“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”



Dr. Carolyn Apker, owner of the Animal Wellness Center of Maple Grove


What does “Fear Free” mean?

It means: Every staff member of the Animal Wellness Center is devoted to the physical AND psychological welfare of every patient.

We want to put every pet under our care at ease so that they are not experiencing fear or anxiety. It is a well documented fact that calm and comfortable patients (dog, cat and human) recover more quickly and completely than their nervous counterparts. Your pet deserves the best every step of the way.

What can you expect from the AWC team as a result of our commitment?

We will handle all patients gently and in a way that reassures them we are on their side.

We will be constantly attentive to your pet’s mental and psychological state and will respond to their fear or anxiety with gentle reassurance and patience until they are calm. If we need to schedule the events of an appointment over several short, happy visits we are happy to do so. If your pet needs a small dose of medication prior to their visit… we know what works.

We will meet their need for mental and physical comfort and be ready to adjust our handling and treatments accordingly.

You can absolutely expect every member of our staff to treat your beloved pet as their own. Being afraid is not okay. Physical force and coercion are not okay. And yes, we know this commitment will require extra time for the doctor, staff and the pet owner. That is okay, because they are worth it!

When will these changes take place?

We have been implementing them for almost two years. AWC is one the nation’s first hospitals to make this paradigm shift and to be actively working on Hospital Certification in Low Stress Handling. Dr. Apker has been sitting on the Advisory Board for the Fear Free Practice Movement for over two years. She has been actively working with a team of Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists, is a committee chair for the American Veterinary Animal Behavior Society and AWC is very proud to already be Gold Level Certified as a Feline Friendly Practice.

My pet has always been afraid at the veterinary hospital; can you really help her at her age?

Absolutely! We have the knowledge and the skill to meet every patient at their level of need. Sometimes this is a series of happy visits to the hospital to get praise, petting and their favorite treats. Then, home they go! The purpose is to replace their apprehension of the hospital with the expectation that really great things happen for them when they come to visit.

If that sounds too good to be true, think about waiting for your next procedure at your medical clinic. You may feel a little nervous, time drags by and you see other patients come out in various stages of distress. Your pulse and blood pressure creep up. You feel some butterflies and your head jerks up every time the medical assistant calls the next patient back. In between are long silences and old magazines. Then they call your name and lead you into the back room for who knows what procedure. Augh!

How would that experience change for you if the music was calming, the other patients appeared happy, some lovely staff member would appear randomly with ten dollar bills for you (okay, in your pet’s case, they would be dispensing your absolute over-the-top, all- time favorite treat or toy)? How would that impact your feelings toward your health care provider?

Some pets have more severe anxieties and by the time they are at the hospital they have reached a panic stage. We can help alleviate their level of arousal with a small, very safe, quick acting, anxiety reducing medication. The medication is best given at home with a yummy treat and the pet is left alone for the next 1-2 hours in a dimly lighted, quiet environment to relax before you pick up your keys. This approach is win-win for your furry family member, you and the hospital staff. Why? Because a truly terrified individual cannot learn a different emotional response to their situation. Fear and survival instincts crowd out the brain’s ability to process information. The gentle medication gives them the opportunity to learn that they are still safe and coming to see the veterinarian can be a happy event.

What about when I need to leave my pet at the hospital for intensive care or to see a specialist while I go back to work?

This is a really loving question. You love your pet so dearly that you are concerned about his emotional welfare when he is left in our care. Asking it makes you a wonderful pet owner because it shows you have a deep bond with your pet. We are all pet owners too who adore our furry babies and never want them to experience negative emotions.

Your pet will be continually assessed for signs of stress or distress. We make adjustments in our patient care/handling on an ongoing basis to find the cause for their discomfort and change what is needed so that we are providing humane care for their mental and physical well being at all times. Sometimes they feel isolated and want more companionship or the reverse could be true. Sometimes using soft lighting and music is comforting. Some love to watch the action of staff and pets moving through the treatment room, for others that’s too much visual stimulation and they are happier in a quiet spot snuggling with just one staff person.

Our goal, our duty is to meet each pet at their point of need and to truly make their visits to the veterinarian less stressful and fear free!

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Earlier this year, the Osseo/Maple Grove press sponsored an event that allowed local people to vote for their favorite businesses in a variety of categories. Animal Wellness Center is honored to have been voted the top veterinary clinic for the communities of Osseo and Maple Grove.

