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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Beginning of Organ Transplants

December 29, 2010:
Today’s Boston Globe contains a long obituary following the death Monday of the first human kidney transplant donor. It recalls the story of a remarkable event 56 years ago that ushered in the age of human organ transplantation.

But the Globe’s obituary of 79-year-old Ronald Lee Herrick, and related stories in hundreds of other newspapers (and NPR), fail to recall an important element of that achievement.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What did you find in your Stocking?

Christmas mornings are for stockings but, oh, what a surprise my wife found in hers a few weeks ago! The morning of our first snow, Doris pulled out her knee-high winter boots from the closet when she discovered them filled with dog food pellets. Ditto the adjacent hiking shoes.

We recognized the signature trademark of the culprit, a fat-bellied mouse that we had caught a couple of months earlier after discovering a box of soap pads under the sink likewise filled to the brim with Eukanuba kibble.

Like many residential areas, Ithaca is increasingly host to the encroachment of wild animals, deer most prominently. We have deer on our lawn daily, and twice have had births beneath the trees behind our house. We’ve had to relocate a family of six baby skunks from our shrubs, a groundhog from under our tool shed, and a dead possum from the same location.

While conventional wisdom suggests that wild animals living in our communities result from our encroachment onto their natural habitat, we think the situation at the Smith residence (where we have lived for almost 30 years) is much simpler. Where we once had two young lively cats, they gradually outlived their hunting prowess over the past decade. And while our two young dogs would at one time patrol the property, our sole aging cocker now merely lifts his ears with interest.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dogs Are Good Medicine

What do some child psychologists, neurologists and family therapists have in common? They use dogs as adjuncts in their medical practices.

A two-page spread is yesterday’s Wall Street Journal features numerous photographs of health care professionals accompanied by the dogs they use in their clinical practices. (URL below) There is even a flashback to Sigmund Freud and his Chou named Jofi.

Veterinarians and physicians use the term “One Health” to describe the growing awareness that animals and people share many health problems. Diseases like Salmonella or influenza are well known examples, but even some environmental-induced cancers are similar in animals and people.

However, "One Health" also refers to contributions that animals make to human health. Whether controlling obesity through encouraging exercise, lowering blood pressure, managing stress or providing companionship to senior citizens, dogs and other pets often part of a holistic human health strategy.

Friday, December 10, 2010


This week the United States Congress voted to designate 2011 as “World Veterinary Year to bring attention to and show appreciation for the veterinary profession on its 250th anniversary.”

The Congressional citation emphasizes the roles that veterinarians play in promoting healthy pets and healthy families, as well as biomedical research, sports, food safety, conservation biology and the Armed Forces.

It states in part: 
Whereas 2011 will mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of the veterinary medical profession;

The House of Representatives supports the goals and ideals of World Veterinary Year by bringing attention to and expressing appreciation for the contributions that the veterinary profession has made and continues to make to animal health, public health, animal welfare, and food safety.

The world’s first veterinary school was established in Lyon, France, in 1761. Most veterinarians can trace their professional roots back to this veterinary college established 250 years ago or to the schools that its graduates and their successors later founded. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Holiday Book for your Favorite Veterinarian

Here are two gift suggestions you might consider for your veterinarian or veterinarian-to-be.

GENIUS ON THE EDGE, by Gerald Umber, MD
A new biography on the father of surgery.  In the 1890s, William Halsted and three other doctors established the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. For over 30 years, Halsted pioneered the development of surgery so fundamentally that every university-affiliated surgeon in America can trace his or her lineage back to one of Halsted’s residents.

My fascination as a veterinary surgeon, however, was to realize how accomplished Halsted became in operating on animals. Using mostly dogs, he adhered to strict sterile techniques as early as 1900. Cornell’s veterinary college, by contrast, did not adopt aseptic surgery until 1948.

Why was Halsted operating on dogs? Because that is how he and his colleagues learned and practiced new techniques for humans, and how they developed their understanding of how the body works in health and disease.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

White Coat Ceremony for Cornell's Veterinary Class of 2012

How and when did Cornell’s White Coat tradition begin?

When I became dean in 1997, I had never heard about this symbolic coating of medical students at the beginning of their professional education, though it had been inaugurated by Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons four years earlier. 

Members of Class of 2012 celebrate their new white coats
December 4, 2010.
 Washington State University’s veterinary college had also adopted the practice and, in 2002, Dr. Richard Grambow, Chair of our College Advisory Council, became aware of it while visiting WSU where his daughter was on the faculty. He was so impressed that he promoted the idea with the alumni association and our executive staff, and we all thought it was a great idea. From the beginning, it was embraced as a joint alumni-college event with the alumni association providing the white coats and the college sponsoring the venue and reception.

