On March 30, 2023, the local full-service animal hospital, Three Oaks Veterinary Services, was officially signed over to Dr. Lauren Taylor. Previously owned and operated by Dr. Ned Szempruch, the Brooksville-based business has been known for the past two decades for providing pet care with a personal touch at an affordable price. The clinic is located one half-mile south of Walmart on Broad Street and is easily identified by its iconic mural featuring various animals. With a mission statement of “treating every client and every pet like family,” Dr. Taylor strives to carry on the legacy of care that Dr. Szempruch has embodied for 37 years.
“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Dr. Taylor said. “We’re going to try our hardest to see what we can see, help who we can help. Think outside the box and come up with a plan for everybody, not just if you don’t have the money, you can’t get help. I feel like that’s the legacy that he’s leaving behind, and I have completely encompassed that and want to continue that legacy.”
That legacy began in Ohio when eight-year-old Ned Szempruch decided he wanted to be a veterinarian. From then on, he pursued endeavors and made decisions that would lead to his earning a degree as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida. The next step was establishing a practice. Beginning in a role not too dissimilar to that of Dr. Taylor at Three Oaks, Dr. Szempruch worked under Dr. Lewis Randall as a technician at Big Cypress Veterinary in Naples, Florida, for five years. He later worked as a veterinarian at the humane society in Naples for four years before opening his own practice, West Coast Veterinary.
After owning his first clinic for nearly a decade, Dr. Szempruch moved with his wife, Susan, and two sons to Brooksville in 2001 to be nearer to family and “try to take it easy and not work so much.” That would not be the case for long, though, as he noticed there was a need for such a veterinary practice in the small town. After some searching, the couple decided on a 28-year-old car garage due to its location. The renovation took years to overhaul the former garage into a full-fledged veterinary practice, but the business owners’ vision became a reality with the help of local contractor Tim Peters.
A professional equestrian rider and manager of Three Oaks Veterinary, Susan Szempruch handled much of the minutia of the day-to-day. As one of her responsibilities was hiring new employees, she was always on the lookout for capable, passionate individuals to add to the clinic family. That is when, in the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, “life finds a way.”
Originally from New York, Dr. Taylor moved to Florida midway through high school. Thanks to Hernando High, she became involved in agricultural programs such as FFA (Future Farmers of America), which led to her employment with Tractor Supply. The Hernando alum’s interest in animals began far earlier than that, though. Like her mentor, Dr. Taylor knew she wanted to be a veterinarian since early childhood, even as early as five years old.
“My grandmother has videos of me saying I want to be a vegetarian when I grow up,” Dr. Taylor said. “Then, further correcting me, I did want to eat meat, but I wanted to take care of animals… It just was always instilled in me from a very young age. My dad does a lot of wildlife rehab, and I just always grew up with all kinds of different animals in the house. I get a lot of it from him.”
Susan eventually crossed paths with Dr. Taylor when the then-Hernando High School student was cashiering at the local Tractor Supply Company. When Dr. Taylor mentioned her black Labrador Retriever, Ebony, had heartworms, Susan recommended she take her pet to Three Oaks to receive treatment. After the clinic treated Ebony, Dr. Taylor joked that she “put in many applications until they finally got sick of me putting in applications.”
Dr. Taylor was hired as a veterinary technician by Three Oaks Veterinary in 2005 and remained with the business through 2008. By the end of her first stint with the local clinic, she had advanced enough to take on the role of head technician. In order to gain the credentials needed to run her own practice, though, she would need proper schooling.
She started by attending Pasco-Hernando Community College before gaining admission to Ross University School of Medicine for her veterinary degree. After three years, she transferred to the University of Florida, where she studied for her final year to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Taylor returned to the clinic in 2014, this time as a full-fledged veterinarian.
“My husband, Billy, has played a crucial role in all of this,” Dr. Taylor said. “So have my parents and siblings. I couldn’t have done all this and can’t continue to do this without their support. I do plan on keeping this a family-run business.”
Once she rejoined the staff, there was a general “five-year plan” to hand the clinic over to her when the time was right. Five years turned to nine, as she explained, “I don’t think I was prepared for it until now, and I don’t think he was prepared to step down until now.”
While the option existed to sell Three Oaks Veterinary to a corporate entity like most clinics in Brooksville, Dr. Szempruch felt it was more important for the business to retain its uniqueness and personal touch. By selling to Dr. Taylor, he was able to pass the torch to someone he felt was deserving of the clinic’s legacy and “keep it as a private, family-oriented” animal hospital dedicated to treating pets like family.