With a few very notable exceptions, it was business-as-usual Tuesday morning at Button Veterinary Hospital in Tacoma’s Nalley Valley.
Clients arrived with their four-legged friends, and many were met by a staff who knew them by name. Patients — from a pair of puppies to a black-and-white cat that probably weighed more than both of the dogs combined — were quickly checked in, with the familiarity and compassion you’d expect from a small-town pediatrician’s office.
The only difference was where all of this occurred.
Wearing masks and maintaining sometimes awkward social separation, Button vet techs made their way to the parking lot for these greetings. Then they ushered the pets inside and into exam rooms while their owners waited — sometimes anxiously — in the car.
It served as both a sign of the times and a reminder of the unprecedented challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Curbside drop-off is just one of the steps Button Veterinary Hospital is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Until the pandemic subsides, it will be a new reality at the clinic, a place where so many other things have intentionally stayed the same for a century.
Opened in 1920 by brothers Reuben and Otis Button, the stability and longevity are matters of pride at Button.
As of this week, a fresh banner hangs above the clinic’s front door, celebrating 100 years in operation.
“It’s a very long time,” said Barb Schuss, the clinic’s lead receptionist.
It certainly is.
“We were one of the first vets in the city of Tacoma. For these clients and patients, we’re home,” added Schuss, who has worked at Button Veterinary Clinic for 29 years.
There’s truth to Schuss’ assessment.
For nearly as long as there have been working vets in Tacoma, there has been Button.
Through the Button brothers and several subsequent private owners — including the tenure of Dr. Bernard Pinckney and Dr. Charles Peckenpaugh (who might have been the two most appropriately named veterinarians of all time) — over the years the clinic has become an institution.
As evidence, a list compiled by the American Medical Veterinary Medical History Society lists Button as one of the oldest active veterinary clinics in the country. To this day, the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine still offers a scholarship in Reuben Button’s name.
More colorful, The News Tribune archives help to catalog some of the clinic’s most memorable moments.
In 1946, for example, Button Veterinary Hospital treated the shotgun wounds of Jocko “the escaped monkey of Oakland,” who was apparently in town to perform.
Jocko clung to life after “being shot with small birdshot, it was explained at the carnival, to prevent it from harming small children of the neighborhood,” the paper reported.
According to Danielle Jensen, who first started working as a vet at the clinic 14 years ago and purchased sole ownership of it in 2017, the connection Button has with its clients and their pets today is the clinic’s most lasting legacy.
There’s a reason the Button name has stuck even as veterinarians have come and gone, she explained.
Jensen said the clinic has served some Tacoma-area families for four generations, describing this longevity as “almost unheard of.”
“Through the years we’ve gained the trust of our clients,” Jensen said. “I think it’s a very special place.”
Amid a changing landscape in veterinary medicine, Jensen said, Button’s quest for stability is intentional.
It can also appear as a contrast in a city that seems to be painfully transforming around us every day, including the closure of local icons like Lincoln Hardware and The Swiss.
While an increasing number of veterinary offices now have corporate owners, Jensen said Button Veterinary Hospital remains a private practice because of the freedom and individual care it allows.
One day, when she’s ready to hang it up, Jensen hopes to sell the business to a new veterinarian intent on keeping it that way.
Jensen noted that every relationship a vet forges with a pet and its owner is unique, and the emotional investment is significant.
It’s the hardest part of the job and part of what keeps her going.
For some people, a dog or cat is all they have, Jensen knows.
“Unless you’re in the field you don’t fully understand how much emotion goes into this profession,” Jensen said. “As a staff, we put our blood, sweat and tears into veterinary care.
“This place is built on trust. We hope to be around another 100 years.”
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