By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Dr. Sydney Desmarais wasn’t sure if she really wanted to be a veterinarian when she signed up with Round River Conservation Studies in 2001 to work with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. What she did know was that she wanted to do something unique. “I did not want to just go to school and take classes somewhere different, I wanted a new experience,” she said.

As an undergraduate student from the University of Vermont, Desmarais and a handful of other students spent the semester in Namibia researching the ecology around a man-made waterhole.

One aspect of the study, she said, involved documenting eye injuries present in cheetahs hunting nearby, who had been injured by the sharp thorns of the acacia bushes growing around the waterhole.

Sixteen years later, Desmarais is the new owner of Big Sky’s only veterinary clinic, and the animal doctor is all smiles. “Namibia made me want to be a vet because I saw all of the various avenues you could take it,” she said. “I realized that there was more I could do than just general practice. I could be involved in research, I could volunteer and help wildlife, I could travel, I could move all over the country. It made me see all the possibilities.”

Desmarais purchased the former Veterinary Clinic of Big Sky in May, located in the Big Horn Shopping Center on Highway 191, and has since changed the clinic name to Lone Peak Veterinary Hospital. In August, she attended house calls while completing major renovations in her new space, which is officially opening Tuesday, Sept. 4.

After her experience with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Desmarais continued to vet school, studying at North Carolina State University and completing an internship at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario. Desmarais graduated from vet school in 2007 and after her internship started seeing patients at an emergency clinic in Portland, Oregon, where she worked for seven years. Desmarais loved the challenging, fast pace of emergency care. “You have to move fast, you have to make decisions … and it can be really rewarding,” she said.

However, nearing 2015, Desmarais sought to develop stronger relationships with her patients, and decided to pursue general small animal medicine. “I wanted to move somewhere where you get to know your patients better. … It felt like moving to a small community would make that much more possible,” she said.

She moved to Bozeman for a job at Creekside Veterinary Hospital and then worked at several area clinics as a relief veterinarian, filling in when a regular practitioner was on leave. With her recent purchase of the Big Sky clinic, Desmarais has moved once again, this time to Big Sky, and will offer general and emergency veterinary care for the area’s small animals.

Desmarais has also used her skills and applied knowledge to volunteer abroad. While in vet school, and inspired by her earlier work in Namibia, Desmarais traveled to Ethiopia and Cameroon to research infectious diseases. In Ethiopia, she helped to study the effectiveness of rabies vaccination on Ethiopian wolves, and more recently, Desmarais volunteered in Thailand and India.

In 2014, she spent a month at the Soi Dog Foundation, spaying and neutering Tai dogs, and in 2015 she aided Dharamsala Animal Rescue in India, helping with emergency care treatment for local dogs.

Desmarais says her work abroad has vastly improved her work at home, helping her to become a better vet.

“When you work at a place like Soi Dog in Thailand and they don’t have what you’re used to using … it helps you problem solve and deal with complicated situations. I think that communication is a really important part of being a veterinarian,” she added. “By working abroad, you learn how to communicate over language barriers and still advocate for your patient, and how to empathize with the position your pet owner is in.”

Desmarais intends to employ the lessons she learned abroad in Big Sky, specifically looking forward to improved client education and the ability to offer urgent care and diagnostics thanks to the new renovations to the clinic space. Rustic barn wood doors lead into exam rooms finished with textured acrylic floors that are easy to clean but welcoming to slippery-pawed animals.

A recovery room was designed with over-sized kennel spaces for dogs and cats, and a large outside window may give recovering animals comfort and diversion. The clinic is complete with a full-body digital X-ray unit, comprehensive in-house lab, dental equipment and a full surgery suite.

The clinic upgrade will allow pet owners to get general and emergency veterinary care without having to drive to Bozeman, Desmarais said. Being in a relatively rural area, Desmarais felt it was important to be able to offer full diagnostics capability in Big Sky, “that way people can get answers the same day.” For advanced testing, Desmarais says she will still rely on specialized laboratories.

To accompany the general services available at Lone Peak Veterinary Hospital, Desmarais will also provide acupuncture therapy. “I’m a Western doctor, but I think Eastern medicine can really complement Western medicine,” said

Desmarais, who has received training from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Often, Desmarais might recommend acupuncture as a complementary treatment to traditional medications, she said, giving arthritis as an example. “With acupuncture, usually [the animal] is a lot more comfortable and you can lower their medications.”

Desmarais will see regular patients Monday through Friday and will take after-hours emergency calls until 10 p.m. most weekdays. “I’m actually excited about seeing patients during the day, but also being able to offer urgent care,” she said. Later this fall she will also offer evening appointments in order to accommodate a variety of pet owner schedules.

To learn more about Lone Peak Veterinary Hospital, visit lonepeakvethospital.com or call (406) 995-2266.