It’s very difficult to choose who next to spotlight in the series on “My Heroes In Veterinary Medicine.”
I was blessed to have two mentors in the time before my application to veterinary school. Both were graduates of Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Both were in the Class of 1972.
One was the valedictorian.
One was the salutatorian.
I worked for both of them simultaneously while I was in undergraduate studies at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS. The year was 1975.
I sought employment with them because one of the requirements for admission to Auburn was a letter of reference from “two veterinarians for whom you have worked for pay.” While volunteerism is admirable, I suppose the Admissions Committee at Auburn felt it showed more commitment to have held an actual paying job for a D.V.M.
Both of them hired me, even though neither one actually needed my help. It was a way of helping an aspiring veterinarian, just the way someone probably helped them at an earlier time.
Having flipped a coin, let’s start with Dr. E. Mac Huddleston.
When I met him, he was in practice in Pontotoc*, MS. Dr. Huddleston had what is usually termed a “mixed” practice, meaning he cared for small animals and large animals both. I carried a heavy schedule at Ole Miss, so I was available only Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. I made the 30-minute drive in my 1967 British racing green MGB convertible. It was a “ragtop” in the most literal sense of the term.
Dr. Mac had a soft and caring touch in his practice, even on the biggest and meanest bulls on the large-animal side. I learned about patience as well as patients there.
One Saturday, after we closed, he asked me to dig a grave for a pet we had euthanized. After I finished he asked me, “Jim, did you dig a nice, big hole so he would have plenty of room to stretch out and not be cramped?” He cared about the animals in his charge, even in death.
Since those days Dr. Huddleston has done a stint at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, is currently serving in the state House of Representatives and has a practice in Ecru, MS, just north of Pontotoc. Today, two other young men he mentored operate his original practice.
Most days Dr. Huddleston and I worked with his right-hand-man, Gene. Gene could do anything, and that’s not an exaggeration. I’d like to relate two funny stories.
Although I grew up on a dairy farm, the only farm animal we didn’t have was a pig. On one of the Friday afternoons I worked we got into the ambulatory truck and went to a hog farm to castrate some young pigs. Since I was clueless, Gene showed me how to hold the pig for Dr. Mac to perform the surgery. The technique was to hold the pig by its back legs and stick its head between your knees. That’s how I became familiar with a pig’s needle teeth, sharp canines that puncture denim and skin like butter and leave nasty little holes. There must have been fifty or more little males and, while the odor was pretty strong, I didn’t notice it much until I got into the MG to go home.
Was I ever glad that it was a convertible, because about 30 seconds of being cooped up in that little car was all I could stand of myself. A half-hour later, when I got home, I bathed, dried off, realized I still stank, bathed again, then again, and still stank. I drove to Pontotoc the next morning, still needing the top down to be able to breathe. I confessed when I first arrived at the clinic that I had bathed repeatedly and still smelled those pigs on myself. It was a preemptive strike to prevent Gene and the others from making fun of me.
And, yes, the top was still down when I drove home.
On another Saturday morning we had a farm call to care for two young Black Angus calves. As is par for large animal calls, the calves were supposed to be in small pens, but when we arrived, they were free in a large pasture.
It was rodeo time.
Dr. Huddleston was really good with a lariat, so Gene got on one side and I got on the other as we tried to gently and slowly direct one calf toward him. Of course, it broke and ran. Right at me.
Having been around cattle much of my life I had many opportunities to estimate body weights. I quickly sized this one up as probably weighing about 50 pounds, based on my experience with the purebred Jerseys. In a matter of seconds I was about to find out that a Black Angus calf weighs about twice as much as the same-sized Jersey. I placed myself directly in front of him, intending to wrap my arms around his neck and pick him up off the ground as he went by.
Instead, Gene and Dr. Mac were soon standing over me, picking me up off the ground.
Later, in the ambulatory truck, as I leaned against the passenger’s door wishing I could die and stop the hurt, the kind and caring veterinarian explained to me the difference in density of beef calves and dairy calves.
The next time they saw me they got their second opportunity to tease me about how I smelled.
I was slathered in Ben Gay.
Ben Gay. Why didn’t I think of that to cover the pig smell?
I will always believe that having letters of recommendation from the two top-ranked veterinarians of the 1972 class was a huge factor in my being admitted to Auburn on my first application.
See you Monday, Dr. Randolph.
*Like many towns in the United States, this one has an Indian (Native American) name.