Nikki Schweizer loved a children’s book when she was a little girl. It was a German story with a character who was a veterinarian, riding around in an open Jeep helping horses and other animals in need.
“I wanted to be just like him,” Schweizer remembered.
After graduating from Hickory High School in 2005, she double majored at N.C. State University in animal science and German.
“My family’s German, so that’s where the heritage ties come in,” she said.
Last month, with a degree from N.C. State’s College of Veterinary Medicine in food animal medicine, she embarked on a path not dissimilar to that of the storybook veterinarian she remembered from her childhood – except Schweizer now rides around Catawba and surrounding counties in a Chevrolet Tahoe instead of a Jeep.
“I really liked academia, I liked teaching, and I loved Raleigh. But coming home was really important to me as well. I know that’s a tough thing – for Hickory to get young people back – but I had the opportunity to come back and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to try it on my own. I’m going to help the people that raised me.’”
Thus, Henry River Mobile Veterinary Services was born.
Schweizer’s usual workday is unlike that of veterinarians who run clinics similar to doctors’ offices for animals. She cruises around Catawba and surrounding counties, fielding scheduled and emergency appointments, opening the back gate of her Tahoe when she arrives at a farm to reveal a metal cabinet with compartments for needles, syringes, drugs and bandages. She does some surgeries right on the farms.
She is a 24/7, one-woman show, except on the days her dog, Cooper, rides along with her. “He’s my truck dog,” she said.
Many of the people who are Schweizer’s clients train and board horses at Foothills Equestrian Center in Taylorsville. That’s where she started horse riding, and one of the places that fostered her love of animals. “I’ve ridden horses since I was 8. I really like working with the animals and being able to help the people – that’s one of those things you don’t realize, that it’s going to be more about the people than the animals when you go into veterinary medicine,” she said.
Her work is generally with large animals including horses. She especially enjoys caring for ruminants–mammals with four compartments to their stomachs–such as cows, sheep and goats, that are part of the food animal industry.
Although she maintains the strong interest in horses she had as a child, her studies have broadened her interests to a variety of animals. “There’s so many more species of animals I’m interested in, I don’t really want to focus on one,” she said. She admits her job isn’t easy, but it’s what she said she’s always known she wanted to do.
“Everyone wants to paint this rosy picture that you get to play with puppies and kittens all day. You don’t. I wish you did. It’s a lot of debt, it’s a lot of school, it’s a lot of time, and it’s a lot of sacrifice. But I couldn’t see myself doing anything different.”
–By ALEX FRICK Reprinted with permission from the Hickory Record.