July 15, 2013

 

 Historic hospitals

Veterinarians share stories of three practices

 
Posted July 1, 2013
 
 
 

Dr. Fred Pomeroy treats dogs and cats in the same spot in the heart of St. Paul, Minn., where his grandfather set up shop to treat horses in 1886.

Many other veterinary practices across the country have stood the test of time, even if they haven’t stayed in the family. Coffee Memorial Animal Clinic, whose founder was an AVMA president, has been serving rural Kentucky since 1919. Merrick Animal Hospital, whose founder was kicked out of the AVMA, has been serving suburban Chicago since 1934.

The stories of these three practices encapsulate the ongoing evolution of veterinary medicine in the United States. As the AVMA celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, veterinarians who have worked at these practices took the opportunity to share their hospitals’ histories. 

Pomeroy’s Animal Hospital 

Dr. Benjamin A. Pomeroy graduated from Montreal Veterinary College in 1883, and he moved to St. Paul afterward to work with a colleague. In 1886, he opened his own office.
 
“In those days, a veterinarian was a horse doctor—literally,” Dr. Pomeroy told the Minneapolis Star in 1953. “Over 98 per cent of our work was with horses.” 




In the late 1800s, Dr. Benjamin A. Pomeroy started a practice in St. Paul, Minn., that would become Pomeroy’s Animal Hospital. The old photo dates to about 1900. The large portion of the building collapsed in the mid-1950s, and that area is now a parking lot. The small portion of the building is part of the present-day hospital. Dr. Fred Pomeroy, grandson of the founder, owns the practice.
Courtesy of Dr. Fred Pomeroy
  


Photo by Dr. Desiree Laredo
 

Dr. Pomeroy’s three sons followed him into veterinary medicine. Dr. Benjamin S. Pomeroy became a professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Harold Pomeroy stayed with the hospital, and Dr. James Pomeroy moved to Iowa to practice.

“We didn’t know anything but animals,” Dr. Harold Pomeroy told the Minneapolis Star.

The Pomeroy patriarch waxed nostalgic about the heyday of the horse, but his practice transitioned over the decades to treat mostly dogs. He worked until his death at age 94 in 1956, when Dr. Harold Pomeroy took over the hospital.

Dr. Harold Pomeroy still went on some farm calls in the 1950s before the hospital became exclusively a small animal practice. Sometimes he brought along his small son.

“I remember his favorite trick he used to play on me,” Dr. Fred Pomeroy said. “I was probably about 7 years old,
8 years old, and he put me in front of the cows as he did a rectal palpation. And my job was to sit there and tell him when his hand came out the mouth. And I was so intent and thought that was my best job ever. Many years later,
I learned that the arm was not long enough.”

Dr. Fred Pomeroy earned his veterinary degree from the University of Minnesota in 1974, then went to work with his father. He took over the hospital after the death of his father in 1979.
 
The Pomeroys adapted the facility through the years, and Dr. Pomeroy continues to update the equipment. Among the artifacts at the practice are an old X-ray unit, scale, unidentifiable instruments, horse bones, and reference materials.

Dr. Pomeroy is the last of his family in the field of veterinary medicine. Nonfamily veterinarians who have worked at Pomeroy’s Animal Hospital include the current associate, Dr. Desiree Laredo.
 
“My plan right now is to continue to work until hopefully I get in my 90s,” Dr. Pomeroy said. “I love coming to work every day. It’s so exciting and so much fun. And I guess I look at it now as, when I lose the fun, then I may consider retirement. But I plan to be here if I can for at least another 25, 30 years.” 

Coffee Memorial Animal Clinic

Dr. William Coffee, whose father was a Kentucky veterinarian, graduated from Indiana Veterinary College in Indianapolis in 1918. He spent six months in the Army, through the end of World War I. Then in 1919, he opened a large animal practice in the small town of LaCenter, Ky.
 



In 1919, Dr. William Coffee (right) opened a practice in LaCenter, Ky., that is now Coffee Memorial Animal Clinic. Here, Dr. Coffee works with Dr. Charlie Ogletree, then an intern, in 1950. Dr. Ogletree joined the practice the following year.​
Photos courtesy of Coffee Memorial Animal Clinic

 


Closest to farthest—Drs. Coffee, Ogletree, and Karl Silgals pose for a photo in 1954 in their practice vehicles outside Coffee Animal Clinic.
 
“I enjoyed what I was doing,” he told the Paducah Sun in 1983. “‘Course I don’t expect anybody to work like I did. I put in an average of 16 to 18 hours a day for the first 25 years of my practice.
 
“I’d make calls until 10 o’clock at night and come in and there’d be a note on my bed that said, ‘So and so has a sick horse.’ I’d get up, put my clothes back on and go take care of it.”
 
Dr. Coffee was active in veterinary organizations, too, including serving as 1950-1951 AVMA president.
 
Dr. Charlie Ogletree joined the clinic in 1951 after earning his veterinary degree from Auburn University. The patients then included small animals as well as cattle and horses. Eventually, the many small dairies in the area gave way to a few large dairies, and the clinic’s patients transitioned to mostly small animals.
 
“One of our policies was to take the patient in and get rid of the client and go to work,” said Dr. Ogletree, who retired in the late 1980s and turns 95 this month. “So many people, they didn’t like to have the horse’s nose twisted or to have the dog given shots or ‘My dog won’t take pills.’”
 
The clinic started out in a stable, moved to another building in town, then moved to a building behind Dr. Coffee’s house. The third building burned down as the clinic was relocating to a modern facility on the highway.
 
