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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. David Oates of Russellville was named 2017 Veterinarian of the Year by the Arkansas Veterinary Medical Association. Oates established the Russellville Animal Clinic in 1986. He was joined later by partner Dr. Heath Stump. Oates, whose father was a longtime Pottsville pharmacist, said he loved animals and medicine. “When I went to college at Arkansas Tech, I decided to go to vet school because it was a mix,” he said. - Photo by William Harvey

— Dr. David Oates grew up in Russellville with a love for animals, but he also admired his dad, a pharmacist. Oates mixed the two and became a veterinarian.

“It’s been a nice vocation,” he said.

Oates was named in February as 2017 Veterinarian of the Year by the Arkansas Veterinary Medical Association. The award was presented at the association’s winter meeting in Hot Springs for recognition of Oates’ “unselfish and untiring efforts in behalf of veterinary medicine,” as it is engraved on the plaque.

“[The award] means a whole lot to me,” he said. “I love the profession, and it’s just been great for me. It’s from our peers.”

Maggie Milligan of Little Rock, executive director of the association, said she has known Oates for her 17-year tenure.

“Dr. Oates was very deserving and is very awesome,” she said. “He’s a great person.”

Milligan said she wasn’t on the committee of past award winners who selected Oates, so she didn’t hear the discussion of his nomination. She said the association has 600 members, all licensed veterinarians.

“He’s just an outstanding person and veterinarian, and he represents the veterinary profession so well. … I’ve never heard him say a bad thing about anybody. He’s well thought of in his community and in the state of Arkansas,” she said.

Oates is a member of the Yell County Wildlife Federation and served as director of the Pope County Conservation District. He is also chairman of the advisory committee of the Arkansas State University-Beebe Veterinary Technology program.

Oates’ father, the late Charles Oates, was co-owner with Dale Walker of C & D Drugstore in Pottsville.

“He was a pharmacist and also had a farm in Pottsville. I worked there and on the farm,” Oates said. ” That’s the reason I went to vet school, because I could do animals and medicine. My dad was something else, you know. I wanted to be like him.”

Oates went to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, then to veterinary school at Louisiana State University.

“It was a good time of my life,” Oates said. “We had a lot of hard studying, but it was worth it, and we had great times.”

In 1983, he started working at a clinic in Russellville, then worked in Dardanelle before establishing the Russellville Animal Clinic in 1986. Dr. Heath Stump of Australia joined Oates in 2003 and became a partner in his practice in 2008.

“When I first started, I really wanted to be on the large-animal side, mainly cattle and horses — and we were about 60 percent large animals. Now we’re dwindling down to a few horses, dogs and cats,” Oates said.

His clients have not all been mundane. “Oh, I’ve worked on lions, monkeys and an ostrich,” he said.

Monica the monkey was the most memorable patient.

“She was a Java — a small one. She loved me. The owner would have her, and [Monica] would jump to me. When another girl came by, [Monica] got mad — jealous,” he said.

He only treated an ostrich once. The female ostrich was down with an illness, and the male didn’t want to let Oates and the ostriches’ owner into the barn.

“The male was really aggravated. The female was down and couldn’t get up, and he was territorial. We had to get into the barn, and [the ostriches] kick forward, and he broke one of the boards. The owner had a big boat paddle, and he was waving it, and [the ostrich] would back off on that,” Oates said.

He also gave vaccinations to an African lion and a mountain lion with no repercussions.

His smallest client was a goldfish.

“A friend of mine was an elementary teacher, and she had [the goldfish] at her class. It was sick, and we tried something, and it still died,” he said.

Oates said he had to “plead the fifth” on whether he likes cats or dogs better, but his home life tells the tale.

“We have six dogs, and they sleep with us,” he said. “We” is him and his wife, Tonya, whom he married almost a year ago.

He met Tonya when she brought a dog to the clinic for an appointment with Dr. Stump.

Oates said that when he was growing up, he had a passel of pets on the family farm.

“We had deer; we had skunks, hamsters, crows … horses, goats, rabbits,” as well as dogs and cats. Today, the farm has 250 head of cattle.

He and his wife live next door to his mother, Jean, on land that has been in the family since the 1850s, he said. The setting is perfect for his hobbies of hunting and fishing. They also have a cabin in the Ozark National Forest in Pelser.

Oates said his career goal is to “keep on going. I love what I do, and I want to do this for a long time.”

That’s another example of those “untiring efforts” for which he was honored.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

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