Our clinic is devoted to the physical and psychological welfare of every patient.  Using low-stress handling techniques, we provide your pet with the best medical care in a fear-free setting. We are pleased to offer a wide range of services to help you enjoy the companionship of your pet for years to come. Besides the comprehensive compassionate care that we offer at every exam, some of our other services include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Animal behavioral counseling
  • Chiropractic care
  • Doggie daycare
  • On-site boarding at our Luxury Canine Resort or Relaxing Feline Retreat
  • Reproductive care

Animal Wellness Center is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which means that we consistently meet the highest standards of care in the veterinary industry. Of the thousands of small animal clinics in the United States, only 15 percent are AAHA accredited. Additionally, our clinic has been recognized as a Certified Cat Friendly Practice by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). We received Gold Status from AAFP for our low-stress handling techniques, feline-only exam rooms, and other practices that demonstrate we understand the unique needs of our feline patients. 

Please contact us with questions about your pet's health or to schedule an appointment for services in a respectful and fear-free environment. 

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Dog Bite Prevention Week just wrapped up, but we're recapping some important points to remember, especially in the upcoming summer months.  


Dog Bites by the Numbers
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The idea to adopt a dog is something that crept up on me over a period of time.  I particularly enjoyed when I would enter a business and there was an old dog there who was the unofficial greeter and assistant manager in all matters of customer interaction.  These were usually older, gentle, mellow souls that wanted nothing more than to be near you and maybe an occasional pat on the head.  I must have mentioned my growing interest to my wife, Jane, because one day she came home from work and showed me a flier for a dog needing a home.  “Lincoln” the Labradoodle was 1.5 years old and had been with an older couple since he left the litter. 

The older gentleman had some health setbacks and was now in a wheelchair.  He could no longer manage this 75 pound, high energy dog.  Jane talked to the coworker who was distributing the flier and learned that the couple had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a home for quite a while and were considering having him put to sleep.  After some discussion about the costs, responsibilities, risks, and rewards of having a dog, we decided to adopt Lincoln. 

There is another interesting, but long story about getting Lincoln from his current home in Illinois to our home in Minnesota, but suffice it to say here, that with the help of some very good friends he came to Minnesota via Missouri after another family adopted him before us and decided not to keep him.

When Lincoln arrived, he was absolutely beautiful.  He could have been on the cover of Labradoodle magazine (if there is such a publication).  He seemed very sad, though.  He was obviously a little shell-shocked from all the changes he had been through in the past weeks.  He arrived at the start of a weekend, with his toys and Scooby Doo blanket, and we did our best to make him feel comfortable in his new home.  I started a walking regimen each morning, which seemed to be a highpoint in his day.  He walked perfectly, with a loose leash, right by my side.

When Monday arrived and we had to go to work, we said goodbye and put him in his kennel.  We would be gone from about 8:00 until noon, home for an hour or so, and then gone from 1:00 to 5:00.  When we returned at noon, we found that he had broken the plastic floor out of his metal kennel, shredded rug underneath, and also his Scooby Doo blanket.  When it came time to leave again, it was difficult to get him back into his kennel.  He wanted to go with us.

Things went downhill from there.  When he thought we were leaving, even if it was just to take the garbage out, he would try to force his way out the door with us.  When we actually did have to leave, it took a long time to get him into his kennel.  We felt terrible each time we left.  We went to see the Veterinarian and explained our situation.  She was wonderful!  She explained that he was exhibiting signs of separation anxiety and provided us with training materials on how to work with him to get past it.  She cautioned that many people would be telling us to get another dog, but that this does not always solve the problem, and we already had our hands full.  She prescribed some medications to try to relax him including Prozac, which takes a while to become effective.

We did all of the training. Stand up and then sit down a hundred times. Stand up, walk to the door, turn around, come back and sit down again a hundred times.  Same thing but this time pick up your keys and put them down.  All of these things had to be repeated over and over to try to desensitize the triggers of his anxiety.  It improved slightly, but not enough.  One day we came home to find that he had broken out of his kennel and destroyed every window blind in the house.  He chewed up rugs, boots, everything he could get his mouth on.  At one point he got into the closet and shredded everything in it. 

