By Andrea Poteet
In the Motor City, it can be easy to forget that “horse power” was once delivered by actual horses.
But a window to the city’s roots can be found in a surprising place: a local veterinarian’s office.
“If you look outside the building, you can probably tell it was once a stable,” Patterson Dog and Cat Hospital owner Dr. Glynes Graham says. “On the alley side there’s an old pulley for pulling up bales of hay. The old barn doors are not there anymore, but you can see where they once were.”
In operation since 1844, the clinic, located at 3800 Grand River Ave., is more than a state-of-the-art hospital for Detroit’s four-legged friends – it’s a living piece of history. Its records show it is the oldest continuously operating small business in Detroit, the oldest veterinary hospital in the state, and one of the oldest hospitals of any kind in Michigan.
Originally opened at 71 West Columbia by English immigrant Dr. James W. Patterson, the business has moved only three times. In 1901, Patterson’s son Elijah took over the business and moved it to 591 Grand River Ave. Eight years later, he purchased property down the street and moved the hospital to its current location, a two-story brick building meant to house 25 horses downstairs and 50 dogs upstairs.
In 1926, Elija’s son, James E. Patterson joined the practice and gave the facility its only renovation, converting the now-archaic horse stalls into examination rooms and boarding kennels for cats and dogs.
But the hospital’s history doesn’t end with its architecture. Current owner Graham is as much of a fixture in the hospital as the surroundings, having worked in the office since she was 15. What began as a part-time job cleaning cages in order to earn a Girl Scouts badge quickly became a lifelong passion.
“That decided me,” Graham says. “Before, I thought I might like to be a dentist.”
Graham stayed on working summers at the clinic until she earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Michigan State University in 1983. She then moved to West Virginia to practice for the next two years, before a visit back to Detroit for Christmas turned fateful when she dropped into the hospital to chat with her former boss, Dr. Eugene Miller, who had purchased the hospital in 1966. When he casually mentioned his plans to sell the clinic and retire, she jumped on the opportunity to fulfill her dream of owning a clinic.
“That was always my goal, to own my own clinic,” she says. “I got a little derailed by the trip to West Virginia, but it was always my plan to end up here.”
Since, then, Graham, a Detroit native, has built up a loyal following of long-time and new customers. She said one of her favorite parts of her job is seeing familiar faces – furry and otherwise.
“I love the fact that I get to see patients when they are puppies and take care of them throughout their whole lives,” she says. “We create real relationships with their owners and with the puppies. I’m like a family doctor.”
Graham said she also loves that the small, ten-member staff allows her to wear many hats.
“My favorite part of my job is that I get to do lots of different things,” Graham says. “I get to see patients, take care of puppies. I get to do surgery, I get to take X-rays and do blood work and give vaccinations. I love all of that. I’m not limited to what I can do.”
Though the hospital is named for dogs and cats, Graham said there are some exceptions. Occasionally, a reptile will show up, but Graham – who, funnily enough, is allergic to most animals – limits the menagerie.
“I don’t see birds or little pocket pets,” she says with a laugh. “I’m really allergic to animals. It’s kind of a silly thing, so I find if I limit my exposure to just a couple of species, I do all right. When I start adding in lots of other furry and feathery creatures, it gets a little out of hand.”
Another important aspect of the hospital, Graham says, is its staff, some who have worked at the office for more than 30 years. Katie Major, a vet technician, says the relaxed atmosphere keeps clients and staff coming back.
“We have people come here for many, many years, longer than I’ve been here,” Major says. “You know their first and last names and all their pet’s names. And then we constantly have new people coming all the time. Dr. Graham basically does the same thing with the clients as she does with us. She really works with you to make you happy.”
Graham said most clients are from the surrounding neighborhood, which she has watched blossom into a thriving, trendy downtown, with nearby Wayne State University drawing lots of foot traffic.
“When I was 15, we didn’t walk out of the building by ourselves,” Graham says. “The doctor that I worked with felt the neighborhood was really dicey. But lots of things have changed.”
What hasn’t changed, though, is her staff’s commitment to its patients.
“They just all love what they do,” she says. “They love working with animals and they love the atmosphere we have. They love our clients and our patients.”