Written by: Brianna Price
It’s no secret that the Winter Haven Chamber has a huge love and passion for our community. Winter Haven is full of amazing businesses, people and opportunities for success. I’m sure you know many people who would say that they owe their success to Winter Haven, and one of those people was just honored as Florida’s Veterinarian of the Year by the Florida Veterinary Medical Association.
I met with Dr. Vargas, owner of Orchid Springs Animal Hospital, to talk about her work and this award, which Dr. Vargas says she “owes it all to Winter Haven.”
In 1996 Dr. Vargas moved to Winter Haven after she fell in love with the town on a weekend visit. Her and her husband (at the time boyfriend) were in Winter Haven to visit with his family when she decided she couldn’t meet his family empty handed. They made a quick stop into Publix, when she saw how nice everyone was, Dr. Vargas, living in Miami at the time, was amazed. Laughingly, she said she was even surprised at the fact that everyone was obeying traffic laws!
She quickly fell in love with the Winter Haven charm, along with the amazingly friendly small businesses and decided she needed to live here. Her desire to live “beach front” was quickly negated when she realized she had access to 24 canal connected lakes.
After moving to Winter Haven they immediately began plans to own their own veterinarian practice. With no businesses experience but an immense love for animals, all she knew was that she loved the people and the charming atmosphere that Winter Haven offered. They purchased a 1,200-square foot property and got started. In 2001, they expanded and bought a 5,000-square foot building and 5 years later, with hard work and dedication, they were bursting at the seams – so yet more expansion was needed. Orchid Springs Animal Hospital now sits in a state of the art 10,000-square foot facility on Overlook Drive.
This year will mark 22 years in business for Dr. Vargas, and her many years of hard work, dedication and passion for what she does have been recognized with this award. When asked how she felt about winning this award she replied “It’s an honor because you have to be nominated by another doctor and then the winner is voted on by doctors”. While many activities are taken into consideration, activities to promote the veterinarian profession and well-being of animals, as well as community outreach are all considered. “With almost 5,000 vets in Florida and 3,600 in the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, being chosen is a true honor,” she added.
In addition to the valuable work she does every day, Dr. Vargas’ believes a couple specific initiatives may have helped her nomination. After hurricane Maria, Dr. Vargas, immediately jumped in to help the people and animals in Puerto Rico. Assisting Big Dog Animal Shelter of PR, who had no electricity and no water, yet were seeing a massive influx of stray animals. She saw a need and decided to act. Which as anyone who knows Dr. Vargas knows – is very typical of her!
She took to Facebook live and made a desperate plea for the community to help. Following her post, her contacts mobilized and the entire lobby at Orchid Springs Animal Hospital was filled with supplies that were so desperately needed, including 10 pallets of food and supplies, as well as 5 generators. Dr. Vargas gives credit to her time in Junior League for fortifying her with the confidence and skills to take on such a mammoth task.
Dr. Vargas also believes that she was given this award partly because she opens her practice to the world. She regularly hosts interns from China in her home and in her practice. Acupuncture is a lost art in China, so she welcomes this as an opportunity for her to teach them, but she also shared that learns a great deal from them.
The “We Love Pet” fund at her practice, may also have touched the hearts of the judging doctors. This 501 c 3, was created by her and a fellow client in an effort to “never turn anyone away”, to help individuals who cannot afford the care they need for their animals and to help the strays which find their way into her care. This fund gives them hope, and Dr. Vargas is enormously proud that this program is funded by her loving and generous clients.
The Florida Veterinarian of the Year is among many honors Dr. Vargas has earned. She has been named America’s Favorite Veterinarian, as well as being awarded the Purina National Care Award. When asked if these awards create more success for her practice she said she hopes they do, but that their success is really due to the amazing people she works with. “Surrounding yourself with people who have the same vibrations will help your business be a success.” She appreciates the awards and is honored when she receives them, but she sees them as more of a “pat on the back.” “The awards encourage me to keep up the good work,” she explained.
Throughout her years in veterinary medicine and success as a business owner, Dr. Vargas credits her success to Winter Haven. “I owe all of my success to Winter Haven. 100% of it.” As a native Puerto Rican, she added that Winter Haven “will welcome and support you as long as you are competent and caring. If you come with an attitude of hard work and dedication, the whole community will support you.”
We are so incredibly honored to have individuals like Dr. Vargas who have chosen Winter Haven as their home and place of business. It is because of her dedication, compassion and hard work, that make Winter Haven a thriving place to work, play, stay and live.