Dr. Rick Herbert is a man on a mission.
When his new veterinary practice opens in Crozier next week, his clients will see some diagnostic equipment not usually found outside of large urban centres.
But it is what they won’t see that could be just as impressive—paper.
“I had the first paperless [veterinary] practice in North America,” Dr. Herbert said last week at his clinic, which is in the midst of extensive renovations in preparation for its official opening on Tuesday.
“Everything here is computerized. It’s so state-of-the-art, some of the stuff was just released two weeks ago,” he enthused.
But it wasn’t always that way. Dr. Herbert’s journey to Borderland took a long, circuitous route over many years.
Now 45, he was born in Ottawa and grew up in Montreal, where he studied at McGill University.
After completing his degree in microbiology, Dr. Herbert embarked on a research project in molecular biology and Alzheimer research with the intention of completing his doctorate in one of those fields, but abandoned that after five years.
Instead, he enrolled at the University of Guelph’s School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated in 1992. He then moved to Hearst and set up a practice there.
So why would a city boy want to live and work in the remote areas of Northern Ontario?
“I decided to go where I was needed,” he explained. “There’s no real challenge being a vet in Toronto.”
An avid angler, Dr. Herbert found the northern lifestyle much to his liking and found himself quite comfortable dealing with the locals. He also is a musician with a penchant for Gospel music, and was at one time a worship leader at his church.
He says it’s the human element that makes his career so satisfying. “Veterinary stuff is really about people, not just animals,” he stressed.
And that is what brought him here. Dr. Herbert said his real goal is not just to provide good veterinary care for the district’s animals, but to establish a comprehensive veterinary infrastructure to serve the entire district’s needs.
Although he will handle the usual assortment of family pets and livestock, his real focus is on First Nations and their unique needs.
“One of the things I want to do is service the First Nations on a drive-to basis,” he remarked, noting that was one of the reasons he chose to set up shop outside of Fort Frances.
Dr. Herbert said First Nations face two animal-related issues he considers significant—wild game and dogs.
“On any given day, somebody gets bitten by a dog [on First Nations],” he stressed.
The other issue with respect to First Nations involves traditional foods that may, in some cases, be unsafe. Dr. Herbert said traditional harvesting practices can result in tainted meat, which may not be apparent to the untrained eye.
As a veterinarian, he is qualified under USDA regulations as a meat inspector in Minnesota. To receive the same status under CFIA regulations only would require him to take a two-week course.
But Dr. Herbert is looking beyond merely safeguarding the health of First Nations residents. He sees a potential international market for the animals they harvest, which he says is an untapped resource.
“They [First Nations] want safe food and right to market it,” he remarked.
“Wild venison is worth up to $10/pound on the Asian market,” he added, noting the meat must have a wild game stamp and be certified by a licensed inspector.
He also noted there is nothing in the current laws, including the Indian Act, to prevent First Nations from selling what they harvest and he sees this as a way to address economic conditions currently existing in some places.
“They have the right to market their meat and I want to help.”
But moving here and putting down roots often has proven to be an obstacle for other professionals. Most households require two incomes to make ends meet and since Dr. Herbert has three children, that was a matter of concern for him.
Fortunately, that turned out not to be a problem.
Like him, his wife, Eva Vizi, has an impressive educational background. The daughter of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, she is fluent in three languages and has an extensive background in science, music, and art.
Qualified to teach French, music, art, and all the sciences, Vizi currently is teaching at St. Michael’s School here.
She shares her husband’s love of music and, according to him, is an accomplished singer.
Dr. Herbert will be open for business in the little mall beside Apple Auto Glass on Highway 11/71 just west of town starting next Tuesday (May 24).
But he said he doesn’t intend to stop there. In fact, he already is looking to a future here in Rainy River District.
“In the long-term, I see a regional vet facility to take care of the district’s needs,” he predicted.
(Fort Frances Times)
Dr. Rick Herbert is a man on a mission.