In an ongoing series about people who have been heroes to me in veterinary medicine, today I will tell the story of how Dr. Henry Jones of Kosciusko, MS, showed his heroic side.
I was a student at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, out on Christmas break in December of 1976. I spent most of my holiday time at my Uncle Sam’s and Aunt Polly’s house. Regular readers will recall that he was my inspiration for becoming a veterinarian.
No wintertime trip was complete without at least one rabbit hunting trip. My beagles, Sam and Blossum, were avid rabbit chasers, and Uncle Sam had a worthy crew of his own.
As it happened, he also had some young beagle puppies he wanted to learn how to hunt. Of course, at age 4 months they didn’t understand anything about why they were in the swamp, but they had a good time chasing each other and sniffing all of the odors river-bottom land provides. When the adult dogs would jump a rabbit and chase him in a stereotypical circle back to his starting point, the pups got excited in the beginning, but had no idea why the others were running away from where the people were. As the hare circled back, they would run to greet the grownup dogs, but still didn’t understand that the big dogs were on a mission.
Swamp rabbits are huge. I mean, HUGE. Sometimes a cane cutter, as swamp rabbits are also known, would be as big as a small female beagle. And, about twice as fast.
The dogs jumped many-a-rabbit that day, and it wasn’t long before I had a chance to harvest another specimen. This one had run far faster than the dogs could. When he made the mistake of showing himself from behind the clump of grass he had been hiding behind, I raised my shotgun muzzle and fired. The next sound I heard made my heart stop.
It was the squealing of an injured puppy.
Apparently, the puppy had been cluelessly wandering around the area the rabbit was hiding. When the rabbit moved, the puppy must have run over to investigate. He ran right into the pattern of shotgun pellets.
It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday. No veterinarians would be open. Fortunately, Uncle Sam had Dr. Jones’ home telephone number. This was a couple of decades before cellular phones, and we were deep in the backwoods of the Big Black River. That meant the injured pup would have to be carried in the back of my game vest until we reached where our trucks were parked.
You cannot imagine how much a little beagle puppy can weigh until you’ve carried one for miles slogging through a swamp.
When we reached the house we immediately called Dr. Jones. He told us to meet him at his clinic, which was about an hour’s drive away.
He was there waiting on us and immediately began to examine the little dog. Soon, he lifted his gaze from the examination table and said, “He will need an X-ray.”
Now, as a poor college student, I knew I didn’t have the funds to pay for the puppy’s care, so I was already making mental arrangements to reimburse Uncle Sam for Dr. Jones’ bill.
Soon the veterinarian emerged with the film. He put it on the viewer, turned to me and said, “Jim, you are one lucky young man. Your Christmas has come early.” I looked. I saw. And I could hardly believe my eyes.
One pellet was in the puppy’s triceps muscle group, the back side of the upper arm. Three pellets were in the quadriceps group, the big muscles on the front of the thigh.
Not a single pellet in between, which meant that the chest and abdominal organs had been spared.
The puppy would be sore for several days, but had no life-threatening injuries.
All of us breathed a sigh of deliverance, then headed to the front desk to pay.
Dr. Jones spoke first to me. “No charge today, Jim. It’s what one veterinarian does for another.”
I could have hugged him at that moment, but I was so overcome with emotion, gratitude and relief that I was nearly in tears.
The phrase “pay it forward” had not been coined yet, but I have been given many opportunities to do so in 32 years of practice. I will always be grateful for Dr. Jones coming out after closing time on a Saturday afternoon. And for the loving care he gave the unfortunate beagle puppy that day.
No-charging the bill was icing on the cake.
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.
PS: The puppy went on to thrive and made a wonderful rabbit hound.
PPS: It wasn’t until much later I thought about whether the rabbit I shot at was actually hit. I have always subscribed to the belief that game should never be allowed to go to waste. I just had a bigger priority at that time, and had no idea how to find my way back to the exact spot where the event occurred.