Pioneer veterinarian Bettye Hooley retires and closes Morningstar Veterinary

Bettye Hooley performs a physical exam on Catman, the clinic cat at Morningstar Veterinary Clinic.

When Bettye Hooley returned to Montrose as a doctor of veterinary medicine, she had difficulty finding work, because she wanted to focus on small animals, and there were few options for female veterinarians — but she persevered, becoming the first woman in the field on the Western Slope.

Within a year of her 1975 return, she had opened her own clinic, Morningstar Veterinary Clinic. The practice served clients through the end of June, when Hooley retired after more than four decades.

“It was a tough decision to make, but definitely time,” Hooley said July 1. “Morningstar has been there for 44 years.”

The clinic, which operated on a holistic treatment model, has closed.

“It was not an easy decision to come to,” she said, telling of an “emotional rollercoaster.”

Her hope had been to announce her retirement at a block party, at which she also planned to introduce her replacement. That practitioner, however, moved to the Front Range and another vet wanting to take over Morningstar could not be found.

“Everyone hoped we would find another holistic veterinarian to come in and take over the practice, but it just didn’t happen,” said Hooley.

Hooley, a Montrose native and Montrose High School graduate, knew from an early age she wanted to be a veterinarian.

“We always had animals. I was always interested in medicine, so I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian by the time I was in junior high,” she said.

Hooley attended college at Colorado State University, one of two women in her class, but said that was just happenstance.

“There were more women before or after us. There were people coming back from Vietnam. We had an older class. It was just unusual that there were only two of us females in the class. For the most part, my classmates were really supportive,” she said.

“If there was prejudice, I just ignored it or didn’t see it. The worst part was not having a women’s locker room at the time.”

Hooley graduated in 1974 and began working in Connecticut. But her mother died, and her younger brother was still in high school, so Hooley came home.

“It seemed like it was better to be home. I moved back and struggled to find anybody that would hire me,” she said.

Hooley explained she wanted to focus exclusively on small animals, as opposed to working in a mixed practice that treated both small and large animals.

She opened Morningstar in 1976.

“I had to start my own place, because nowhere on the Western Slope were they hiring women,” she said.

“I was the first woman in veterinary medicine on the Western Slope. Again, I have to say that I never felt any overt discrimination.

“I think the biggest thing was, when I was first in practice, people would call me Mrs. Hooley, because they couldn’t envision calling me Dr. Hooley. Doctors were men. But I never felt there was any handicap at all to being a woman.”

Hooley said she even saw an advantage to it, because animals tended not to be as fearful of female voices.

“It was never an issue for me, except as a positive,” she said.

Although Morningstar became known for its holistic approach to veterinary medicine, it began as a conventional practice. After about two decades, Hooley said she became a little frustrated with that modality.

“It seemed like there had to be better ways to handle things,” she said.

“Holistic” is a catch-all description for several modalities, from acupuncture, to chiropractic, to herbal. Hooley didn’t necessarily use all modalities that fall under the wholistic umbrella.

“But it is an approach to ‘let’s try to make a healthy (animal) from the ground up,’” she said.

Underpinning it is the relationship between the animals and their humans, she also said.

“It was an interesting transition. It was slow to progress, but I think a lot of people in the area were looking for more holistic approaches to life in general. I found a lot of people who wanted something different,” Hooley said.

Her career was rewarding, she also said.

“It’s kind of a given to say you love animals. That’s kind of a baseline. I love being able to visit with my patients, but I think the most rewarding thing has been developing a relationship with my clients,” Hooley said.

Some of them have been with Morningstar for almost as long as it was open.

“They become so much more than clients. They’re really friends and family. I really like working as a team toward their animals’ health,” Hooley said.

But decades of physically, mentally and emotionally hard work have taken her to the point where she must retire.

“There just comes a point. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I love what I do, but I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Hooley said, adding her mother died at 52 and her father, at age 72.

“I thought, I need to play. I worked hard for many years,” she said.

Traveling, camping, getting back into shape — even just having a slow and relaxing start to the day — are on the agenda. Hooley and her husband, Pat, will be doing some of the relaxing with longtime Morningstar ambassador, a domestic longhair named Catman, who is coming home with her to live out his days.

Hooley offered advice to others pursuing veterinary medicine careers.

“It’s all about the relationship, the relationship with the animals and the owners and being able to communicate, and speaking from the heart instead of being stuck in our minds, being open to what the animals and owners are really saying,” she said.

“There’s a lot of Sherlock Holmes in a good practitioner. You have to take a clue and follow it down a rabbit hole. But the biggest thing is having an open heart and trusting that you’re working toward the same goal.”

Hooley is wrapping up closure activities, including digitizing patient records. Clients who need their records should contact info@morningstarvet.com.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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