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Meet Dr. Cherise Neu

Every time I call on Dr. Cherise Neu to care for one of my pets, I’m inspired. Over the past several years, those situations have not all ended happily, but I’m still inspired.

When a professional, also a former student, sits down after a long day (part of which involves euthanizing your beloved horse after making every effort possible to save him) and composes for you a two-page heartfelt, hand-written note, that’s inspiring.

Because of my great admiration for her, I’ve wanted to write a column about Cherise for some time. Our yellow Labrador, Annie Dog, recently helped put that plan into action. Annie had some ear problems, so I took her to Cherise’s home, where she has turned an old barn into a veterinary clinic.

After treating Annie, she showed me some rescue horses that she had hauled to her facility to nurse back from starvation. She was proud of how much weight they’d gained in a short time. Cherise is instrumental in Bonner County’s horse rescue program. When neglected animals come to her home, she provides veterinary care and feed, purchased by the county.

Throughout her travels in Idaho’s Panhandle and western Montana, Cherise sees the good, the bad, and the ugly of animal care. She happily provided me some insights into her day-to-day activities and her personal philosophy toward the responsibility of owning and caring for “all creatures, great and small.”

Full name and age: Cherise Michele Neu, 35.

Immediate Family: Eron Singleton (local fella, high-school sweethearts); son, Cooper (5); daughter, Elsa (1), yes, named after my grandmother, Elsa Wormington.

Graduate and Postgraduate Education: Associate of Science, North Idaho College 1994, Bachelor of Animal Science, University of Idaho 1998, Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine, Ross University 2002 (senior clinical year completed as part of a transfer to Washington State University).

Inspirations and/or mentors in your profession? Inspirations: My mother Colleen and my grandmother Elsa (nurses). Mentors: Drs. Dawn Mehra, Rob Pierce, Brian Dockins, Marie Meshke, Jenni Grimmet and Bob Stoll.

Interests/hobbies: Horses, kids, family time, reading, scrap-booking, moving green panels and making horse pens (inside joke), snowboarding and skiing, travel.

What life experiences inspired you to choose veterinary medicine? Becoming a veterinarian didn’t actually cross my mind as a serious thought until I was at NIC. I initially thought I wanted to work in human medicine, maybe an anesthesiologist, due to the RN influence from my mother and grandmother. One day, I was in college, but home for the weekend, and leaning up on a fence watching Dr. Bob Stoll work on a horse. I think it was at that moment that a light came on, “Hey, I could do that!” Right then, all my years of farm living and animal loving made so much sense.

How long and where have you practiced professionally? I graduated in 2002 and began my career at North Idaho Animal Hospital here in Sandpoint, Idaho. Dr. Rob Pierce had recently quit his large animal practice to focus on small animals. Part of our agreement was that he would mentor me in large animal work as well. So, I set out doing ranch calls through their clinic.

However, I saw some of the reasons he was no longer practicing large animal medicine, and eventually my large animal work was phased out. I worked up until the due date of my first child, and then took three months off.

When I was ready to work again... with an infant at home, I decided that if I wanted to control my own schedule, I’d have to work for myself. So, in 2004 I pulled together some old tools and started from there. I’ve also done some relief work at small animal practices to keep up my small animal medicine and surgery skills as well as to supplement my income when work is slow in the horse world during winter months. Those clinics include Pend Oreille Veterinary Clinic in Oldtown, North Idaho Animal Hospital, Pend Oreille Veterinary Service in Ponderay and Prairie Veterinary Clinic in Hayden Lake.

Describe your general practice/ specialties: As each year passes, I consider myself more and more an ‘equine vet.’ I still enjoy working on all species but focus my yearly continuing education and reading on horse care. Although I will not let my other medical and surgical skills for all of the other species slip, I eventually want to become someone a younger horse vet would call for advice. I love to suture up a good, clean fresh laceration (on any species, including relatives!) Oh yes, my general practice is to serve as a mobile, large-animal veterinarian with the ability to also provide basic small-animal care and a haul-in/hospitalization location if needed (for horses).

Describe your facilities. My truck carries 90 percent of what I need, but I have a portion of our beautiful old barn converted into a clinic. I have a great office area, indoor stocks and hospitalization stalls for horses. Only about 10 percent of my cases haul to me or are hospitalized; the remaining cases are seen as ranch calls.

What support do you receive with your practice?  Kate Siemers Neu (sister-in-law) is my right-hand woman. She’s a fabulous tech, working on her equine tech certification through the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She also does my billing and accounting. Kate is much smarter than I am.

