WSU alum a mentor and friend for many veterinarians

Drs. Steven Martinez and John Augustine are shown on the WSU campus.

His young children often slept in a bed tucked away in a quiet corner office as he cared for sick animals well after bedtime.

Other nights, those animals would come home with the young veterinarian, where many rested comfortably in the master bedroom.

“That’s just the way we did it back then,” Dr. John Augustine said, reflecting on a career that spanned five decades.

Augustine was only a handful of years removed from veterinary school at Washington State University when he and his wife, Diana, purchased an old house in Poway, California, and converted it into a small, two-exam room clinic. Today, that small practice is a thriving operation with more than 40 employees.

Augustine retired roughly two years ago after practicing for half a century. During that time, he provided unmatched and dedicated care to countless animals and their owners, while also serving as an example and mentor for those who worked alongside him and dreamed of their own careers in veterinary medicine.

‘That kind of guy’

John and Diana returned to Pullman a year ago for the 51st reunion of the WSU Doctor of Veterinary Medicine class of 1970. The couple was greeted by Dr. Steven Martinez, a professor of small animal orthopedics and sports medicine at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

They are close friends, essentially family. John hired Martinez as his “first helper” soon after he opened his clinic in 1973.

“John has this amazing ability to mentor and inspire people. Every time I talk to John, he’s always very nurturing and supportive,” Martinez said. “And his patients and clients love him – they still do. He is just that kind of guy.”

Augustine estimates at least 16 of his employees made their way into veterinary school, and he was there for each to provide support, reassurances, and, of course, recommendation letters.

“We had so many that worked for us, went to school, and then came back to work with us,” Diana, who served as the practice’s manager, said. “You just become family.”

Martinez was supposed to be one of those who came back.

Chasing a career

Dr. John Augustine's Midland Animal Clinic is shown.

It was career day at Poway High School in 1973. Martinez, a junior, approached two veterinarians that day. Each said they would be in touch with the eager student – only Augustine followed through. Soon, Martinez was volunteering his free time at the clinic, and he was eventually hired as a part-time employee.

Like any young student new to working in a veterinary practice, Martinez was given simple tasks, like cleaning kennels and walking dogs. It was the latter that gave him trouble.

While on a routine walk, a dog slipped its leash, and for half a mile, Martinez hopelessly gave chase, dodging traffic across some of the busiest streets in town. He finally caught up when the dog plopped down on its very own front porch.

Martinez was drenched in sweat, out of breath, and wondering if he would still have a job. The dog was ambivalent.

“When I got to the house, the dog was standing by the screen door and wagging his tail,” Martinez said. “I thought for sure I was going to be fired.”

Augustine didn’t fire his young apprentice. Instead, as he did for many other aspiring veterinarians, guiding and encouraging Martinez to achieve his dreams in veterinary medicine.

A change of plans and passing it on

When it came time to apply for veterinary school, John was eager to sway Martinez toward WSU. He had fond memories of the university, which the New Mexico native attended after serving a year in Vietnam in the Medical Service Corps in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.

Because of residency requirements, though, Martinez applied at the University of California-Davis. His first application was rejected.

“I was terribly dejected and distraught on not getting into veterinary college on my first application,” Martinez said. “John told me that if I really wanted it so bad that I could not give up and I needed to keep driving to get into Davis. He said he believed it was still the most incredible and fun profession anyone could do, and he would be disappointed for me if I did not keep trying. John even called my wife to help her keep me on the track to reapply.”

Through John’s encouragement and mentorship, Martinez re-applied. This time, he was successful.

“He called John before he called his folks,” Diana said.

John stayed in touch with Martinez during veterinary college, offering advice and encouragement when needed. The plan was for Martinez to return to the clinic when he graduated, gain experience alongside John, and eventually become a partner.

“Well, when it was that time and he was about to graduate, he decided he wasn’t coming back,” John said.

Martinez, instead, headed to the Midwest and completed a residency at Michigan State University before joining the college’s faculty. But he recommended a close friend, Norman Switzer, for a position at the clinic. Switzer eventually became an equal partner and is still seeing patients.

A decade later, Martinez applied for a tenure track position at WSU. After 25 tears, Pullman is still home.

“When I met John for the first time, I never would have guessed in a million years that I would have come to WSU and become a faculty member,” he said. “He was a very important part of my professional development and helping me to get to where I am now. He supported me and mentored me to an incredible level. Now, 37 years after graduating from veterinary college, completing my residency training, and after working at three veterinary colleges, I have been trying to pay back John the only way I know and that has been mentoring and training veterinary students and surgery residents in the same spirit and motivation – only as a Coug can do. I shall be forever grateful to him, and his wife, Diana for all they have done for me.”

‘A fun 48 years’

John retired from veterinary medicine in the spring of 2020. A few years prior, he sold his practice but continued working a couple of mornings a week. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not struck, there is little doubt he would still be seeing patients.

He keeps busy with family – three daughters and four grandchildren – yard work, and maintaining the swimming pool. Two to three nights a week, he still logs into his computer to complete continuing education courses. It’s hard to completely step away.

“I just loved taking care of animals, and if you take good care of the animals, the people are going to love you,” John said. “It was a fun 48 years. We had great clients – that was the best part of it.

“I wouldn’t change a thing.”