Growing up on a farm in north central Wisconsin, I had a natural affinity to animals. My first passion was horses; my Dad used draft horses in the woods for making maple syrup. Later I became enamored with cows, and enrolled in 4-H and showed them at the county fair for many years. This innate preference for animals was no doubt a significant factor that contributed to my career choice of a veterinarian.
As a 12-year-old boy, I was amazed at the abilities and insights of our veterinarian as he attended to our animals. I was amazed at his ability to determine the pregnancy status of our cows by rectal examination. Given the challenges of artificial insemination, the rectal examination results were sort of a “report card” so to speak of our efforts. I always eagerly awaited the diagnosis, and when the cow was not pregnant appreciated advice and/or treatment to help achieve that goal. Additionally, I valued his ability to solve problems. From sorting out why a cow was sick and how to make her better, to delivering a “stuck” calf, the veterinarian left the farm in better shape than when he came. While this type of practice is considered “fire engine” practice, it was the norm back then. The preventive health programs that are common today were just being developed at that time. The notion of helping people with their animals appealed to me.
My curiosity in veterinary medicine lead me to seek job shadowing opportunities while I was in high school and college. Our veterinarian graciously allowed me to ride along several times. I learned quickly what a large animal veterinarian’s day was like and decided to pursue that career.
Aside from my affinity to animals, my job shadowing experience ranks as the next most important factor that focused my efforts to become a veterinarian. Recognizing the importance of job shadowing, I have returned the favor to many youths considering veterinary medicine as a career. The majority of those that rode with me while I practiced were high school or undergraduate college students. I always discussed the wide spectrum of opportunities that exists in veterinary medicine with them and enjoyed their conversation.
School organized Career Days are another venue to tell young people about the opportunities in veterinary medicine. My practice associates and I have participated in many of these programs at our local high schools over the years.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had great fun going into kindergarten classes to share some of the things I did as a cow doctor. I always got loud gasps when I showed them a cow aspirin and a hoof nipper, the bovine version of a fingernail clipper. Young children are fascinated with animals, and frequently rank veterinary doctor as what they want to be when they grow up.
I encourage you to embrace the opportunities to nurture young people’s interest in veterinary medicine. We have to plant the seeds that will grow into the next generation of veterinarians.
Animal Welfare; What’s Your Role?
Over the past few weeks the veterinary role in animal welfare has been front and center for me. I recently presided over the day long WVMA sponsored, Animal Welfare Seminar, attended by nearly 125 veterinarians, law enforcement and district attorneys. What's your role in Animal Welfare?
My role in animal welfare was framed in large part as a farm kid growing up in west-central Wisconsin. My view of animal welfare was based in animal husbandry from the agrarian point of reference. Early in my career, as a recent veterinary school graduate practicing in Rock County, I was exposed to numerous instances of animal neglect or abuse. For reasons I don't fully understand, I tended to look the other way; maybe even finding excuses for caretakers responsible for neglected animals.
My animal welfare epiphany occurred in 1995; the Rock County Sheriff's Department requested my assistance at an Avon township farmstead. I arrived on scene late afternoon on one of those clear, windy, absolutely frigid winter days. There were approximately 60 head of cattle; mostly beef breeds of varying ages. Nearly half of the cattle were dead; carcasses frozen solid. The other half were emaciated, nary a stem of hay to be found and a half mile trek across an open field through deep snow to the only source of water available - the nearly completely frozen Sugar River. We were fortunate to have Rock Humane Society volunteer's assistance and within a few hours, the surviving animals were watered and had access to plentiful forage. The surviving animals were confiscated and sold over the following few weeks; the caretaker was found to be suffering from mental disease.
As I write these words, the horrific images vividly race through my mind, the empathy overcoming me, just as it did that cold winter afternoon so long ago. This was my wake-up call. No longer would I look the other way, no longer would I make excuses for the caretakers. I became an advocate for neglected and abused animals. How can we as profession not assume this noble role? I owed this to so many of my clients, tirelessly providing the very best of care to animals in the most extreme of winter weather, they didn't make excuses, they just did it. They didn't eat, they didn't drink, they didn't warm themselves, until the animals under their care were watered, were fed, were sheltered.
I was recently recognized by the Rock County Sheriff's Department as a Citizen of the Year for my work with the Rock County Sherriff's Department humane officer, Deputy Bambi Stoikes. I was thrilled Deputy Stoikes attended the recent Animal Welfare Seminar with me. She is the one who should receive the recognition; she's on the animal neglect and cruelty front lines every day. Thank you ,Deputy Stoikes and all those in law enforcement serving these roles, your work is so important.
What's your role? Your role is being informed and educated regarding the process to successfully assist law enforcement and humane organizations in relieving animal abuse and neglect. Your role is to be vigilant, your role is to not make excuses, your role is to not look the other way. Err on the side of the animal. Most importantly, have the courage take action on behalf of the helpless. If not us, who? What's your role?Last modified on