Sunday Profile: Beloved Rifle vet Zane Carter retires
Much has changed in Rifle and western Garfield County in the past 35 years. Roads that were once dirt are now paved and once-open fields are filled with homes.
But throughout that time, area pet owners felt a sense of comfort in knowing if their animal friend became sick or injured, Dr. Zane Carter was there to take care of them.
Carter, who moved to Rifle in April 1981 because of its central location to renowned outdoor recreation, has closed his clinic, Antlers Veterinary Hospital — opening new doors in life as a retiree.
In retirement, Carter and his wife, Sarah, are looking forward to indulging in the activities that brought them to the area in the first place: backpacking, fishing, camping, hunting and exploring the outdoors.
The decision, he said in an interview last week, was based on their love of the outdoors and their ability to physically enjoy those activities.
“That’s the reason we’re wanting to go out, to do this now, because we are both physically able to do it,” Carter said. “We feel good and want to do things while we still can.”
Although understanding, the decision was difficult for clients, such as John Wheeler, to hear.
“I just hate to see them go, but at the same time he’s worked hard, he deserves his retirement and I hope they just enjoy themselves and the outdoors … I wish them a happy retirement,” said Wheeler, a Rifle resident and client for at least the past 15 years.
Beverly Anderson, a Silt resident who says she has been a client from the beginning, said the compassion that the man she calls “Doc” displays kept her coming back for many years.
“He has a genuine love for animals and in my family we love our animals just like a member of the family,” she said. “And every time one would get sick we all be totally upset and Doc would just care for them so tenderly. He and Sarah both have a true concern for the pets he treats.”
Carter and his wife concede it will be somewhat of an adjustment.
“Both of us have worked our whole life … we have never been unemployed, so that’s going to be an adjustment,” he said.
But on to that point, there have been plenty of adjustments during his long career. Like most things, computers and technology play an increasingly important role in operating the business — which itself is somewhat of a rarity.
As the couple explained, the “mom-and-pop” style that made the practice so popular with local pet owners has disappeared over the years.
“Even the office work is different because the mom and pop way of doing things is outdated, it’s history,” Carter said.
The “mom-and-pop” style is part of the reason why local pet owners came back time and time again to the Carters.
“I mean it wasn’t the fact that he’s just a vet running a business. He’s a pretty special person and he really cared about what he was doing and really took care of the animals,” Wheeler said.
That caring nature has roots in Carter’s childhood, which was spent on a ranch outside of Simla, Colorado. When he was 5, his parents took him to a neighboring ranch, where a horse had been bitten in the nose by a rattlesnake, which Carter called “the most terrible looking thing you ever saw.”
From there, he was 100 percent certain about what he wanted to do in life.
“And that’s when I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian, and I stuck to it,” he said. “I never changed.”
After graduating from veterinary school at Colorado State University, Carter went to work in Franktown on the Front Range.
For a young man who grew up in rural Colorado, living in the city did not appeal to him.
“I was there in the Front Range with the congestion and the traffic and every spare minute I had was spent coming over here into the mountains and it just got to be ridiculous,” he said. “So it was time to try and get closer to what I wanted.”
He picked Rifle because of its central location to popular recreation areas such at the Flat Tops, Grand Mesa, Lake Powell and the various canyons.
“Everything I wanted to do was right here, so I moved over here and started my own practice and it took off,” he said.
Interestingly enough, Sarah, who went to CSU the same time her future husband did and worked as a surveyor in an area outside of Fort Collins where Carter would fish, also was growing tired of life on the Front Range.
“The traffic and congestion over there was not good for me,” she said, “and so it got to the point where … it was more important to be in this sort of environment rather than an urban environment. I’m not really a city girl.”
Despite not knowing each other — although Zane believes they likely crossed paths at some point — both ended up in Rifle.
The two did not meet until Sarah needed a vet for her two boxers, a breed of dog she has had throughout her life. Then one night, Zane was responding to an emergency and needed somebody to help who would not pass out as he performed surgery. He recalled Sarah worked on an ambulance and he asked her to assist him.
Sometime after then, one of the employees at the practice got hurt and Zane asked if she would come “pinch hit.” It was the start of a strong relationship.
“I found somebody that not only had the love of animals that I had but the love of nature and the preservation of our environment,” he said.
Through hiking, skiing, backpacking and enjoying the outdoors together, the two became best friends in the early ‘80s. They soon married, and, as Zane said, “have been side by side every since both at work and in adventure.”
Through the years, the couple has traveled across the country and abroad, work permitting. That became easier after 1985, when Carter decided to stop doing emergency on call work, which Sarah said could mean responding to a call at a ranch in the evening, then performing emergency surgery in the early morning hours and still showing up at the practice for regular appointments.
“I knew that if I continued the 24-hour on call (work) … that I would not be able to last decades in the profession. I just couldn’t do it,” Carter said.
Through the years, the area has changed and become more urbanized. Still, the couple not only remained the go-to animal care center for their clients, but also their clients children.
“We have had some that have been with us the whole 35 years, and not only that we’ve been through generations (of) people … because clients I started off with in the ‘80s came in with their kids and their kids grew up and now their grandkids are coming in,” Zane said.
Said Sarah, “We’ve had generations; that’s what makes it really hard to say goodbye.”
For some of those clients, it’s equally hard to say goodbye.
“I do appreciate them and I’m going to miss them so much and I’m hoping they will return to this community,” Anderson said. “If they’re moving, it will leave an empty spot for so many families especially the Anderson family.”
While the couple plans on heading to the Pacific Coast for a month, they do not plan to leave the area. After that month, they’ll return to hunt and fish and cross-country ski.
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