For the first time in decades, there’s a new veterinarian in a familiar Easton location. Dr. Dan Whelan, 36, and Annikki Nurmi, his partner and office manager, opened Easton Veterinary at 796 Sport Hill Road in September.
Easton’s country ambiance was exactly what the couple wanted for their solo practice, and the timing was perfect. In the few months since they hung out their shingle, their practice has attracted more than 355 clients.
One door had closed for them when the owner of a veterinary practice they planned to buy near the California coastline changed his mind and decided not to sell. They had packed up their belongings and headed west with sunshine and sandy beaches in their sights.
Their disappointment over the demise of their California dreaming changed to exuberance when an unexpected door opened back home on the East Coast. After working briefly in California, they placed a phone call to Dr. Mitchell Greenberg in Easton, who had recently closed his Sport Hill Road veterinary practice after more than 40 years. Dr. Greenberg had treated one of their dogs some years earlier.
“We were lucky enough to know Dr. Greenberg briefly and were able to talk to him as he was retiring,” Dr. Dan, as he is known to his clients, said. “He was happy to have someone in the hospital, carrying on the 40 years of business he did.”
As they worked through the process of buying the property, Dr. Dan, and Annikki (a Finnish name that rhymes with Monica) came to know Dr. Greenberg and his wife, Judith. “We were honored to take the reins from such wonderful people and look forward to continuing Easton Veterinary with the same passion and integrity,” Annikki said.
Dr. Dan and Annikki, who are domestic partners in addition to being business partners, immediately immersed themselves into the local culture that make Easton a unique and special place to live and work.
They purchased fresh produce at local farms, hiked on Easton’s trails with their pack of three rescued dogs; and frequented local businesses like Greiser’s Coffee & Market and the Easton Village Store that offer a sense of community along with tasty food and beverages.
All kinds of pets
Easton Veterinary specializes in dogs and cats, but in a town with pet goats, llamas, guinea pigs, rabbits and farm animals, the practice also treats larger and diverse animals for simple things like nail trims. “We’ll make the occasional farm call for goats or livestock,” Annikki said.
“We’ll do it for people who need help, but we mostly treat dogs and cats,” Dr. Dan said.”I love to have a llama spit at me. It’s fun,” he laughed.
They treated a dog who was run over and severely injured by a tractor and is now doing well. They have already dealt with pet and wildlife enouncters and expect such incidents to rise as animals become more active in the warmer weather.
Jerry von Gretener of Fairfield came to the practice on a recent Friday afternoon with Belly Button, 13, his Japanese Chin. He said he was glad Dr. Dan, whom he knew from his work at a previous clinic, had opened a practice nearby.
“Easton is lucky to get him,” von Gretener said. “Dr. Dan impressed me from the moment I met him. He came in and dropped down onto the floor, right at the dog’s level.”
Jay Wasco of Easton, another client, brought his rescue dog Max, a Plott Hound, for routine shots and an examination. Max had no fear of Dr. Dan and put up with multiple shots and an examination without so much as a whimper. In fact he seemed to enjoy the attention.
Dr. Dan and Annikki make house calls in situations where it’s difficult to bring farm animals or exotic pets to the office, or when an animal is older or sicker. They also make house calls “when the owner is older and it’s difficult for them to bring their animal here,” Dr. Dan said. “We’ll go out and help them.”
Dr. Dan worked in general practice in Norwalk for the first three years of his career at separate feline and canine American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accredited hospitals. He then helped open a brand new hospital in Westport, starting in 2013, which also earned AAHA accreditation in 2016.
He eventually moved on in 2018 once the practice was established, deciding to relocate to southern California. He worked at multiple practices in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Cambria, Ca. prior to returning to the east coast.
Through his work at other practices, Dr. Dan saw how people sometimes became frustrated when they can’t see the same doctor when they make followup appointments. He wanted a one-doctor practice, where clients could develop familiarity with one person, and that’s what Easton Veterinary offers.
