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Akin Hills Pet Hospital will celebrate its 25th anniversary this weekend

Lori Ecklund started working part time at Akin Hills Pet Hospital when it opened 25 years ago. She bought the clinic in 1997.

When Lori Ecklund came to work at Akin Hills Pet Hospital, there wasn't a lot of work to do.

That was 25 years ago. The clinic was brand new at the time, located on a stretch of Pilot Knob Road that was significantly smaller than it is today, in a building that has since been replaced by a gas station. There were the beginnings of a housing development in the area, but most of the land around the clinic was farmland. Ecklund could walk out the front door and see crops and a pig barn.

Ecklund was fresh out of veterinary school at the time. She had been an intern at Farmington Veterinary Clinic, so when that clinic's owners decided to expand northward, they called to see if she wanted a job.

She worked part time at first, coming in first thing in the morning, then taking the middle of the day off. She'd return late in the afternoon to catch customers as they got off of work. It was a good schedule for a young mother. She could spend part of the day with her children, maybe visit the pool.

Things have changed a lot since then. The farm fields disappeared under new houses. Pilot Knob expanded. The clinic moved to a new building down the street, and new businesses sprung up around it. Things got busier, and Ecklund went from part-time vet to full-time employee and eventually to clinic owner.

"The practice has really grown with Farmington. Grown with my family," Ecklund said. "I had no idea it was going to grow like this. There was a lot of bare space."

Akin Hills turned 25 in October. The clinic will celebrate its birthday this weekend with an open house featuring educational stations, a silent auction to benefit Last Hope animal rescue and a visit from Bosco, the Farmington Police Department's K-9 officer.

A lot has changed since Ecklund first came to Farmington. Where most of the animals she treated once came from farms - not livestock, but barn cats and farm dogs - she now sees a more suburban clientele. Treatment options have changed, too. These days Ecklund can offer CT scans and MRIs for pets. Animals that would have been lost causes when the clinic opened can now be treated, and as owners have started to view pets as members of the family, they have been willing to go to greater extremes to preserve their health.

Ecklund, who grew up in rural Wisconsin, admits her father would be "shocked" at some of the treatments she provides.

"He was a farm boy," she said. "A dog had a purpose."

Not everything is different these days. Ecklund has been seeing some customers nearly as long as she has worked in Farmington. She has seen generations of families and their pets. She has liked being able to build those relationships.

"I enjoy seeing my old clients that I've known for 25 years," she said. "Now I see their children and grandchildren. I've taken care of a lot of generations of pets."

Akin Hills Pet Hospital is bigger now than it was when Ecklund started. In the early days, it was her and one other employee. Now there are three doctors at the clinic and 12 other employees.

One thing, though, is starting to look a little more like the old days. Ecklund, who bought the clinic in 1997, has started to lighten her workload. It's not quite the part-time schedule she had when she started, but she has enjoyed having the chance to slow down a bit.

"It gives me more time to just chat in the exam room," she said.

That sounds like something worth celebrating. Events this weekend take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. The clinic is located at 18400 Pilot Knob Road.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606