Dr. George Cunningham joined the clinic in 1968, after earning his veterinary degree from the University of Missouri, and is the primary owner today.
 
Like Dr. Ogletree, Dr. Cunningham experienced the transition from frequent farm calls to mostly small animal practice.
“Small animal, large animal, whatever, you get to talk to people and associate with them. And I like to talk,” Dr. Cunningham said with a chuckle. “I just like to see people. So I can do that in either segment. I’ve learned a lot about dogs, and I like dogs. And cats, for the most part, I like.”
 
Many other veterinarians have worked at Coffee Memorial Animal Clinic through the years. Among them is part owner Dr. Greg Rodgers, who joined the hospital in the late 1980s. 

Merrick Animal Hospital

According to family folklore, four of the Merrick brothers considered becoming architects but instead became veterinarians, because the veterinary school at The Ohio State University was a shorter walk than the architecture school.
 
Dr. Andy Merrick, a 1924 graduate, later moved to the Chicago area. In 1934, he founded a small animal practice in a storefront in the suburb of Brookfield, Ill. By 1937, Dr. Merrick had built a 5,000-square-foot hospital in Brookfield.
“Vets were still considered ‘horse doctors’ by most of the general public, only for treating farm animals,” wrote Dr. John Merrick, one of Dr. Andy Merrick’s children, in his book, “The Veterinarian’s Son.” “Many treated pets’ problems as a sideline and inconvenience. Colleagues of Dad scoffed at the money he wasted on what they called ‘Andy’s Taj Mahal.’ Dad, as it turned out, was years ahead of his time.”
 
 


Dr. Andy Merrick takes a radiograph with an X-ray unit in 1937. Dr. Merrick started a practice in 1934 in Brookfield, Ill., that continues to operate today.
Photos courtesy of Dr. John Merrick
 


Dr. Merrick built the present-day Merrick Animal Hospital in Brookfield in 1937. Here, Dr. Walter Burke, an associate, poses with Dr. Merrick for a photo outside the hospital circa the late 1940s. The previous winter, an ice storm had damaged panels on the building.
  
Through the years, Dr. Andy Merrick generally had one or two associates. Dr. John Merrick joined his father’s practice in 1954 after earning his veterinary degree from the University of Illinois. Dr. Andy Merrick had no interest in a partner, however, so Dr. John Merrick soon bought a practice in Wisconsin.
 
In other business endeavors, Dr. Andy Merrick developed and sold over-the-counter veterinary products. The AVMA did not allow members to advertise at the time and revoked his membership for putting his name on a product. He had just been installed as president of the Chicago VMA.
 
Dr. Merrick retired in 1968 and sold the practice to Dr. Ted Fitch. Dr. Fitch sold the practice to Dr. Jeff Weiser in 1995, and Dr. Weiser sold the practice to Dr. James Hosek in 2008.
 
Dr. Hosek said his family’s cats were patients at the hospital when he was a child. Dr. Fitch let the young man help out in the clinic and encouraged a career in veterinary medicine.
 
After earning his veterinary degree from the University of Illinois in 1988, Dr. Hosek became a relief practitioner and worked a weekend shift for Dr. Fitch. Dr. Hosek later started a house call practice, and Dr. Fitch offered his facilities for surgery and radiography. The relationship continued with Dr. Weiser. On Dr. Weiser’s retirement, Dr. Hosek bought the hospital while keeping his house call practice.
 
The hospital now employs three full-time veterinarians plus Dr. Hosek as a part-time veterinarian. Dr. Hosek has been updating the equipment and plans to update the building, but he has no thoughts of changing the location or hometown feel.
 
“We’ve got clients that have been coming to Merrick Animal Hospital for 40 years, and we want them to have the same experience they’ve been having all that time,” Dr. Hosek said.

Sharing stories

Dr. John Merrick encourages everyone to talk with elders about the past. He has dozens of questions that he would love to be able to ask his parents and his veterinarian-uncles.
 
In 1990, Dr. Merrick first wrote about his past at the request of a grandson on a school assignment. The experience motivated him to write the stories of his life—resulting in his book, “The Veterinarian’s Son,” in 2012. He wants to pass along how veterinary medicine and the rest of the world have changed and continue to change.
 
“Everybody has stories to tell,” Dr. Merrick said.
 
 

 

Registry recognizes heritage practices

 
 
The American Veterinary Medical History Society maintains a registry to recognize heritage veterinary practices in the United States that have been in continuous operation since founding at least half a century ago.

Lesley Ann Gentry, chair of the registry committee, said the history society began the registry in 2008 to document the contributions of heritage practices to veterinary medicine. By early this year, the history society had registered 30 heritage practices from across the country, including a number of practices dating back more than a century.
 
“Our hope is that many more practices will sign up in the coming years,” Gentry said.

Gentry said the heritage practices have gone through many changes through the decades, including changes in facilities and technology. Many of the owners are second- or third-generation veterinarians.

The registry is free but requires practices to complete a simple application form. The history society asks for brief documentation supporting the history of the practice, such as newspaper clippings.

“We are very eager and happy to work with whomever we can to build upon the registry,” Gentry said. “History is something that we should all be sharing, and we should all be out to chip in our own little piece of history.”

The AVMA’s 150th anniversary year is a great year for recognizing veterinary history, Gentry said. The history society is putting on a history symposium during the AVMA Annual Convention in late July, concluding with a session on two heritage practices.

 

 


The registry of heritage practices, an application form,

and additional details are available at www.avmhs.org.