Town’s growth becomes a purr-fect opportunity

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Residents of Huntersville are certainly no strangers to growth. Even those who may be recent transplants to the town have already witnessed its landscape change, as an apartment complex takes shape behind the North County Regional Library and a commercial office building complex has settled in where once acres of trees and red clay separated Statesville Road from I-77.

Growth has been somewhat of a constant here, even during the economy’s downturn, but it hasn’t exactly been geographically uniform. Until more recent memory, activity along the town’s southern fringe had not kept pace with the likes of the Northcross and Birkdale areas.

But one group of far-sighted business owners sees more growth coming to that area, and has decided now would be a good time to jump in — paws first — to provide veterinary services for new residents to come.

Or at least for their pets.

In early August, Hambright Animal Hospital will open its doors on the corner of Hambright and Statesville roads, where Dr. John Houghton will lead the new practice. The hospital is a joint venture between Houghton and the owners of Main Street Veterinary Hospital in Cornelius, Dr. Lori Hoe and Dr. Amanda Goodwin, who approached Houghton about a partnership a few years ago — and just a few weeks shy of his wedding.

“I told them I definitely would be interested in that, but it was really a bad time,” he says. But things settled down and now he’s getting ready to settle in at Hambright Animal Hospital.

Southern Huntersville is a long way from Houghton’s childhood on a dairy farm in Maine, but he says it’s now exactly where he wants to be. “I’ve come to like North Carolina a lot,” says Houghton, whose wife, also a veterinarian, is a native.

And he really likes what he sees in Huntersville’s future, as a result of the opening of the final leg of I-485, the rekindling of development in Bryton along Old Statesville Road and the very real possibility of an exit at Hambright Road off I-77.

“There is lots of stuff we saw that will make that area grow,” he says.

That’s where Hambright Animal Hospital’s broad spectrum of services will come into play.

Houghton says the 6,400-square-foot hospital has five exam rooms, and will be much more than a general veterinary practice and emergency care facility. It will also offer boarding for as many as 45 dogs and 25 cats, as well as doggy day care for 20 to 30 canines. He also plans to offer grooming services and puppy classes.

Houghton says he will open the practice with the help of a part-time veterinarian and about a one-half dozen support staff, but if it grows as quickly as the Main Street Veterinary Hospital in Cornelius did when it first opened, he may have to add more staff within the first month.

In general practice in Charlotte for four years, Houghton received his veterinary degree from the University of Georgia in 2008, then interned at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, where he met his wife. That was followed by about two years in emergency medicine where he says he worked on several critical cases, but the late nights and long hours ultimately steered him (with a little encouragement from his wife) toward general practice. He was most recently with Stoney Creek Animal Hospital on Mallard Creek Church Road.

Although he holds no business degrees, Houghton says his previous 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry has helped prepare him for the transition from veterinarian to business owner.

“It’s overwhelming and I have lots of sleepless nights,” he says about the lead-up to an early August opening. “There is always stuff to learn, but I think I’ve got a handle on it.”