She took over the business from her second cousin, longtime veterinarian Dennis Lange, on March 1, 2020.

Within two weeks, the entire state of Minnesota was staying-at-home due to a dangerous pandemic and the pet health business landscape has never been the same.

Dr. Sara Mattson, veterinarian at Aurochs Veterinary Services, in Audubon, doesn't know when her pet practice will return to normal with in-person clinic visits, but she is staying positive and is ready to celebrate her first year of owning her own business with an online photo contest on the clinic's Facebook page.

"I've wanted to be a vet since I was little," said Mattson. "I grew up on a farm in North Dakota and I watched our vet, pulled a calf when I was 5 and I knew that that was something I wanted to do. I've always had a passion for animals."

Mattson graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities in 2017 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine. She began practicing her skills in southern Minnesota, in the small town of Slayton, about 30 miles south of Marshall.

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During her time in Slayton, her cousin Dennis Lange kept telling her she needed to move up north and take over his own veterinary practice because he was considering retirement.

"I had interned with him when I was an undergrad and he kind of joked with me that he was going to sell me the business," said Mattson. "At all my family reunions, he was always telling my parents that I needed to come up, and I kind of contemplated leaving my job because I wasn't very happy with it in southern Minnesota, and then things just kind of fell into place.

Mattson, and her husband, Ethan, moved to the lakes area in March 2019 and she immediately began taking over the day-to-day appointments at the Audubon clinic.

"I worked the previous year as a vet, but I was still new and learning things too," she said. "It was a year of figuring out finances and getting everything ready, we also bought a house in that same time, so lots of financial things happened."

Over the next year, Mattson said she saved money, secured financing and in March 2020, she purchased Lange's practice.

Then the pandemic hit and changed everything.

The clinic tried limited service during the first couple weeks during the state's March stay-at-home orders, she said. However, around the end of March, they closed their doors to the public and began their curbside drop-off program for appointments — they haven't reverted back to normal operations since.

"I think we had two weeks of normalcy," said Mattson.

After the first state stay-at-home orders in March 2020, she said she noticed people wanting pandemic pets to share their homes with. The increase in the pet population meant the clinic was booked solid for two months in advance.

"Everyone got COVID pets," said Mattson. "We were super busy for most of the summer."

The Audubon clinic typically has 20 booked appointments for pet services per day, but, during the height of the pet-demic summer, they would add an additional 10 pet drop-offs that the would be dropped off in the morning and clinicians would get around to them when they had spare time, she said.

The state also did away with unessential surgeries, which led to a backlog spay, and neutering, appointments. She said the clinic only recently dug themselves out of their surgery backlog and is now ready to begin taking in new clients again.

"This summer we were closed off to new clients just because we were trying to take care of our current clients, but we've now started accepting new clients again" said Mattson. "It's definitely been challenging being a new business owner. A lot of people don't know who I am, they've never met me, and they just expect me to take their dog and take care of it while they aren't there."

She also said her newer clients haven't even seen her face due to mask wearing and their veterinary technicians doing most of the curbside pick-ups and drop-offs.

To commemorate her first year as owner of her new practice, Mattson said they will holding a "cute pet" photo contest on the clinic's Facebook page throughout March. First prize will win a custom portrait and necklace from Lake Dog Portraits. Second prize will win a automatic dog, or cat, feeder and third place will be awarded a free Rabies vaccine for their pet. For more information, check out their event page.

Mattson said once the pandemic subsides, and normal gatherings can occur again, she wants to host a large outdoor barbeque for pets and owners alike so she can finally get to know the community whose pets she's been caring for throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.