Veterinarian Courtney Diehl takes an X-ray of Dundee on Oct. 7 at a ranch southeast of Steamboat Springs with the help of Jake Kleman. Diehl started her Routt County practice in September.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Veterinarian Courtney Diehl takes an X-ray of Dundee on Oct. 7 at a ranch southeast of Steamboat Springs with the help of Jake Kleman. Diehl started her Routt County practice in September.

Vet goes high-tech

Courtney Diehl trucks equipment across county to treat pets, small animals

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Veterinarian Courtney Diehl unloads equipment from her portable clinic.

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Veterinarian Courtney Diehl takes an X-ray of Dundee on Oct. 7 at a ranch southeast of Steamboat Springs. Diehl started her Routt County practice in September.

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Courtney Diehl examines the horse's X-ray using portable equipment.

Dundee stood patiently for a while, letting two people hover around his backside with expensive equipment, searching for flaws in his legs.

"There, a little back, perfect, hold it right up against the hock," veterinarian Courtney Diehl told Jake Kleman.

Kleman was assisting the high-tech vet, placing X-ray plates so Diehl could shoot images while Beth Trujillo held the 7-year-old quarter horse still. By the fourth X-ray or so, however, Dundee was getting restless, and Trujillo scolded him.

Diehl, the new equine vet in town, has seen worse.

"I broke two X-ray machines on thoroughbred yearlings - not my X-ray machines," she said.

Has she ever been kicked?

"Oh God, yes."

Diehl started her Routt County practice in September. She doesn't have an office, so she lugs her $20,000 X-ray equipment to calls in a champagne-colored Ford F-250.

She spent several hours at a ranch southeast of Steamboat Springs recently, demonstrating her X-ray machine on Dundee and then tending to a dog with a hurt tooth, a horse with a meaty bite on his neck and a colicky mare.

Diehl's pride is her new X-ray equipment. She can process images on site in minutes instead of having to take the plates back to an office.

"I think the impact on clients is tremendous because they look at something like this and think their vet is staying current," she said.

But the new stuff isn't for everyone, Diehl acknowledged. Vets have to cater to the old school, the new school and everyone in between, she said.

"The key is knowing when to pull out all the stops and use new medicine," Diehl said later. "There's no reason not to offer the platinum standard to the client. You find out the best way to serve the client in their budget. If they say, 'My budget is $200, and I'm not going to spend more than that,' you work with that."

The road to town

Diehl has been practicing for seven years. She studied at Ross University in the Caribbean and at the University of Minnesota. She did a six-month fellowship with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky and worked near Saratoga Springs in New York.

Her mentor, however, is much closer.

Diehl spent several years working alongside George Platt, a veteran Eagle County veterinarian. When Diehl rang him up several years ago, Platt had been practicing for 40 years.

"She'd been out of school one year when she came here," he said. "And she called and asked me if I would hire her, and I said no, but I said, 'I'll give you half a practice if you can do the work,' because I was really busy."

Platt, who is 73 and still practicing, warmed up as he discussed his former partner.

"I helped her with questions she had, and surgeries. : She wanted me to do it first so she could see, and I did," he said. "She didn't miss anything. I'd show her and she learned it."

Diehl would come to his house, sit with Platt and his wife and pepper him with questions.

"She didn't mind working," he said. "She didn't mind getting dirty, and I showed her a lot of things, and she just kept

right on working. It didn't slow her down."

The Steamboat scene

Diehl and her husband, Jim, wanted to leave Vail. They have a young daughter, Sunny, and they didn't want to raise her amid the "obsessive wealth" there, Courtney Diehl said. The couple saw Steamboat as a place with more balance between ranching and skiing.

Jim Diehl works in construction and is a professional photographer, and he and Courtney teach telemark skiing. Jim Diehl also teaches Alpine skiing. For now, Courtney Diehl makes house calls and works part-time at Mount Werner Veterinary Hospital.

"I love doing small-animal work, but sometimes I don't like being in an office," Diehl said. "This is my office," she added, flipping a hand toward the mountains.

Diehl's clients seem satisfied.

Sally Scott, who lives outside Hayden, owns a lame horse. A friend told her Diehl was coming to town, and Scott opted to wait for her arrival to seek an opinion about the horse. It was worth it, she said.

"I loved her," Scott said. "I thought she was great. She knows what she's doing; the equipment is state of the art."

Allison Keating, of Steamboat, has worked with Diehl on a friend's horse. She's glad to have a vet who can bring the X-ray equipment to the horse.

"It makes it easier, especially for a horse that has a serious injury - you don't have to haul them everywhere," said Keating, who said she has worked with horses for about 15 years.

More than horses

Diehl also works with dogs, cats and ruminants such as goats and llamas. She doesn't handle cattle.

At the ranch southeast of Steamboat last month, Diehl took a look at ranch employee Beth Trujillo's year-old dog, Shawnee. The dog, a jolly, snappish sort, sustained a tooth injury after catching a horse hoof to the face.

Diehl squatted next to the animal, her brown ponytail spilling over her shoulder. She talked over the situation with Trujillo, who was concerned about brain damage to the youngster.

"She's shaken it off by now," Diehl said with a smile. "These little guys are pretty resilient."

Diehl gave her some medicine for Shawnee, and Trujillo and Diehl moved on to the horse pens. A white horse had been attacked by the herd, leaving him with a gaping bite near the neck.

Another vet had treated the horse, and Diehl commented little on those decisions, giving only her own recommendations about how to proceed. Everyone works differently, she said.

Later, Diehl elaborated on her philosophy: "There are a lot of vets that would have come in and criticized the way that was handled, and you just don't do that. You've got to support your colleagues."

Platt said that's how Diehl typically acts.

"Courtney never speaks bad of people," he said. "She's always got that big smile. : She's just great to have around, that's all."

Platt said he was proud of his "top-notch" protege.

"I think y'all are lucky to have her," he said.

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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