My mom also techs with me occasionally but likes to pick and choose her cases. When I have a really complicated field procedure/surgery to do, I occasionally have them both. Mom’s RN skills and horse handling are super.

Describe your work ethic. I love my work but try not to let it consume me. I have two little children who need me very badly right now. They won’t need that forever. I started out in this field working very long hours and covering many emergencies, but it was too much. Life is too short to be eaten up by work, even if it is the best job in the world (it is still a job).

I have a hard time turning people down, and actually rarely do. Sometimes I have to use others as a buffer (for example, have Kate answer the phone) to protect my time with my kids and family. But I am attached at the hip to my two cell phones (one primary and one for emergencies only). My clients, and especially established clients, can always count on me, rain or shine, night or day, almost every day of the year, to be there when there is trouble. Once in awhile, though, you let someone down (Maybe I was in Coeur d’Alene at Costco buying diapers, etc.), and they never forgive or forget it. I can’t please every single person...

What’s been most satisfying about your chosen profession? I love my job. It makes me happy to think about what I do. I get to become friends with people and connect. I see animals get better and feel good. I think I am making a positive impact on the world.

What’s most frustrating? Angry, cold, ignorant, cheap, mean, dark-hearted people who don’t want to be better. Just like any other place or job in the world, negative people can make our jobs and lives harder sometimes. I try to avoid them.

Besides your general practice, describe your supplemental activities associated with animals here in the county. At this present time I’m the only facility that will take in seized, abandoned, starving horses for Bonner County. Depending on their health issues, I care for them and get them settled and then often find them foster homes for longer term care (sometimes legal issues with these horses and their owners can go on for many months). In general, I am also a sucker for sad animals and often have more than one here to take care of.

Explain what horse rescue involves—why, when, who’s involved, what procedures are followed?  First, the police decide if a vet and the Dept. of Agriculture need to be called; if these parties agree there is abuse, neglect, or risk to the animals’ lives, the animals are seized. They are cared for as the county’s property until legal matters are solved (often many months). During the impoundment period, they’re placed on individual care plans, recommended by a vet, and their well being is monitored regularly. If the owners lose the legal battle and the animals become property of the county, they are auctioned off or given away.

Discuss some experiences you’ve had so far with horse rescues. Describe the worst case you’ve ever seen.  The worst case I have ever seen was a couple of years ago in Clagstone.  This situation was reported in the papers. The owner lost the legal case.

It’s a long story and doesn’t end with the first seizing and legal battle. I was called out by the police on the original visit to find a dead foal, maybe four months old, frozen into the muck, lying partly out of a pen. The dogs were hungry too and were eating on the part of the foal that wasn’t in with the other horses.

Three other horses were inside the pen, maybe 15 by 20 feet or so. Another was dead and deeply imbedded into the frozen, pitted mud. The other horses had obviously had to walk on the dead horse, as the pen was not very big. The pen was below the dark shed roof of an old barn, and the roof was low. There was a metal trough outside of the pen that held frozen, moldy bread and was covered by a mattress. The horses had occasionally been fed bread.

There were two live horses in the pen, an older paint mare and a young bay. The young horse had facial deformities from trying to grow while in a state of starvation. A couple of other horses outside were able to eat the trees, so they didn’t look quite as close to death as the horses inside. It was cold and sad. There were children’s toys outside on the ground around the shack of a home.

What really strikes me about these types of people is that they never say they are sorry. They argue that we are wrong, insisting it wasn’t their fault, and they blame someone else. It must be some sort of mental disease.

Oh, but the neatest thing is to see a starving rack of bones with dull, sunken eyes become a horse again. I can make near death look like a loved pet in one to two months (sometimes it takes three if the have more complications). They begin to nicker again. They can walk... and then even run. Their eyes glow and look peaceful and truly happy. It is the look and feel of sweet success!

What happens to the people who are cited for neglecting their horses?  Do they just lose them?  Can they get them back at any time; if so, what are the criteria? If the case isn’t too severe, they are often just warned at first (sometimes multiple times). It is much more uncommon to just seize animals without the owner knowing they are being monitored.

In Idaho, there are very few people who are punished adequately for animal abuse (actually it is the same in many states). But even if horses are seized, the owner can fight to keep them. However, this takes money, and if they had money in the first place, then they likely wouldn’t have starved them.

So far, all the cases I have been involved in have been when the people fight to get them back. They are also fighting because they don’t want to be found as guilty, so I suppose they need to cling to their ‘innocence.’ If they are found not guilty (which I haven’t seen so far), they can get the animals back.

What I have seen is that they are guilty but have some sort of a plea agreement and get the animals back, especially if they pay for their care while they were impounded with the county (sometimes thousands of dollars if it is multiple horses for longer periods of time).

