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Vally veterinarians come full circle, clinic changes hands

Posted: Saturday, Oct 13th, 2012

Long-time San Luis Valley veterinarian Dr. Robert Steffens, right, shown with his recently rescued dog pound adoptee Harvey, center, gives the reins of his business over to Dr. Tyler Ratzlaff of Alpine Veterinary Clinic on Friday.

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — When young veterinarian Dr. Tyler Ratzlaff asked Dr. Robert Steffens if he had any job openings 27 years ago, Dr. Steffens joked, “you buy it, and I will work for you.”

On Friday, Dr. Ratzlaff and associates at Alpine Veterinary Clinic bought Dr. Steffens’ Valley Veterinary Clinic — but Dr. Steffens will not be working for them. After 43 years of service to the San Luis Valley’s animals and their owners, Dr. Steffens is retiring.

On September 1, 1969, Dr. Steffens came to the Valley, or more appropriately returned home. He had grown up on a ranch and farm in the Sargent area and after graduating from CSU had gone to Texas to work, but he wanted to come back to the San Luis Valley.

“This was home. I grew up here,” Steffens said.

Like Ratzlaff would later approach him for a job, Steffens talked to Dr. Leary, the veterinarian who owned the practice Steffens would soon operate. Dr. Leary wanted to retire, and Dr. Steffens was ready to enter the business. After a summer helping his uncle run cattle in the mountains (he said “you are the most educated cowboy I have ever had”), Dr. Steffens began his veterinary practice. He was also offered a teaching job at CSU, but he had already committed to the Valley Veterinary practice by then.

Dr. Steffens has been serving the Valley ever since. During most of his more than four decades in business he has been alone, always on call.

“It was seven days a week,” he recalled. “We had a routine. Every Sunday morning we would get up, come in to breakfast, come out here and see the patients and do treatments.”

His wife Karen, who served as bookkeeper and accountant, also held down a full-time job as a special education teacher for years. She has most recently been teaching at Adams State.

With the new luxury of time on his hands, Dr. Steffens hopes to enjoy activities such as fishing and traveling. He has also been involved in showing horses but because of back surgery will not be able to continue that treasured hobby.

“The people of this town are just awesome,” Steffens said, “and they have been so good to me over the years. It’s just been a hoot, it really has, and to have Tyler take it over just makes me feel good.”

Dr. Steffens was the inspiration for Tyler Ratzlaff to enter veterinary medicine, so the circle is complete with the transition of the business from one to the other. Dr. Ratzlaff recalled when Dr. Steffens castrated a horse for his father, and he said at the time, “that’s the job I want.”

“From that day on I wanted to be a veterinarian,” Dr. Ratzlaff said.

Tyler Ratzlaff grew up at the armory when it was located between Alamosa and Monte Vista where The Feed Store church is now housed. He set up veterinary practice nearly 28 years ago, in January.

He and his associates at Alpine Veterinary Clinic began talking with Dr. Steffens about purchasing Valley Vet in June.

“We were looking to expand and thought the way to do it was a different location this time. I called Bob, and it worked beautifully because he said ‘I just started looking to try to sell this’,” Ratzlaff said. “It was meant to be. The good Lord was looking after both of us. Then from there it just came along.”

“I highly, highly recommend all my clients to Dr. Ratzlaff,” Steffens said.

The sale of the business was final on Friday. Dr. Ratzlaff said the Valley Veterinary staff will remain under the new ownership, and the Alpine Veterinary doctors will rotate through the Alamosa clinic, with the primary veterinarian on site being Dr. Carla Enderle. In addition to Doctors Ratzlaff and Enderle, Alpine vets are Dr. Curtis Crawford and Dr. Virginia Stout. Other veterinarians may be joining the practice in the future.

“My staff were excited to stay on,” Steffens said, and Ratzlaff added, “and we wanted the continuity.

“It’s working well for everybody concerned.”

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