Willowrun Veterinary Hospital's founder, Dr. Ed Boyette, began practicing veterinary medicine locally in 1938 working out of the Smithfield Mule Barn on Main Street. In 1946, he built a brand new 940 square foot office on Truck Lane and practiced there until Willowrun was purchased by Dr. Charles "Bug" Swearingen, a graduate of Auburn University's Veterinary College. Dr. Swearingen owned and operated Willowrun until his retirement in 1985.
Although he never had a business partner, Dr. Swearingen served as a mentor to many future veterinarians. One of his interns, Dr. Tom Vaughan, went on to become the dean of the veterinary school at Auburn. Another intern, Dr. John Booker, practiced nearby and served several terms on the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. Dr. Morgan Reed worked with Dr. Swearingen for several years before he opened his practice in West Smithfield.
In the early days, Willowrun Veterinary Hospital was a rural large animal practice and much of the veterinary work was done on farms and at area livestock markets. Dr. Swearingen, however, had a strong interest in working with companion animals and in 1952 he was one of the first practitioners in the state of North Carolina to achieve accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Apex Veterinary Hospital bought Willowrun Veterinary Hospital when Dr. Swearingen retired and brought in Dr. Kurt Zimmerman, a graduate of Purdue University to run the practice. He was joined a year later by Dr. Willie Smith, a graduate of North Carolina State University’s new veterinary school. In 1991, Drs Zimmerman and Smith acquired full ownership from Apex. That same year, they were joined by Dr. Eileen Langdon, who had attended Auburn University - under the leadership of Dr. Tom Vaughan!
After several years of private practice, Dr. Zimmerman was chosen to join the faculty at Virginia- Maryland Regional Veterinary College where he currently serves as a professor of pathology. The dream he shared with Dr. Smith and Dr. Langdon of expanding the original building into a modern facility became a reality in 2003 when Willowrun Veterinary Hospital moved into its current home. The new building has provided an excellent opportunity for Willowrun Veterinary Hospital to focus on providing a complete range of small animal medicine and surgery services, while maintaining a nod to the practice’s history by continuing to offer care to large animal patients on a haul-in basis.
In recent times, Willowrun Veterinary Hospital has been blessed with many talented associate veterinarians who studied at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which graduated its first class in 1985. Many of them have gone on to have their own practices. Dr. Smith and Dr. Langdon currently share veterinary duties with Dr. Rebecca Hansen, a member of the NCSU’s Class of 2012; Dr. Jacob Hammond, a member of the University of Georgia's Class of 2015, and Dr. Madeline Hammond, a member of the NCSU's Class of 2016.
In March 2002, Willowrun Veterinary Hospital received recognition for fifty consecutive years of membership in AAHA at the national convention in Boston. The doctors and staff continue to honor the tradition established by Dr. Swearingen by undergoing a vigorous accreditation process covering more than 900 standards of care every 3 years. Of more than 3,500 accredited practices, less than 50 have been members for as long as Willowrun Veterinary Hospital. This practice has a long and wonderful history of service to Johnston County, and continues to evolve to meet the needs of the people and pets of this community!