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Imlay's 'Gentle Jim' retires from practice


Veterinarian Jim Sillers enters new phase in life


July 09, 2008
IMLAY CITY — He's spent almost 40 years treating animals of all shapes and sizes and received numerous accolades for his expertise and community service, yet Dr. Jim Sillers said the crowning achievement to his veterinary practice had to be working with his daughter, Dr. Laura Schapman.

"She's always been able to tackle new and challenging cases," Sillers said.

Naturally, Laura said, she's gleaned so much from watching her dad, who officially entered into retirement last month. She admires his talent as a fellow practitioner and daughter.

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Dr. Jim Sillers, with his prized Borzois, was frequently sought out by dog breeders for his expert eye and advice during his 38 year career. photo by Maria Brown.
"He's just always had an eye for a lot of things and was willing to try something new," Laura said of her dad.

Owners turned to him when they'd run out of options and dog breeders regularly sought of out his advice, she said.

He's a skilled surgeon who was confident enough to try new procedures and, she said, she's fortunate to have learned those techniques first hand from her dad.

• • •

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Sillers started practicing in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1970. On a visit home to Michigan, he stopped into the Imlay City Vet Clinic to say hello to Dr. Gormley, whose wife had been a high school classmate of Sillers.

"They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Sillers said.

He and wife, Ann and family made the move back to Michigan.

Of course, lots of things have changed in four decades of animal medicine.

"When I started practicing, 70 percent of the work was with large animals, mainly cattle. But as the needs of the population kept changing you had to adjust," Sillers said.

In Lapeer County, that meant horses replaced cattle in numbers and hobby farms became popular.

"Economics played a bigger part of treating animals," Siller said of his early days.

"Today, it's gone to the other extreme. Some owners will go to great expense to add a few days to an animal's life."

It used to be that necessity forced vets to "do the best you could," he said.

"There were no specialized clinics or emergency centers...it was a different era."

Laura said that she's found that 'give it a try' philosophy becoming important again.

"With this poor economy, people don't have a lot of options," Laura said.

So when a couple brought in their dog with a dislocated elbow, she took encouragement from her dad's example and decided to try manual alignment before resorting to surgery.

It worked and both she and the owners were excited with the results.

That's one of the most rewarding parts of the jobs, Sillers said.

"It's the satisfaction that you made a difference in the animal's life...that the animal did respond to the treatment," he said.

"It's more of a calling than just a job."

• • •

Sillers said he plans to spend time with his family, including his mom and seven grandkids, work in his gardens and travel. He and wife, Ann, will also get to spend more time together since she also retired this year after 20 years as a kindergarten teacher at Weston Elementary in Imlay City. Already this month, Sillers is headed overseas to Russia for a Borzoi conference and in September, a group of family and friends will go camping in the Sierra Mountains.

"I'll miss my clients, they are like friends," Sillers said.

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