by Darrell Arnold
LA VETA- When John Davis first came to Huerfano County, it was 1980, and he was looking for a job. He had just graduated from veterinary school at Colorado State University, and local veterinarian Patrick Hemming needed someone to help him with his practice.
"In those days," recalls Davis, "this was the ideal job that vet school graduates were looking for, a mixed animal practice in a rural setting. It was a dream situation, and we fell right into it."
Within a year, the Hemmings sold the business to the Davises, and a thriving practice resulted. Patti went to work as John’s assistant and strong right arm.
"We did everything together," says Patti. "We didn’t have any kids, and if he got called out at night, I went out with him and did all the technical work. And I did the book work and reception and everything."
After 28 years and thousands of animals, the Davis’ Rio Cucharas Veterinary Practice is something of an anomaly today. These days, it is very difficult to find a veterinarian who wants to work in a mixed practice with small animals, equines, and food animals.
"When we first started," says John, "eighty percent of our practice was large animals, cows mostly with the cow horses that went with them. Now, it has flipped. Today, eighty or ninety percent of our business is companion animals, including the backyard horse.
"We treat dogs, cats, alpacas, goats, and 4-H projects," says John. "Whether they’ve got claws, hooves, or horns, they are more of a companion animal, more a part of the family than they are production livestock." What has caused this shift in Davis’ practice? John says it is mostly due to demographics.
"Back in our early days, raising cows was an integral part of many families’ incomes around here. But those big ranches have been cut up into 40- to 120-acre ranchettes. I used to spend all fall preg-checking cows. Now I do two or three decent-sized herds of a couple hundred head and a few smaller operations."
According to Davis, there is an extreme shortage in America today of veterinarians who want to get into large-animal practice for places like dairies, feed lots, and large hog operations. Universities are trying hard to entice individuals to go into those industrial aspects of food animal medicine.
Says John, "There is an extreme shortage of people like Patti and myself who are willing to come into a rural community and take care of everything that comes through the door, be it an owl hit by a car on the highway, a C-section on a cow, a C-section on a bulldog, a poodle with an ear infection, or a sole abscess on a horse.
"I’m leaving for the Western Veterinary Conference, soon, and I’ll be gone for the better part of a week. I cannot find a relief veterinarian who will come down here and do everything. People who have acceptable levels of proficiency in general practice are going the way of the dinosaur."