By Misty Volaski
At the age of 8, Ojai veterinarian Steve Sallen found his life’s calling through tragedy. The family kitten fell ill and died of feline distemper. “I felt really helpless about that loss,” recalls Sallen. Their vet was a family friend who Sallen got to know well over the years with his family’s menagerie of pets — dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, even a raccoon.
He eventually attended Colorado State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree, going on to earn high honors and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine at CSU. Sallen worked in Colorado for a few years before venturing West with a fellow vet in 1979 to set up a practice in California and work for the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
By 1986, Sallen had founded his Rosemont Pet Hospital in La Crescenta, where he specialized in small animal care. He has been accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association for 20 years.
He and his family — his realtor wife, Donna, and sons Loren and Dustin — have lived in the valley since 1999, but Sallen had been commuting to La Crescenta ever since then. The practice grew, and even began attracting interest from Ojai-himarea residents, who would call Sallen at all hours of the day for help. “I picked up a number of animals in this area, transported them to (Rosemont) and brought them back,” he said.
More and more, Sallen thought about moving his business closer to home. “After traveling the three-hour round-trip for years, I finally decided to open locally,” said Sallen. “Donna’s been having me consider it for 12 years, but I’ve been considering it seriously for about the last three years.”
So Steve and Donna began looking for locations, finally deciding on one across from Cluff Vista Park, on West Ojai Avenue. “We tore the place apart, rebuilt walls, refortified it,” he said. “There’s a great parking lot, too.” Tomorrow, Sallen will celebrate the grand opening of his Ojai practice, the Ojai Village Veterinary Hospital. OVVH had a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
At his new facility, Sallen offers many services, and specializes in dentistry, skin conditions, senior pet care, and cardiology for dogs and cats. He has high-tech equipment, which allows him to better diagnose and treat his patients.
“We have a digital x-ray machine that allows us to get an image in 10 seconds, and emits less radiation,” Sallen said. “If the patient is under anesthesia, you don’t have to wait eight minutes. And, you can send it over the internet to other specialists.”
The facility also features a cutting-edge intensive care unit that delivers oxygen to the patient, and keeps the temperature and humidity controlled, among other key features. “It’s a full life-support ICU,” Sallen says. He also offers safer spay and neuter techniques, and has an in-house lab capable of producing complete lab results and chemistries in less than 10 minutes.
Dentistry, he says, is an often overlooked aspect of pet care. Many owners will take their animals to a groomer to get primped, which often includes a scraping of the teeth “To make them look pretty. But doesn’t save the teeth,” he explains. Sallen does deep cleaning under the gum, polishes, and keeps the focus on the “preservation of the teeth.”
Skin conditions are very common in both cats and dogs, and can often have to do with food, flea or pollen allergies, Sallen said. Anyone who has had a dog who scratches a lot has seen the level of discomfort it brings their pet. Luckily, Sallen said, there are many treatments to help. “Food allergies often manifest as chronic ear infections, red face, chewing paws or rear ends,” he says. “But the most common thing I see is flea allergies. I’ve seen more fleas since I’ve opened (in Ojai) than I had seen the whole rest of the year. Year-round flea control is important and we have oral and topical treatments.”
But some health problems aren’t quite so obvious, Sallen says. Chronic coughing might seem like no big deal, but it can be a symptom of heart disease — that’s why Sallen chose to specialize in cardiology.
His No. 1 tip for keeping pets healthy? “Honestly, yearly checkups, every year, are the most important thing,” he says. “Especially after 7 years old — that’s like a person in their 40s. They need to start getting routine bloodwork and checkups.”
This Saturday’s grand opening party will run from 1 to 4 p.m. at the office, 311 W. Ojai Ave., and will feature a tour of the facility, demonstrations of state-of-the art equipment (on stuffed animals), and an iPad raffle, with proceeds going to the Humane Society of Ventura County, located in Ojai.