From patching paws to planting churches
Hartselle veterinarian, wife, become South American missionaries
Tracy L. Brady, Hartselle Enquirer
A humble start
More than 29 years ago, Dr. Steve Pearson and his new bride Connie waited patiently in an office furnished from yard sale finds for their first customer to visit their brand new Hartselle business, Pearson Animal Hospital.
"I was the only employee for awhile," Connie Pearson said. "On the first day, I sat up front playing receptionist and fighting off morning sickness. You see, it was on that first day we opened that I learned I was pregnant with our first child, Laura."
Laura, now a college math teacher in Seattle, was the first of three children for the Pearsons. Her brother, Matt, is a pastor in Louisiana and her sister, Julie, works at Redstone Arsenal.
On behalf of her siblings, Laura said it was no surprise when their parents decided to dedicate their lives to mission work and move to Ecuador.
"It wasn't a big shock to hear they were going," Laura said. "It just fits in with what they've always done."
What the Pearsons have always done is nurture children, animals, friendships and spirituality. They plan to do more of the same when they move from Hartselle to South America after Christmas.
The mission field
On Sept. 8, Steve and Connie Pearson were appointed in Springdale, Ark., as associate missionaries to the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.
With 16 assignments to chose from, the Pearsons prayed and sought counsel before deciding to move to Ecuador for a minimum of four years.
"But we hope to stay for 12 years," Connie said with the enthusiasm of a teenager.
Steve will be the first Southern Baptist missionary veterinarian assigned to Ecuador as an animal caretaker and church planter.
The couple will live and work in the town of Cuenca, the third largest town in Ecuador, and teach animal care and the word of God to the Quichua Indians.
The tribe of three to four million lives in the Andes Mountains, 8500 feet above sea level, and focuses its energies on family, animals and the weather.
"We hope to make a connection with the tribe through animal care," Steve said. "That connection will eventually open a door for us to teach the gospel."
Six weeks of training in Richmond, Va., not only taught the Pearsons the basics of their missionary assignment, but also how to adapt to a new culture, cut each other's hair and prepare native dishes.
"The area delicacy is fried guinea pig," Connie said as her daughter and friends squirmed in their seats.
Steve, who has already been introduced to the dish, said it tastes a little like squirrel.
The Pearsons will spend most of their first year in Ecuador learning Spanish and the native language of the Quichua.
"Once we get a good hold on the language, we'll be ready to spread the gospel," Connie said. "We are just so lucky to have a chance to start over."
"We're not going into the mission field to run away from anything," Steve said. "We're running toward something else."
Old Doc Pearson's place
Steve's last day at Pearson's Animal Hospital will be Sept. 30. Employees and new owners, Dr. Phil Gault and Dr. David Crouch, will host a farewell reception for the Pearsons Sept. 29 from 2 p.m-4 in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church Hartselle.
"God affirmed the move into mission work for me by providing two great doctors to continue the practice," Steve said. "It' s just a great example of God working in the past to get us to this point."
Gault is a full partner in the practice and has worked at Pearson's Animal Hospital for 10 years. Crouch has worked at the practice for 17 months and will become part owner upon Pearson's departure.
"It amazes me how it has all worked out," Steve said.
Regardless of how far away they may be, friends and co-workers believe the Pearsons will always be remembered with warm regard in their hometown of Hartselle.
"No matter what, this will always be the Old Doc Pearson place," friend and former employee Vicky Sharrott said.
Vicky remembered many adventures she shared with Steve and the animal patients during the 21 years she worked for the veterinarian.
"We once vaccinated 832 dogs for rabies in two days," Vicky said. "I think that was our all-time record."
Steve and Vicky filled another large order in the 1980s for their two largest patients.
"We treated two pet tigers," Steve said. "Even declawed one of them."
Rebecca King, who has worked at Pearson's for eight years, said Steve has taught her about veterinarian medicine, religion and life.
"He is a wonderful teacher whom I admire and love," Rebecca said. "I will truly miss him and Connie."
The Pearsons said they owe much to friends and employees like Vicky, Rebecca and 15-year veteran Brenda Hall.
"We love these folks and it's difficult to leave them," Steve said. "But we know in our hearts it's what God has lead us to do. It all boils down to trusting God."
Mrs. Reed and Inky II
More than 29 years ago, Mrs. Andre Reed waited patiently for a new veterinarian to open the doors to his new business, Pearson Animal Hospital.
"I had been taking my animals all the way to Decatur," Reed said. "I was so excited to hear a new doctor was coming to town, so I called and made the very first appointment for my dog Inky II."
Inky II came into Mrs. Reed's care as a pup when his mother died. She slept with her hand in his basket each night for two weeks to soothe his troubled nerves. Inky II was about a year old when he made his first trip to Pearson's Animal Hospital.
"Dr. Pearson was his doctor from that day until Inky II died at age 15," Reed said. "Dr. Pearson even made a house call for him once."
However, Inky II was only one of dozens of animals brought by Reed to the budding veterinarian.
"I've rescued and taken in many animals over the years," Reed said. "Too many to count, but they've all seen Dr. Pearson and they've all lived long lives."
Reed said she, like the Pearson's children, was not surprised to hear about their decision to become missionaries.
"It sounds just exactly like something Dr. Pearson would do," Reed said. "He is truly one of the genuinely nice people in the world. It's hard to find that in business. He's a good Christian man, plus a good doctor."