Walter Bonnett pioneered pet care in Edina

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2010 - 9:09 PM

The veterinarian led in the 1950s shift from caring for farm animals to treating companion animals.

Dr. Walter A. Bonnett of Edina was one of the first local veterinarians to specialize in pets rather than farm animals.

"He had one of the first small-animal clinics in the Twin Cities area," said retired vet Tom Hagerty, who knew Bonnett for 40 years. "When he opened his clinic in Edina [in 1958], it was quite a deal at the time."

He also helped create an after-hours veterinary service.

Bonnett, 88, died from heart failure June 25 in Edina, said his son. Bonnett also was president of the state Veterinary Medical Association in 1980.

Hagerty said Bonnett was a progressive thinker who, with a group of veterinarians, founded the Affiliated Emergency Veterinary Services in 1979. Bonnett was a pioneer in the shift from large- to small-animal specialists, said Hagerty, 74, also a past president of the veterinary association. He said many farmers used work horses before World War II but after the war more tractors appeared and demand dropped for large-animal vets.

"The swing from the era of the horse doctor to the companion animal was a big issue," Hagerty said. "A lot of vets said, 'Who in the world would spend any money on a dog?' He was an early leader in that swing."

Bonnett grew up on a farm with cattle and pigs near Magnolia, Minn. As a teenager, he raced horses as a jockey at county fairs. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Bonnett went to the University of Minnesota's new veterinary school and was in the third class to graduate in 1954, Hagerty said.

Bonnett started working with farm animals but soon switched to pets, said his son, Tim Bonnett, of Edina.

"He was very gentle with animals and was an excellent surgeon. He was very good taking care of the owners," Bonnett said. "He would console them if a dog was hit by a car. He would walk them through what he was going to do and how he would treatthem."

Bonnett, who used to clean his father's kennels, was about 5 when his dad saved the family's black Labrador retriever, Cub. The year-old dog contracted distemper, a usually fatal, feverish virus.

"He worked that dog hard for five months," Bonnett recalled.

He said his father consulted with university vets, used penicillin and other drugs to cure the pooch. "That dog meant everything to us. He lived another 12 years," Bonnett said.

Bonnett built four pet hospitals, starting in 1958 in Edina. He added a second near Southdale, followed by clinics in Eden Prairie and finally Eagan, in 1981, his son said. His father eventually sold the clinics and retired in 1982.

Then he dabbled in real estate sales and continued his hobby of flying his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza, Bonnett said.

In addition to his son, Bonnett is survived by his wife of 60 years, Mary; a daughter, Kathy Waterman, of Eden Prairie; sisters Dorothy Christensen, of Minneapolis, and Mary Belter, of Blaine; brothers Archie, of Minneapolis, and Jerome, of Omaha, Neb., and two grandchildren. Services have been held.

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