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50th Anniversary for Veterinarians


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D. with contributions from Leigh Ann Carkeet

“My dad, Dr. Larry Mehr, and Dr. John Loftin celebrated their 50th veterinary class reunion at Auburn University this spring,” wrote Mehr’s daughter Leigh Ann Carkeet. There were 67 veterinarians in the 1967 graduating class at Auburn.

Approximately 45 are still alive, and about 36 attended the 50th class reunion, coming from all over the country.  “I think it would be interesting to hear the changes they have seen in the 50 years since they graduated,” she suggested.

“My dad worked early in his career at Winrock Farms in Arkansas for Winthrop Rockefeller. He has been in the Memphis area for 40 years working mostly with horses, but also a few cattle farms. He is still working at the age of 77. He worked the tri-state area, and has his own practice, working out of Southaven. He. Anyone who has ever owned a horse in the mid-south area has used my dad at some point,” Carkeet wrote.

Dr. Larry Mehr got his BS at the University of Tennessee in Animal Science in 1963. In college he was on the livestock judging team, and that team won the national livestock judging contest. He was raised on a farm, and he and his brother still keep up the home place in Bells, Tennessee, northeast of Brownsville.

After graduation, he started his veterinary practice in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, just outside Tulsa, in a large animal practice, mainly working on cattle. Then he worked for Black Watch Farms, an investment tax shelter in Angus beef cattle, for four years. He traveled throughout 15-20 states, working on nearly 30,000 head of cattle.

He next went to work for Winthrop Rockefeller at Winrock Farms in Arkansas, and worked the cattle lots out west for Winrock until Mr. Rockefeller died.

After Winrock, Mehr came back to Memphis. In the 50 years that Mehr has been in practice, he has seen the number of cattle operations in the mid-south drop. Fertility work on cattle had been his mainstay, but he started working on more and more horses.

Some of the biggest changes he has seen in the last 50 years are with “drugs and medications – sedatives and tranquilizers,” he said. “There have been new drugs developed, more anti-inflammatory drugs that work better. Early on we had ‘bute,’ but it was pretty expensive. We now have better antibiotics for cattle and equines. We have ‘designer drugs.’

“We are better able to treat colic now than we used to. We are better at diagnosing the types of colics and defining treatments according to the type.

“Fifty years ago people seemed to have more patience, seemed to care more for their animals, and tended to them better than they do now – both cattle and horses. Now they want a one-time shot and get done with it. Thirty years ago we didn’t see horses always kept in stalls as they are now. It’s stressful for them, not good for their minds, like keeping a child in a room. Horses are meant to be outside.”

In his early days, Mehr treated some million dollar bulls. He worked on some good cutting horses, too, some valued over half a million dollars. “Now, I don’t see as many around as I used to.”

He once worked the animals at Ringling Brothers Circus when it came to town. He checked out the animals and made sure everything was taken care of and presentable. “They were nice people – clean, neat, and organized. Not the stereotype of circus people that is often portrayed. Some were fourth generation circus people.”

Mehr is still working (he has an ambulatory practice), even though some health problems have slowed him down. He works on mainly horses now, and still some cattle, although there aren’t as many around. “I enjoy the animals and people I work for. It’s a good as it gets!”

Mehr emphasizes patience when working with horses and not to be in too big a hurry to diagnose. “If you listen to them, watch them for a while, pay attention to them, they will tell you what’s going on.”

Dr. John Loftin started in practice with Dr. H.E. Purvis at the Purvis-Loftin Animal Clinic in Senatobia, Mississippi, and the two worked over 300 dairies. Then, in the 1970s and 80s, many of the cattle farms/dairies went out of business or disappeared.

Loftin was in Senatobia for 40 years; then he sold the practice and moved back to DeSoto County. He was born and raised in Olive Branch and his wife was raised in Hernando, Mississippi.

In 1974, Loftin and Purvis split; Purvis went to all large animal care and Loftin went to all small animal care, purchasing Purvis’ half of the practice and converting it to small animal medicine and surgery. In 2005, Loftin sold the Senatobia practice to the current owner, Dr. D. Mark Slocum. Then Loftin moved back to Hernando.

At age 77, Loftin still runs his veterinary clinic in Hernando, at 1911 Mt. Pleasant Road. He doesn’t do much surgery any more, mostly vaccinations. But at age 77, he says, “I still enjoy practicing today as much as I did 50 years ago. Also, veterinary medicine is my hobby.” Loftin is doing what he enjoys! “I work six hours a day, six days a week, but not Tuesday mornings. On Tuesday mornings I work for the DeSoto County Animal Shelter, and have been doing that for ten years now.”

Loftin has seen vast changes in his 50 years of practice. “We have much better diagnostic equipment now and better drugs. In the older days, we made do with what we had and did a good job. I’m still ‘old school,’ meaning that when I see a problem, I try to fix it (not add to it). If someone needs help, I try to help him.”

Loftin says he sees a difference in the way his generation treated animals compared with today. “If I have a client who can’t afford the blood work diagnostics, I still treat them the best I can with what I see. And, generally, I’m still 94% right in diagnosis and treatment.” Loftin referenced Dr. Pol, who is also “old school.” Loftin’s many years of experience give him the expert eye to know what he is looking at, which explains his diagnostic accuracy.

Loftin said there are three older veterinarians in DeSoto and Tate Counties who are still practicing: Dr. Mehr, himself, and Dr. James Taylor, a large animal veterinarian with an ambulatory practice in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He and Mehr are 77 years old and he believes Dr. Taylor is one year older than he. “Dr. Taylor doesn’t even treat his own dog; I treat his dog. And when I had horses on my place, Dr. Taylor treated my horses. All of us still have all the work we can handle!” Loftin said.

There is something about doing what you love that allows one to work into the post-retirement years, and perhaps contributes to keeping us “young,” in spite of the health problems that plague older age folks. Fifty years in a particular career give the practitioners much insight and wisdom that is only acquired through experience.

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