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Abbott Valley Veterinary Center owner Joyce Gifford knew at an early age there was only one career path for her.
It started when she read “All Creatures Great and Small,” the 1972 compilation of British veterinary surgeon and writer James Herriot’s first two novels.
“I fell in love with the whole notion of being a veterinarian and I really couldn’t be persuaded otherwise,” Gifford said. “It was a very clear plan. That’s not an uncommon thing for veterinarians.”
At the time she was a child growing up in Queens, N.Y., and back then her dream was centered on a simple love of animals.
She parlayed that love into securing student loans to be able to earn a bachelor of science degree in pre-veterinary medicine at Rutgers University in 1981, and to pursue a master’s in animal and nutritional sciences at the University of New Hampshire. She stopped short of completing her master’s thesis when her father fell ill, but quickly resumed her studies and earned her doctor of veterinary medicine from Tufts University in 1989.
After completing a 13-month internship in medicine and surgery at the Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, she spent a few years working part time in private practices while beginning a family.
While her sons were still toddlers, she decided to open her own practice.
Eighteen years later, she employs 16 doctors, technicians and staff at Abbott Valley Veterinary Center.
But it was far from easy.
Gifford said that in getting her business going, she encountered a lot of resistance from banks unwilling to lend what she needed. She found solace and help in the Rhode Island Small Business Administration, receiving a direct loan – and plenty of coaching advice – from them.
While in the midst of finalizing a construction loan for a building she hoped to purchase in order to expand her practice, Gifford was diagnosed with breast cancer. The project was almost stopped in its tracks.
She continued to work through her chemotherapy treatments while she and her family had to move into a hotel for four months because they had, around the same time, purchased a new house that needed renovations before they could move in.
She just celebrated 10 years of cancer remission.
The center also was hit hard by the economic downturn of 2008 and, like many other businesses and families, the Giffords still are recovering.
“We’re gradually climbing back up to where we were,” Gifford said.
Owning a small veterinary practice has allowed Gifford to really concentrate on customer care and attention to detail and to build a client base that has proven loyal.
Testimonials on her website indicate several clients have been going to Abbott Valley Veterinary Center since its doors first opened.
She recently taught Cumberland first responders how to perform CPR on animals. She will welcome her first intern from the New England Institute of Technology’s veterinary-technology program this month.
“When I give, I like to give locally. I feel that’s really important,” she said. “I don’t necessarily feel that women are under-represented in my profession. I give to our community because our community has supported me and my staff.” •