Cover image for The hero of the herd : more tales from a country veterinarian
The hero of the herd : more tales from a country veterinarian
McCormack, John (John E.)
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 254 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SF613.M38 A32 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
SF613.M38 A32 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Another hilarious and heartwarming sojourn in Choctaw County, Alabama, with the veterinarian whose previous chronicles of the ways of man and beast include Fields and Pastures New and A Friend of the Flock.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Continuing Fields and Pastures New (1995) and A Friend of the Flock (1997), McCormack, now a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia, relates more of his experiences as a young country vet in Choctaw county, Alabama, during the 1950s and '60s. Since his was primarily a large-animal practice, most of his stories are about such large-animal concerns as cholera vaccination and dehorning, emergency bovine C-sections, and marathon hog castration (not to mention one case of porcine cosmetology!)--plus treating the occasional coon dog or deerhound. Also involved, more than incidentally, are colorful human characters including "Sinkin'" Jenkins, a farmhand who faints at the sight of blood; Carney Sam Jenkins, the local taxidermist and self-taught animal doctor; and the members of McCormack's own family. Throughout, he conveys to the reader his dedication to his work and his ability to find humor in almost any situation. --Barbara Duree

Publisher's Weekly Review

With 30 years of successful veterinary practice behind him, McCormack (A Friend of the Flock) has a wealth of stories about people and animals in rural Choctaw County, Ala. Back in the 1960s, McCormack was the first vet in the county; he had a big-animal practice, treating everything from household pets to cows, pigs and horses. Most of his clients were small farmers. McCormack recounts his first cesarean surgery of a young heifer, during which tough-talking bystanders became nauseated and fainted; he describes the rescue of a calf and its owner from a deep gully. Colorful characters abound: Carney Sam Jenkins, taxidermist, amateur vet, expert on "hollertail"; Miss Ruby McCord, proprietress of the local grocery; Goat, the mailman and purveyor of gossip. There are tales of searching deep woods at night for a sick cow and the curious case of the sunburned piglets and the evil Fred, runt of the litter. McCormack is a firm believer in the value of a "good guffaw," and he provides plenty of them with his lively anecdotes. Many of the stories have as much to do with the idiosyncrasies of small-town life as they do with the treatment of animals. But the author manages to convey, without giving way to a saccharine idealism, the pleasures of living in a place where people don't lock their doors. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-While this return to Dr. McCormack's veterinarian practice in Choctaw County, AL, in the 1960s will delight fans of the first two books, readers unfamiliar with them will still enjoy this addition to the series. The author's reminiscences continue to be punctuated with plenty of humorous events and with a lot of good-natured fun poked at his own attempts at healing a wide variety of large farm animals along with some dogs and pigs. The vet's growing understanding of people and animals becomes more apparent as he narrates each successive experience. His growing maturity and wisdom in dealing with human, bovine, and various other types of animals clearly becomes a theme throughout the book. Old friends from the previous titles reappear, and new individuals join the ranks, adding different perspectives, some variety, and more smiles. Young adults interested in veterinary science or those who just like animals and enjoy a good bit of humor will be satisfied.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Every Thursday, except for Christmas week, I worked at the livestock sale barn in Livingston, a small town forty-five miles north of Butler. Since there was no practicing veterinarian in Livingston, the neighboring community of York, or even the entire county of Sumter, it didn't take long for the animal owners there to find out there was a vet at the barn every Thursday. Word spread fast, and soon people were calling to ask me to "drop by" and check a cow, test a herd, examine a horse, or treat a pet on my way to or from the sale barn. Some even requested that I come to the house and vaccinate their pets when taking a "break" in the sale barn action. Others found that I usually took lunch at Miss Maude's café, just off the courthouse square, so it wasn't uncommon to wheel up for a bite and see a goat on a pickup truck or a bird dog in a box, just waiting for me to examine them.     In the summer of 1965, Timmy or Dick would usually accompany me on those Thursday visits. Our six-year-old, Tom, was peeved because he was sure he was big enough to be my assistant. His plan was to sit on the vet pen fence and hand me the blood tubes with the big bleeding needles attached--and, of course, lend advice in case the need arose. Naturally, his mother wasn't crazy about the idea, but after much pleading and many sincere promises to be careful, be good, and behave, he was allowed to go "just this once." He neglected to tell her about how he'd be handling those sharp needles and perching precariously on the top board of the fence. But he had been with me on calls before, and he was unusually mature for his age, having already been witness to more veterinary surgery than 99 percent of the county's adults. His very descriptive accounts of several veterinary procedures, including calf and puppy birthings, epileptic seizures in dogs, and how to take a mule's temperature, had already landed him in hot water with Mrs. Minsloff, his kindergarten teacher.     