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Archive for December, 2012

The Holstein bull raged in the steel stanchion, two thousand pounds of fury jumping, kicking, pushing, and throwing his head from side to side. The banging and clanging of the stanchion echoed in the barn. The bull’s eyeballs bulged, his pupils dilated and snot spewed from his nostrils. He jerked his head up and to the side ripping the nose tongs from my hand. Dr. Schultz jumped back as the steel tongs flew past, grazing his forehead and knocking off his Cubs baseball cap.

“Damn Dr. Gross that was close. Can you grab him and hold him or should I let Don do it?”

I wasn’t making much of an impression on the man I hoped would offer me employment.

There was a six-foot long rope attached to one handle of the nose tongs. The rope passed through a hole in the other handle. When you pulled the rope tight, the rope was supposed to hold the tongs closed.

I grabbed the tongs and returned to the fray. Wrapping my left arm around the bull’s neck, I grasped his lower jaw and pulled my body into his head. He easily lifted my two hundred plus pounds off the ground but I held on while he did his best to shake me off. I replaced the tongs in his nostrils, clamping down hard. I slid my free hand down the rope keeping the tongs closed tight while I wrapped the rope twice around the steel bars on top of the stanchion. Putting all my weight into the effort, I pulled the bull’s head back up and to the side.

All we were doing was getting a blood sample for a brucellosis test. Don Gordon, Dr. Shultz’ technician, helped the dairy farm owner bring the milk cows into the barn and locked them, six at a time, into their stanchions. We finished thirty-five cows. The bull was last.

In 1960, Veterinary medicine was male dominated and macho. Patients had a monetary value and nobody expected veterinary care to exceed that value. Chemical restraint of animals was in its infancy. Choices of antibiotics were limited. Clients expected their veterinarian to be tough, wise, skilled and able to handle any animal, any disease or injury, and any situation. There were no board certified specialists and advertising in any form, except for a modest listing in the yellow pages of the phone book, was malpractice. In my class of sixty-five students, there were only three women. All but a few of my class came from agricultural backgrounds. Today’s veterinary school classes are 75-85% women and almost everyone comes from a suburban background.

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I kept the right side wheels of the low-slung 1957 Ford precariously balanced on the mound between the two deep ruts constituting the road into the ranch. The left side wheels made a new path. If the car fell into the deep ruts, I would lose an oil pan, or worse.

My still new bride let out a gasp and I slammed on the brakes. We were on the crest of the hill, the Jones’ place spread out before us.

“What?”

“Oh Dave,” she sighed. “It’s so poor looking.”

The track ended in an acre of dirt yard. To the right the dilapidated barn struggled to maintain an upright position, a sturdy looking corral on the north wall of the barn seeming to hold it up. A windmill and stock tank were north of the corral. To the west, insolently weather beaten but standing proud and stark against the massive horizon was a two-story frame house. Patches of tenacious white paint clung to wind petrified siding. There were no trees. Brown prairie grass spread west and north while east and south were tan dirt mounds endlessly rearranged by the wind. Parked in front of the open barn door, the driver’s side door ajar, was John Jones’ 1949 Chevy pickup.

I eased the car down the hill into the yard. Kathy and Jenny came down the steps from the house, their blonde hair pulled back in identical ponytails. Ferdie raced around the corner of the house. Skipper, eyes focused, herding him.

“Look at Skipper running. Looks like she’s doing very well after her ordeal with the mowing machine,” I observed.

Rosalie patted me on the arm. Her first introduction to surgery had been helping me put Skipper back together.

“Don’t get the big head, you got lucky.”

Bent over in the doorway to the barn, John held the left hind leg of a bay gelding between his knees. He had a mouth full of horseshoe nails and held a horseshoe hammer in his right hand. He smiled around the nails and waved the hammer as I got out of the car and came around to open the door for Rosalie.

Kathy, the kids, and Skipper all came to the passenger side of the car. When I opened the door, our German Shepherd Mister forced his way out before Rosalie could move.

The two dogs performed the requisite sniffing of each other’s sites of identification. Mister circling stiffly, ears pointed forward, Skipper making quick, jerky movements. They circled each other three times, noses buried, then Skipper rushed off with Mister following, determined to keep her close.

“Honey”, I said, “this is Kathy and Ferdie and Jenny. Kathy, this is Rosalie.”

John finished with the horseshoe, dropped the horse’s leg, and came over to the car.

“And this is John,” I added.

Rosalie extended her hand. The rancher took it, pulled her in close, and gave her a hug.

“Welcome,” he said, “please feel you are with family here.”

If this sounds interesting, you can read all about the Jones family in my memoir; “Animals Don’t Blush”.

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