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Only vet in Northern Alberta town retiring after almost 50 years

Dr. Rob Ostrander has been treating animals in Boyle since opening his practice back in 1976.
20221006 Boyle Vet_HS_01_W
Dr. Rob Ostrander, or Dr. O, to those who know him, and wife Liz are closing their doors at the Boyle vet clinic Oct. 13. After 48 years helping critters large and small from his start in Edson to his final clinic in Boyle it’s time to retire.

BOYLE — It’s a hard blow to the rural community of Boyle as well as the many people who travelled from as far as away as Fort McMurray and Edmonton, but the only veterinarian in town is closing his doors. 

It’s not without some heartache and sleepless nights, knowing the community they love, the pets they’ve treated from newborn, as well as the many large livestock in need will be without nearby help, but it’s time, said Liz Ostrander, clinic manager and wife to Dr. Rob Ostrander. 

“I think the thing that I'm not looking forward to the most is the difficulty of knowing that people will still need, more than ever before, veterinary service,” said Liz in an Oct. 6 interview. “And yet, here we are right now, bowing out.” 

It’s been 48 years and six months since Rob graduated from veterinary school, most of which he spent working in the Boyle area, but for the young man from Picton, Ontario, he was a fixture in town every summer for five years as he went through vet school, working at Amisk Lake Estates, which was owned by his father. 

“I drove an old red truck and I guess the community figured out who I was and that I was a vet student,” he said. 

The elder Ostrander, Dean, was a pilot, moving from military to commercial, and while flying for Wardair Canada he frequently flew over Amisk Lake before buying the property. It was also Dean who introduced his son to Liz. 

“His father thought he was maybe too shy to get a date on his own, so he asked all the stewardesses if they’d go on a date with him,” recalled Liz, who was a head stewardess for Wardair at the time. “They all said no, and I think I was the last one he asked, and I thought, 'Why not, I like to go out.'” 

And while the first date went well, it was a while before she heard from Rob again, but when she did, it was the end of flying to exotic locales and the start of looking after exotic animals like cattle and dogs. 

Rob graduated from the Guelph, Ontario vet school in April 1974 and the two were married at the end of August then set off to Edson for his first job as a vet and Liz became the receptionist but Boyle never forgot the young man in the red truck and a group of farmers formed a cooperative to buy a building to entice him to come. 

“We were looking at Hanna, but it boiled down to Boyle,” said Liz, adding they opened the doors on Sept. 7, 1976. 

It was Eric “Alf” Stromberg who made sure the Ostranders had everything they needed at the clinic, building everything from gadgets to furniture for them. 

“He was a saint,” said Rob. “We wouldn’t have survived without him.” 

The couple was on a shoestring budget, eventually growing their family with four children, so it took a while to find success, but it was Stromberg who made a small plaque with a miniature Dutch wooden shoe and a leather string tied around it for luck and the words, “From a shoestring to a success” emblazoned on it. 

“We ran the clinic out of our home for the first eight years,” said Liz. 

Small animals, even swine, came to the house, larger animals were done on the farms and Rob travelled between Slave Lake and Boyle under a government program to offer veterinary services in remote locations. 

“We had the opportunity to buy the Thorhild clinic,” Liz said. “We spent 10 years in Thorhild, two days a week.” 

Then they expanded to Lac La Biche in 1995, so Rob was working in Thorhild, Boyle, and Lac La Biche, as well as any farm calls he had to make. Eventually they sold the other two clinics and as of 2007 were in Boyle full time. 

“There were different people that would drive for me so I could catch some winks,” he said. “A lot of the time you’re doing those calvings out in barns and at that time of year it’s cool, so you get out in the cool air, and it helps wake you up.” 

And over the years he’s expanded his skills by working on bison, alpacas, a fawn, a coyote, and even a snake. 

“This young man came in with a box with a snake in it,” Liz recalled. “He kind of chucked the box at me and asked if we could fix his snake’s eye.” 

However, it’s Betsy, a little Calico cat, who is living proof of his dedication to caring for creatures great and small, as she mews for attention from her kennel in the back of the clinic. 

“She was dropped off at the door in a box and I took one look and thought, ‘Dr. O is going to have to euthanize her,’” Liz said. 

The kitten had a badly broken jaw and other injuries, but the good doctor methodically helped her recover and after three surgeries there is no sign of her previous trauma. It’s something to be proud of but it’s also wistful, knowing there won’t be anyone to help the next kitten. 

“We advertised for eight years,” Liz said, adding several people kicked the tires, but no one wanted to take it over. 

What can be returned is being packed up and what can be sold to other clinics, like x-ray machines, is sold and the doors will be locked for the last time Oct. 13. 

“It’s just a chapter in our life that we need to close,” she said. “But we’re looking forward to other things. I'd like to volunteer, get involved and see more of our grandchildren.” 

Clients who need their animals' files sent to another vet can call 780-213-9213 or e-mail [email protected]

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