By DAVID BURCHAM dburcham@ncnewsonline.com

Although her plan was delayed by 10 years, Melanie Sumney’s timing turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. The 1987 graduate of Laurel High School knew that sooner or later she would return to her Lawrence County roots. Last week Sumney celebrated the one-year anniversary of opening her veterinary practice in New Wilmington. Because of good timing, Sumney was able to take over the practice of longtime veterinarian Dr. Joseph Raught last summer. After graduation from St. Vincent College and later the University of Pennsylvania, Sumney launched her career in 1996 by taking a position at the Austintown (Ohio) Veterinary Clinic. “I planned to be there for a year or two and then come home to open my own practice,” Sumney said. “But somehow — after three children — it turned into 10 years.” She calls it destiny that she was prompted to write a letter to Raught, who had cared for her family’s pets while she was growing up in Princeton, Eastbrook and Volant. “Her letter said she was looking to move closer to home,” Raught said. “I assumed she wanted a job or a partnership.” They agreed to meet and discuss the situation further. Raught soon discovered that Sumney actually wanted to take over his practice. Although Raught, 72, had been giving serious thought to reducing his workload and perhaps even selling his practice, he still had to be persuaded. “My patients and their animals are mine, and I would never give them up to just anybody,” Raught said. “But the more we talked, the more I knew that she was the person I’d been waiting for.” Sumney felt the connection, too. “It was a perfect fit and I know he felt comfortable about turning things over to me.” Sumney decided to retain Raught’s longtime staff, and Raught agreed to stay on in a part-time capacity. He returns to his former office every Tuesday (Sumney’s day off), and they work together on Saturday mornings. Since she was 5 years old, Sumney knew she wanted to care for animals. “From the time I could say the word (veterinarian), I knew that’s what I wanted. “I always had a clear vision. My biggest fear was what if I don’t get in (veterinary school).” Sumney was raised in a family that loved animals. “We had foxhounds, cats, an Irish setter and a dachshund, and Dr. Raught took care of them all.” Sumney is married to Randall Gerstnecker, a union electrician. They have three children: Savanah, 7, Leah, 4, and Edward, 2. The extended family includes a calico cat and two dogs. Sumney says much of her time in the office deals with routine wellness testing, but there are daily life-and-death situations that occur. Her canine patients have ranged in size from a 240-pound mastiff to a two-pound Chihuahua. She has removed a tumor from a hamster and treated a rat for an abscessed tooth. During her work, Sumney has been bitten twice, each time by cats. Sumney averages about 20 appointments per day, excluding emergencies like that one two weeks ago when she performed a C-section on a dog that had delivered five puppies at home before problems developed. Seven hours later the remaining three puppies had their coming out party at her office. She said keeping Raught’s staff made the transition much easier on the people and pets who frequent the office. “It also makes people happier when they find out that I’m from Lawrence County.” “It’s great to be home, and it worked out better than I could have ever imagined.”

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