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Sunspots: Sarah Granger

When my boss Sue first suggested Sarah Granger would be a good person for the next Sunspot, she warned me that Sarah would probably be reluctant to be featured.

Sue gave Sarah a call later that afternoon, and after some slight cajoling Sarah agreed to think about it. As soon as she hung up with Sarah, Sue immediately got on the phone with Sarah's sister and asked for her help in gently persuading Sarah to do the interview.

A few days later, after a call back to Sarah, she agreed to do the Sunspot. Mission accomplished.

When Sarah arrived at the Sun Tribune office during her lunch break to get her picture taken with her three-legged yellow lab Kate, most of the office staff emerged from behind desks to greet the excited canine.

As everyone asked what had happened to Kate, Granger explained that she lost her leg when she was run over by a car as a puppy. Her owner did not take her to the vet so, following a neighbor's abuse complaint, the Humane Society stepped in to rescue the dog.

As a Veterinary Technician at Morris Vet Center, and owner of a number of dogs already, Granger offered to bring Kate home after the surgery as she healed.

"She came home to recoup at my house after surgery and just never went anywhere," Granger smiled. "She doesn't even know she only has three legs," she added proudly.

Granger is a lifelong Morris resident, who moved away and then returned after experiencing life in the Twin Cities.

Her father, Steve Granger, was one of the original faculty members at UMM. Steve was a professor of psychology, and served as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs after he retired. Granger and her sister, Sue, still live in Morris, and brother Dan lives in Spicer.

Granger attended Morris Elementary School and Morris Area High School, graduating in 1978. After spending three years at UMM working towards an English major with a minor in Art History, she was introduced to the Veterinary Technician Program at the Medical Institute of Minnesota by her friend Barb Stevenson.

She transferred to the "big city," and graduated from MIM in 1985.

"We were required to wear white or navy blue uniforms and lab coats to every class," Granger said. "Can you picture us all covered with cat and dog hair by the end of each day?"

After graduation, Granger was hired by Hopkins Pet Hospital and their partner clinic Village Animal Hospital in Minnetonka after doing a three-month internship with the clinic while at MIM.

"I loved private practice," Granger said, "but eventually discovered the emergency and critical care work at the University of Minnesota Small Animal ICU was even more challenging."

Granger returned to Morris unexpectedly after receiving a call "out of the blue" from the Morris Vet Center asking if she wanted to work in Morris again.

"It took me about 10 minutes to decide to go for an interview," she reflected. "I'm really not an urban person, and after almost 10 years in the Twin Cities I wanted to get back to a rural community and my family."

Although she was interviewing for the ICU Supervisor position at the same time, Granger is happy she decided to come back to Morris. "I still don't regret the decision," she said.

Granger describes her job as a Veterinary Technician as being "what a good nurse is to a physician... and more!"

Along with more standard tasks like scheduling appointments, answering questions about livestock and other animals, collecting samples for lab tests, and prepping and caring for surgery patients, Granger also takes on more unique responsibilities at the Vet Center.

"I'm also trained in ultrasounding livestock of carcass traits and sheep pregnancy," Granger said. "I respond to emergencies, provide prescribed treatments for our in-hospital patients and monitor their daily care."

The variety of tasks each day at work is one of the things Granger said she loves most about her job.

"That, and I work with veterinarians and staff that respect and appreciate me, as I do them. After more than 16 years, I still like to go to work everyday!" she said.

However, if she didn't get enough time with animals at work, Granger also spends much of her free time as a volunteer trainer for Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota.

At the vet clinic, Granger says her job mostly revolves around working with people. "People go to vet school because they love animals," she noted, "but you really have to love the people who own animals."

One of the reasons she loves working with service dogs is because she gets to spend more time with animals and help people gain more independence in their lives.

Granger first became involved with HSDM when a deaf student in her Morris Community Ed class asked for help training a German Shepherd puppy to be a hearing dog.

"Vonna and her dog Cody successfully completed their training with my help," Granger said. "Since then I have been involved as a field trainer for four hearing dogs and two service dogs in our area."

Hearing dogs are trained to alert owners to sounds the owner cannot hear -- telephones, doorbells, alarm clocks, or smoke alarms -- "sounds that we take for granted, but can mean independence for a deaf person," Granger explained.

Generally, these dogs are paired with clients and trained in the clients home for about three months.

Training each hearing dog involves using a "food as reward" system that teaches the dog to recognize and appropriately alert their owner.

The easiest skill to teach a dog is to wake the owner up when an alarm clock rings because the dog is rewarded with food as well as attention from their owner, Granger explained.

"The client lays on the bed with a treat, and we set the alarm to go off," Granger said. "The dog touches the owner to wake them up, and then receives the treat. Gradually, they stop needing treats."

Training service dogs is a much more complicated process Granger explained.

Most are donated by reputable breeders, then cared for by puppy raisers that socialize the dogs and teach them basic obedience skills. After that, the dogs enter foster homes for additional training then go to the HSDM facility for the rest of their training.

Fully-trained service dogs are about 18 months old and ready to be placed with a client. HSDM matches each dog to a client, and the pair works with a trainer for another four to six weeks.

As a trainer, Granger meets with a client and service dog team multiple times a week for about three months to suggest training activities and make sure they are working well together.

"I help out here because HSDM doesn't have enough trainers out in the rural areas," Granger said. "I can't even imagine one handicapped person being denied access to a hearing or service dog because they couldn't find someone to help train the team.

"It's so rewarding for me to see these dogs become part of a team, and my clients gain independence and freedom."

In addition to the four dogs she owns, Granger and a close friend also tend to a small flock of sheep on her hobby farm.

"When I first moved to the farm, I needed some way to mow my grass," she laughed.

Granger went to the WCROC and got two sheep -- Lawnboy and Snapper. The flock gradually grew, and now is at 10 ewes and one ram. Each year, they raise lambs which they then sell in the area.

As if that still isn't enough to keep her busy, Granger also enjoys gardening, and working with Pope County Pheasant Restoration, a non-profit organization that promotes the local pheasant population through conservation practices.

I usually end each Sunspot interview by asking if there is anything else about them that the interviewee thinks is important that I haven't asked about yet.

Instead of saying anything about herself, Sarah mentioned both her sister and brother, and commented that Kate was a talented pheasant hunting dog.

"She's a great swimmer," Sarah said. "The only time she gets in trouble is when she hits a steep bank -- she can't pull herself up on two legs."

After another round of petting for Kate as Sarah grabbed her coat and chatted with the office staff again, the two headed home to finally get some lunch.