Therefore, just before he started the first grade, we left Timmy and Dick at the clinic with a passel of cleaning chores, and Tom made his first trip to the sale barn. It was great fun to have him along and see his youthful enthusiasm for everything. He especially enjoyed watching for white-tailed deer and wild turkeys along the highway, and constantly asked questions about animals. He wanted to know about the breeds of cattle and the reasons for so many different colors.     "What kind of cow is that, Daddy?" he asked as we buzzed by a pasture full of bovines.     "Which one?"     "The black one."     "That's an Angus. Came from England."     "Why?"     "Well, that's just where her kinfolks originated."     "No, I mean whys she black?"     "Uh, well, that's just the way God made her. He made some of the others red, and some other colors, such as the gray one down there drinking from the pond."     "Why?"     "That's just where they get their water, since they can't drink from a glass."     "Why?"     After a few minutes of "whys" I'd attempt to change the subject.     "What do you want for lunch? I think we'll eat at Miss Maude's today."     "Umm, a hamburger, French fries, an orange drink, and chocolate ice cream," he replied. I should have known. Jan would have suggested the meat loaf, turnip greens, and sweet potato casserole. When I mentioned this alternative menu, Tom made a face and a gagging noise.     "OK, we'll do the hamburger thing, but let's hold the ice cream until we start home, and then we'll stop at the Dairy Queen at York and get one of those big cones," I suggested. This plan met with his approval.     I thought about the week before, when Timmy and I had stopped by the DQ and had each ordered the biggest cone on the list. All went well on the way out of York, but when we hit the county line and I looked over at Tim and saw his lips wrapped around his ice cream, a devilish urge struck me. As a joke, I slapped the bottom of the cone up a little, just as the truck hit a pothole, and the whole glob of half-finished ice cream went flying into Timmy's face.     In my funning around, I had just meant to get a little dab of the ice cream on his chin. Unfortunately, the plan worked a little too well, and Timmy's face, from horn-rimmed glasses to the tip of his chin, was covered in a slowly dripping, cold white mess, speckled with exploded cone parts. A bucket of creek water and a couple of towels helped relieve the stickiness, but Timmy has never forgiven me for that mean trick, no matter how often I apologize. That might be one reason he decided to become a physician's assistant instead of a veterinarian. I guess he hoped he could avoid being tormented by another wicked employer.     This time, when Tom and I parked in front of Miss Maude's place, we saw a German shepherd sitting in the front passenger seat of a pickup truck, its mangy head stuck out a small crack between the window and the top of the door. She was staring intently at the café door, obviously waiting for her master to finish lunch.     "Daddy, that dog's got a bad case of the mange," Tom diagnosed. He was to start the first grade in just a few days, but he was already a pretty good veterinary dermatologist.     "Yep, she does, but what kind of mange is it?" I asked. On many occasions Tom had climbed up on the stool in the lab and peered down into the microscope, excitedly watching a live mange mite crawling over the microscopic field. He also was fascinated by microscopic worm eggs and heartworm larvae as they wiggled in the blood smear.     "I think it's red mange," he said hesitantly.     "Maybe. But why?" Now I was asking the questions.     "'Cause I didn't know there was any other kind."     "There's demodectic and sarcoptic, and maybe even some others. But the sarcoptic kind is real contagious to humans, and if they spend time around places where the dog has been sleeping or they carry the dog around next to their body, it will break out on their skin," I explained. Tom would probably be lecturing on "canine diseases transmissible to humans" at show-and-tell time in school sometime very soon, but I had one thing more to pass along.     "When we go into the café and sit down, look around and see if you see anybody scratching themselves. If they are, they may have it. It might be the owner of this dog."     Tom slowly scanned the small crowd, consisting mostly of Sumter County cattlemen. The Sumter crowd wore cowboy hats, while the few Choctaw Countians had on seed corn caps. I removed the one-page menu from its standard position between the napkin dispenser, the sugar pourer, and the Louisiana Red Hot sauce. The day's offerings were in blue lettering, no doubt from the use of carbon paper. On days when the typewriter wouldn't work, the specials were just scribbled on lined, Blue Horse notebook paper.     "Daddy, look at that man over there with his back to us. He's scratching his side," Tom whispered, pointing to the corner table. "I wonder if that's his dog."     "That's Skeeter Paul. He asked me for some mange medicine a couple of weeks ago for his dog. We'll talk with him after we eat and find out if that's the same one."     Seconds later, Miss Eugenia, the head waitress, was taking our order.     "That's my boy, Tom, Miss Eugenia, and he wants a hamburger with ketchup and mustard, and an order of French fries," I said. "I'll have a pork chop, collard greens, and boiled okra. And corn bread and iced tea, of course."     "What'll you have to drink, young man?"     "I want an orange drink, please, ma'am," Tom answered politely.     While I checked out the crowd, Miss Eugenia took a minute to ask Tom the usual questions.     "Do you start to school this year?"     "Yes, ma'am, next Friday. I'm six."     "Do you have any brothers and sisters?"     "Just Lisa. She's almost four. But my mother is gonna have a little baby any day now!" he stated excitedly.     "Really? Do you want a boy or girl?"     "I'd want a little brother to play with, but a girl would be OK, too." She looked at me and winked, but spared me the same question. I just wanted it over with and a healthy mother and child.     "By the way, Skeeter wants to see you. Something about his dog," she said.     But before she could bring our food, Skeeter had turned and spied us, then headed our way, grabbed a chair, and squawked it up to the end of the table. I noticed he was still scratching his side.     "That mange medicine work, Skeeter?" I asked.     "I didn't use it yet. Old Suzie's lost all her hair and just looks so bad I decided that I'd try to get you to take her back to your clinic and doctor on her until she's cured," he said, still scratching around his belt. "I'm just ashamed for anybody to know I let an animal of mine get in that shape."     "Suzie stay inside or outside?" I asked.     "Oh, she's an outside dog and rides in the back of the truck. Sometimes I let her get in the front seat, but she gets so close to me she just about pushes me out the door."     "Does she scratch much?"     "Not too much. I'm scratchin' more than she is. Doc, can folks catch the mange from dogs?"     "Skeeter, meet my associate here. This is Tom. What do you think, Tom?"     Tom cleared his throat and declared, "There's one kind of mange that is catching for people. I `spec you've got it."     "W-what? H-how do you know that?" Skeeter stammered.     "Daddy told me a while ago." The man stopped in mid-scratch and stared at the six-year-old. Then he stared at me.     "Skeeter, I'll take care of Suzie. Now what you need to do is go to your doctor and tell him you think you've got the dog mange. But he won't like it if you say that a vet told you, so say you read it in the Reader's Digest or Ladies' Home Journal . It's caused by a mite called the sarcoptic mite, and it burrows in the skin and irritates the fire out of you. It's unusual, but I'll bet Suzie's got both kinds of the mange mites on her. They're both bad boys."     Our food arrived presently, and we tried to eat while discussing canine dermatology and how someday there would be veterinary specialists who only see dogs with skin and skin-related problems. I had no problem with my collard greens and other southern delicacies, but Tom only picked at his burger, which caused Miss Eugenia to fuss a little about his appetite. Maybe discussing mange at the dinner table wasn't such a good idea.     "Just talking about mangy dogs made me not hungry," Tom said.     We went outside and took a look at Suzie. Sure enough, she was mostly bald, except for a big tuft of hair at the end of her tail and some splotches scattered randomly over her body. She had the typical odor of a dog with chronic mange, which made diagnosing a full-blown case of the disease easy.     "Tell you what, Skeeter. I'm gonna give you a small bottle of special shampoo that contains selenium. I want you to go to the house, wet her down, pour the shampoo on, lather her up, then let it soak for ten minutes before rinsing her off. Then dry her real good and tie her in the garage on some papers or an old quilt. When I get ready to go home tonight, I'll call and you can bring her over."     "OK. But will that fancy shampoo cure her?"     "No, but it will kill a little of the smell. She has to sit next to Tom all the way home." Tom's mouth gaped open.     "Well, it's either that or you drive and she can sit next to me," I suggested.     "Sure, I'd rather do that," Tom said, deadpan. "Or ride in the back with the worm medicine." He was showing promise as a comedian as well as a budding veterinary dermatologist!     Suzie was a very cooperative dog on the way home. Skeeter had found an old sleeping bag, which we zipped up around the patient, leaving only her head sticking out. She was so embarrassed she hid her head between the seat and the passenger-side door. But when we stopped at the York Dairy Queen, she sat up and looked out the window, causing some strange looks and one very uncouth comment from a high schooler parked there.     "Look over yonder what's in that sleeping bag. I believe that's the ugliest woman I ever saw!"     I stared his way, then waggled a finger as he and his cronies scratched off and disappeared into the humid night, probably headed for the stateline beer joint just minutes away.     Tom ate only half of his ice cream, then gave the rest of it to Suzie. By the time we crossed the Choctaw County line, both my passengers were fast asleep. Everything seemed so peaceful in the truck cab, listening to the wail of the country music singer and the whine of the mud grip tires. But my mind was on Jan and the much-anticipated birth of our third child. I wondered if tonight might be the night. My foot mashed the accelerator down a little harder.     If I had known what was in store for me on Suzie's return trip home several weeks later, I wouldn't have had a peaceful thought in my head. Copyright © 1999 John McCormack. All rights reserved.