I reinforced the kennel so that he could not escape but it was sad to come home at noon and find him lying in a pool of his own drool and near panic.  I continued to walk him 2 to 3 miles at 5:00 every morning before work.  He was almost the perfect dog when we were home, but became a nervous wreck if we left.  We had started spreading our lunch hours out so that one of us would come from noon to 1:00 and the other from 1:00 to 2:00 so that he would be kenneled as little as possible.  We could not leave the house together when we were not working because we did not want to put him through any more stress.  Our lives became committed to caring for our special needs dog.  Over the next three years, he improved somewhat, but was still very upset whenever we left and had to be secured in his kennel whenever we left the house.

Chapter 2

Enter Ryan

Three years later on a cold day in early March, the same coworker who brought Lincoln to our attention, who happens to be the wife of the police chief, told Jane about a puppy that was rescued from the Redwood River.  The Redwood River is a very small, slow-moving river most of the year, but when the snow melts in the Spring, it swells into a very fast moving current with lots of ice and debris in the water.  A citizen called the police to report that someone threw a litter of puppies in the river and the police chief and Officer Ryan responded a little ways downstream to try to find them.

When they spotted the dogs, there were only two left in the swift current.  One was in the water and the other was balanced on a piece of ice.  When we heard the story from the Veterinarian, we were told that Officer Ryan jumped into the river to save them; an incredibly brave act in that frigid water.  When we later spoke to the officer, he humbly told us that he was reaching out to try to grab one of the pups and he fell in, gun, radio, and all.  He managed to reach the one in the water and threw it up onto the shore.  When he turned, the one on the ice was gone and was never seen again.

The chief helped him out of the river and, while the officer went back to the station to change and warm up, he took the remaining pup to the Veterinarian’s office in his patrol car.  He put it under the heater and rubbed it vigorously whenever it went limp several times on the way to the Veterinarian’s office.  The Veterinarian put it under heat lamps and told us that it was hours before the little pup registered a temperature.  Eventually he began to regain consciousness and recovered pretty steadily after they got his body temperature up near normal.  The examination revealed that his tail had been docked and his dew claws removed.  He had to be dewormed because they found that he was full of them.

Jane’s coworker told her that, when puppies are this young, the Vet cannot leave them alone at the veterinary office, so one of the employees or doctors have to take them home with them unless there is a family willing to provide foster care at night and over the weekends.  Jane’s coworker mentioned this to us and we decided to offer to care for the puppy that weekend thinking it was something nice we could do for the Veterinarian and her staff who had been so kind to us and to Lincoln, and also to see how Lincoln would react to having another dog in the house.  


Lincoln was very interested in the new puppy but kept his distance initially.  We fell in love with the little pup and decided to adopt him.  We named him “Ryan” after the policeman who saved him from the river.

We kenneled both dogs when we left and put the kennels near each other.  Almost overnight, Lincoln became calm.  Ryan enticed Lincoln to play with him and, even though he was just a pup, seemed to be leading Lincoln in some ways.  

Screenshot 2015-05-21 12.51.02


Over the next couple months, Lincoln found his smile again.  (Lincoln has a great smile)  Our morning walks now involved two dogs and became more adventurous with some off leash trips into the woods.  The boys really love to be out in the trees, grass, and brush.  Lincoln loves to run into water whenever we encounter it.  Understandably, Ryan is a little less enthusiastic about water.  He keeps a respectful distance from it at all times.

Eventually, we tested a short departure from the house without kenneling the dogs and returned to find no damage whatsoever.  Since then, neither dog has had to be kenneled.  We are able to come and go as we need to without worrying.  Ryan gave us back our freedom.  

Screenshot 2015-05-21 12.51.09

We recently had Ryan DNA tested and learned that he is one half purebred German Shorthair Pointer going back many generations and the other half is a mix of Siberian Husky and something else.  I am pretty sure the “something else” is an angel because his rescue and the effect he has had on our family are both miracles.   


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We met Willow 6 days after losing our precious 13-year-old lab, Cedar. Six weeks earlier, we had tragically lost our 11-year old lab, Izzie, so our hearts were so completely broken, we needed healing only a furry soul could fix. Willow's antics brought us laughter where there were only tears before! Now, two amazing years later, she continues her healing legacy by working 20 hours per week as a therapy dog at a pediatric clinic - helping kids find their words during speech therapy sessions. She is a joy for so many now! We love you, Willow Bug!  
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