HUDSON — A local animal hospital is under new ownership, and the new vet is a vet — as in veteran.

Dr. Kelly Willard, a doctor of veterinary medicine, recently took ownership of Hudson Veterinary Hospital. She graduated from Ross University in 2007 and did her clinical year at Virginia Tech. She also serves as a captain in the U.S Army Reserves as a veterinarian and was deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months in 2017.

Willard took the reins Jan. 28 from the previous owner, Dr. Bob Roberts, also a DVM, who remains on staff and continues to see his four-legged patients. A graduate of the Ohio State University School of Medicine, he specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and surgical needs of small animals.

Willard says she worked with Roberts for a couple of months as an employee to get familiar with the staff and practice before taking over.

"She’s got all the skills necessary," Roberts said. "Both the compassion and character to do a good job here. That’s one of the reasons I feel comfortable about where Hudson Veterinary Hospital is going next. I’m thrilled. I’ve been privileged to be able to take over the practice from Dr. Bittel and then to be able to move it into its next phase."

HVH has eight full-time employees and nine part-time employees. Services include physical exams, vaccines, surgery, anesthetic monitoring and pain management, emergency services, dentistry, fluid therapy, boarding, advanced diagnostics and referrals.

"We have the ability to do orthopedic procedures here, which not every clinic has," Willard said. "A lot of times they have to go to a specialty place, but we have the ability to do that here." She said they also offer laser therapy for pain, arthritis and wound healing.

"My general experience sets me apart," Willard said. "I have a lot of different experiences with a lot of different animals in different capacities."

As an Army veterinarian she treated military working dogs injured in combat.

"Trauma doesn’t scare me," she said. "I had a lot of gunshot wounds, IEDs and lacerations over there … But it was a good experience."

Hudson Veterinary Hospital was founded by Dr. Robert Bittel in 1945. Roberts said the animal hospital was originally a residential home built in the 1930s. When Bittel bought the property, he lived in the house with his family and treated large and small animals in the barn in back. Those were the days when Hudson still had farms with cows and horses, Roberts said.

Later on, possibly in the 1950s, Bittel switched to using the house for the veterinary hospital and built a ranch house next door. 

"I bought the practice from Dr. Bittel in 1984, with my wife and two little ones at the time," Roberts said. "It’s kind of a neat parallel because that’s where the Willards are right now." Today, Bittel has three married children and five grandchildren.

Roberts said he and his family lived in the ranch house next door for 13 years. That house is now Simply Swank hair salon.

Roberts said he sold the practice because he was ready for a change.

"I’m at the age where it’s nice to bring in new talent and also move into a new phase of life with my wife, Jane." Roberts said he is semi-retired and staying on board for "a little while."

Willard says that after gaining work experience and leadership skills in the military, she decided, with the encouragement and support of her husband, to buy her own practice. As fate would have it, Roberts was thinking about selling.

"It just sparked a conversation," she said. Willard is only the third owner of the practice. She lives in Cuyahoga Falls with her husband, Ryan, the head girls soccer coach at Streetsboro High School. They have two daughters and two dogs.

Willard said compassion is the greatest thing she and her staff can offer.

"We definitely aren’t treating people like a number," she said. "It’s a family place where we know you and your pet and you’re going to get that personalized service." 

Along with Roberts (for the time being), all the other employees remain, some of whom have 20 years or more of experience. 

"He’s done a really good job integrating me and helping with the transition," she said.

Roberts said he considers it an honor to have been a part of the lives of so many families and their pets.

"I have walked along a lot of families for a lot of decades which is a blessing. I’ve always thought that pets are like chapters in our lives. We mark time by our pets. And it’s been a privilege to be a part of that. It’s a great profession," he said.

Hudson Veterinary Hospital is at 5939 Darrow Road. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. The phone number is 330-650-2929. 

Reporter Steve Wiandt can be reached at 330-541-9420, or @SteveWiandt_RPC.