • Ocean's Edge
    January 06, 2012 - 10:14

    This is excellent news! WTG! A much needed step forward in animal welfare in this city, and I couldn't imagine a better choice for the job. Congratulations all around

  • Kate and Keith
    January 06, 2012 - 07:52

    Dr. Hillier is an amazing Vet, she took care of our aging cats up until their last days and was sensitive and always compassionate. Kudos to City Council for establishing her as our city Vet!

  • Fred Tucker
    January 06, 2012 - 07:06

    And a wonderful doctor and person she is--very good choice