As we go into the challenging winter months and face the weak economy, what are your biggest fears for horses? Death by starvation down the back roads of Anywhere, USA.

What’s your general advice for animal owners who may be feeling the financial pinch when trying to care for their animals?  Are there outlets of help? People like to have horses, and one can lead to six, etc., which is too many for a lot of people. A person should own a horse only if they can afford to FLUSH $1,500-$3,000 down the toilet per year per horse. I want people to be responsible for the life they are caring for by making sure they have the money each year to invest into their horses’ needs, i.e., property, shelter, feed, water, vet and farrier care, emergencies, etc.

Then again, look at people and babies. Some in our society don’t seem to care if they are married, have a job, or have financial security when they bring children into the world, so why would they have any concerns for financial security if they want a horse!

Horses are a luxury pet in the United States. I know this sounds cruel, but they aren’t cheap to own. The unwanted horse problem in the United States has made them cheap to acquire. Also, while I am on my soapbox, I blame some people who breed horses for our issues. I see the worst horses bred for the most lame reasons. So, my advice to horse people who are very concerned about taking care or and feeding their horses is to own fewer horses or no horses and never, ever breed them.

Now, what to do with the unwanted horse? Sell, give away/advertise for free and screen the homes, cat sanctuary, euthanasia, horse rescue, “pay for training then sell,” etc. Horse rescues are really the only sources of help, but calls to their vet can always help because we can discuss all options and maybe even know of homes or feed.

What is your general advice to anyone who observes situations where horses are being neglected? Call the police and report it. Nobody likes a tattletale, but most people don’t call unless there is truly a problem. I also don’t mind taking these calls because I can also help people on what direction to go.

How do you deal with your personal emotions when you encounter animals and their owners suffering? I am usually able to detach myself a little from the pain (otherwise I would be crying endlessly at every euthanasia, and some days there can be up to four).

I do believe I am truly relieving animal’s suffering, and I also believe animals have souls and are headed straight to Heaven. So I have peace. I do not perform euthanasia if it does not leave me feeling ethically and morally ‘okay.’ (For example, a healthy animal, but the owner is moving or an owner doesn’t want to feed it for another winter, etc.)

Once in awhile I am unable to be the strongest one, and I am right there tearing up with the owner and grabbing hankies.  That most often happens when I am a close friend of the owner, the owner is a big tough ‘man’s man’ (and he is shedding tears), or the case just seems so very sad (like an owner who has the pet as their only close friend, or their husband just died, etc.). 

What’s the strangest/wackiest situation you’ve ever encountered as a veterinarian?

 I do keep notes about some of the strangest cases and experiences that I’ve been through, so I have a few to pick from. One that always makes me laugh is a story about cows. Cow work is never predictable or safe. A family that runs a few beef cows needed Bangs vaccines on three heifers. This vaccine’s protocol is regulated by the state and must be done between 4 and 12 months of age.

Of course, these heifers were 11 months and three weeks old, and big to boot. Two old farmers and a couple of other relatives had been rounded up to help. (I always try to make sure ahead of time that there will be a little bit of extra help when I go out on cow calls. Somehow things never go as planned, and the fees are low, so time is of the essence.)

After a little (maybe a lot) of yelling and bolting of cattle, three heifers were lined up in the alley, ready to go into their rusty old chute. The family members were cursing and hollering at each other as they let the first heifer into the chute. She saw it as a chance to run for freedom and hit the chute at 90 miles and hour.

In slow motion the chute lifted from its rotted base and teetered on the front edge. For a moment I thought it might crash back into place. Unfortunately for the cow, the chute continued its original motion and planted the cow on her head with the chute and her tail sticking straight up in the air.

In the meantime, the middle heifer took her chance and raced out the opening made from the chute sliding forward. The third heifer was barely contained. We raced to the heifer in the chute, vaccinated, tattooed and ear-tagged her before she broke her neck. The chute then crashed onto its side and, after much sweating, we were able to loosen the rickety contraption and set her free. We took care of the cow in the alley by snubbing her to a post. Getting everything done for a Bangs vaccine this way is not as easy as it sounds.

Now, we just had the free heifer to catch, which was also not as easy as it sounds. We all ran. Fences were jumped. Horses and ignorant dogs were used...grain buckets, 4-wheelers and tractors, etc.

Two and a half hours and a big rain storm later, the cow was last seen ripping out a 4-strand barbed wire fence headed into the back country. She knew better than to take any chances with that chute. I collected my $20 dollars for the two vaccines and a little more for the ranch call fee and headed out.

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Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

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