“It allows us to know clients on a more intimate basis and to see them more often,” he said.
Dr. Dan grew up in Harlem until his family moved to Westport when he was a teenager. He studied animal science and chemistry at the University of Vermont and went on to earn his doctorate in veterinary medicine from St. George’s University in Grenada, in the British West Indies, completing his clinical rotations at Ohio State University.
Annikki Nurmi grew up in Wisconsin, in a home shared with beloved dogs and cats. She started out in social services and transitioned to the animal world, beginning as a receptionist for a thriving animal hospital in Weston, and then opening and growing her own dog hiking and pet sitting business.
During college, Dr Dan worked for Dr. Charles Noonan in Weston, where he learned how a veterinary practice could not only help animals but also connect people in meaningful ways. It was here that he met Annikki, and their shared love of pets and their people helped forge a close friendship.
“We loved how Dr. Noonan ran the business,” Annikki said. They began dating after Dr. Dan graduated from veterinary school, and, over time, started to think about finding their own practice they could run together using the wisdom they’d learned from Dr. Noonan.
Not only were they looking for a suitable site, but they also wanted a community-minded town where they could make friends and get involved. They found it at Dr. Greenberg’s former practice, where the animal hospital and their home occupy the same three-acre property.
“There’s nothing else like this here, where the house and practice is combined,” Annikki said. “It’s a great way to be a part of the community, just by living and working here. We thought that was important, to be part of the town where we live.”
Dr. Noonan couldn’t be more pleased that Dr. Dan and Annikki opened their solo practice, modeled after his, in neighboring Easton.
“Dan loves animals and loves the profession,” Dr. Noonan said. “When he worked here, he would be the first one to come to work in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. He has the qualities to be the kind of vet who can put people at ease, whose door is always open.
“He is affable, available and able, and is going to provide a valuable asset that grows into the hardwood of Easton.”
Paperless, high-tech system
Dr. Dan provided a tour of the clinic, all of which received a fresh, bright, coat of paint and updated cupboards and equipment. They did much of the work themselves, with the help of a friend who was with them every day to help. Beyond the cheerful waiting area and lobby is the main exam room, one of two exam rooms, and the operating room.
“We had all these custom cabinets builts for it in Stamford,” Dr. Dan said. “It’s cool because we actually stole the exam table from Dr. Greenberg’s exam room and put in new cabinets.” The operating room is roomy and bright. “We had everything moved out of the way so there is a nice flow.”
They use the paperless system Dr. Greenberg installed. Although there have been no paper files since 2010, there were plenty of old, paper files to sort through. Fortunately, the wireless service is good in their location on Sport Hill Road, Dr. Dan said. They have two networks, one for house and one for the hospital. They also have a generator.
“These stations need to communicate with the server,” he said. “This is our lab. All of our blood machines are wireless. We’ve hardwired them. They can do in-house blood work so fast I’m surprised. Blood tests that used to take an hour now take eight minutes to get results.”
The new digital X-ray machine requires a special electrical system, but that’s OK, because the amount of radiation emanating from it is so small that they don’t need to wear protective gear, Dr. Dan said. “The X-ray machine was expensive but worth it,” he said. They send patients to an outside lab for CT scans and MRIs.
Dr. Dan is a big N.Y. Rangers fan, and in his spare time loves catching home games, traveling, playing ice and roller hockey, and exploring the woods with Annikki and their dogs.
Annikki loves road trips, photography, and hanging out with Dr. Dan and their three dogs Eleanor, Maila, and Huxley. The photos in the office are of their own dogs and assorted friends Annikki has met through her business and while traveling.
They’ve met a lot of people in the short time they’ve been in Easton and look forward to meeting many more people and to working with police and fire officials if they can be of service. Annikki has begun to research the history of their property which was part of the former Bibbins Farm, and she is eager to learn more. They’re just getting started to know their new community and excited about what the future will bring.