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Veterinary Deserts: Mobile vet clinic hopes to boost care in rural Montana communities

Posted at 6:44 PM, Jul 10, 2024

BRIDGER — The rural communities of Joliet and Bridger in southeastern Montana lack veterinary clinics, forcing pet owners like Bridger resident Jessie Coulmore to travel to Billings for care. Outfitted with a full-service mobile vet clinic, Dr. Mandy Barnes hopes to boost access to pet care in rural communities like Joliet and Bridger.

Like many pet owners, Coulmore only wants the best for her 12-year-old German Shepherd and Australian Shepherd mix, Cinch.

“Now that he’s getting older, his hips have been bugging him, so that’s, we’re starting to come in for acupuncture now,” Coulmore said in Bridger Wednesday.

Bridger resident Jessie Coulmore and her 12-year-old pup, Cinch.

Since the only vet clinic in town closed over a year ago, she didn't have a lot of options.

“Every other week I’d have to plan on taking my dog all the way to Billings just to get vet care,” said Coulmore.

That changed Monday for Coulmore and other pet owners in veterinary deserts when Barnes opened up her mobile vet practice, Peaks to Prairie Animal Care.

“There is a lot of shortage of veterinarians in the country as a whole, but certainly, rural Montana,” Barnes said.

A Joliet resident, Barnes has seen the need for accessible pet care firsthand.

“Between Laurel and Red Lodge, there's nothing. There's this giant gap. Joliet hasn't had anything,” said Barnes.

Barnes' boyfriend remodeled a camper into a mobile vet clinic, allowing Barnes and her team to spend four days a week treating clients in Laurel, Joliet, and Bridger.

"It's a weekly rotating schedule, meaning every Monday and Tuesday, we are set up in Laurel at the Tractor Supply Store. Every Wednesday, we're out here in Bridger at this Carbon County Meats. And then on Thursdays, we are at the Joliet Community Center," Barnes said.

Dr. Mandy Barnes takes a break in front of her mobile vet clinic.

She's trying to fill the gaps in other rural areas as well.

“It leaves me a day a week, Fridays, if I did want to go to Ennis. If they need me to spay and neuter for them, I can pack up and go,” added Barnes.

She said she can spay and neuter nearly any animal but she's mostly focused on working with cats and dogs.

"I work with Beartooth Humane Alliance out of Red Lodge. And we've already done one kitty spay-neuter clinic. We're going to do another one through them on the 20th of this month," Barnes said.

By operating a mobile vet clinic instead of a brick-and-mortar business, she said she's able to offer more affordable rates.

"It's also my hope is that by having this smaller space, which means a smaller staff and less overhead, that then I can relay that price difference onto clients," Barnes said. "My goal is I want people to do the right thing for their animal, what's best for their animal, and not do it, because they can't afford it."

Jessie Coulmore comforts her pup Cinch as he receives acupuncture from Dr. Mandy Barnes.

Peaks to Prairie Animal Care is also a family business.

"Between boyfriend doing all the remodel work, me, I have my daughter working for me as an assistant. I have my boyfriend Jeff's daughter working for me as an assistant. And I have clients that are family who've been kind of excited and waiting for me to get the chance to do my own thing and been very supportive. So yes, my mom's going to be helping with some of the bookwork," said Barnes.

Pet owners like Coulmore are just relieved they can save time, gas, and money while caring for their animals.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to the most. Not having to travel for my, just to get my cat's vaccines or my dog his acupuncture," Coulmore said,