We had our first ceremony seven years ago, in 2004. Rather than have the event during first-year orientation as happens at other medical schools and at WSU’s veterinary college, we decided the ceremony should mark the successful completion of the first two and one-half years of study, when the third-year students embark on clinical rotations. The first Saturday in December was selected.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Value of Mentoring for a Successful Veterinary Career

As an undergraduate student at Cornell in the mid 1950s, Patricia Thomson was often discouraged from following her dream to become a veterinarian. Her Cornell pre-vet advisor flatly informed her, “You won’t get in.” A career counselor concurred, suggesting that medical school would be the better route for someone with her excellent grades. Trish persisted, however, and became one of three women to receive the Cornell DVM in 1960.

Positive mentors and role models are critically important to young people as they pursue career aspirations. Trish had several mentors, in addition to her wonderful family. An early supporter was her local veterinary practitioner, Dr. Stanley Garrison, who frequently visited the Thomson farm and surmised that Trish would make a fine veterinarian. “Doc was the finest mentor one could have. He played an important role in my developing veterinary interests, and even hired me to work with him during my summer vacations while at college.

Dr. Patricia Thomson and Dr. Don Herr, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Admission of Women to Veterinary Medicine at Cornell

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 1, 2010

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

I read several articles this week commenting on a recent study that attempts to explain why more women than men apply to veterinary college.[i] Professor Anne Lincoln from SMU in Texas concludes that one of the reasons we have so few men applying to become veterinarians is “men’s strong negative response to women’s increasing enrollment”. Based upon data from a 20-year period starting in the mid 1970s, Professor Lincoln concludes “that for every 1 percent increase in women in the veterinary college student body, about 1.7 fewer men will apply the subsequent year.

During my history course at Cornell last spring, we spent a substantial amount of time examining issues relating to access for women, Jews and Blacks in veterinary medicine. For those students enrolled in the course this spring, I wrote this blog to get you thinking about these issues over the holiday break.

You can read more about the personal stories of some of the women who graduated between 1930 and 1970 at (includes biographies and interviews with women veterinarians) and (stories of women who graduated before 1950).

Dr. Marie Koenig Olson,
the only woman to matriculate in veterinary medicine at Cornell in 1933.
Her father, husband, son and granddaughter were also veterinarians.
Photo from Cornell University archives.

Relative to women enrolled in veterinary medicine at Cornell, there were five distinct time periods:
1905-1935: Approximately 12 women entered the veterinary program in these early years, surpassing all other veterinary colleges in the U.S. They were a fascinating group of women, pioneers in every sense of the word.

1935-1945: Considering the times, this was the “Decade of woman veterinarians at Cornell” as they comprised about 5% of the entering classes. Several classes had four women.

1945-1970: The Dark Ages for women at Cornell! At the end of WWII, proportions of women, Jews and Blacks all declined. Though people sometimes report that Cornell had a quota of two women per year, the number of matriculating female students varied from zero to four.

1970-1995: A change in the admission policy to treat women and men equally resulted in a 500% increase in the percentage of women admitted to Cornell between 1971 and 1977. The first class that was over half women graduated in 1981 (Dr. Sheila Allen, the current dean at University of Georgia, was in that class). The proportion of women dropped briefly below 50% then increased slowly thereafter.

1995-2015: During the last two decades, the percentage of women matriculating has increased marginally, but mostly has hovered between 70% and 85%. The class that graduates in May 2011 is 70% women. As I write this blog, we are reviewing the admission folders of students for admission in 2011, Cornell’s sesquicentennial Class of 2015.

[i] Lincoln, Anne E. 2010. “The Shifting Supply of Women and Men to Occupations:
Feminization in Veterinary Education.” Social Forces 88(5):1969-1999.

Dr. Smith invites comments at 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Successful Pet Insurance Company in Japan

I got an unexpected primer in Japanese pet insurance from one of the veterinarians who attended my November lectures in Tokyo. Dr. Asako Shimamura, a 2002 graduate of the Nippon Veterinary and Life Sciences University, introduced herself as an employee of Anicom Holdings, a growing pet insurance company that markets exclusively in Japan.

In discussions with Asako, and also with Tokyo veterinarians who have benefited from her expertise, I became intrigued by the recent success of her company. From a very small beginning in 2000, they now have more than 60% of the domestic market share for pet insurance in Japan.

When I asked Asako to explain her company’s success, she said, “Many people now regard pets not just as companion animals, but as members of the family. Because of her company’s vision―An insurance group aiming to lessen tears and brighten smiles―Anicom is on the march, with sales tripling to over 9B Yen ($110m US) in the last five years.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tokyo: A Successful Veterinary Clinic in a Highly-Competitive Environment

While in Tokyo last week, I visited a small animal practice in the upscale Meguro Ward area in the southern part of the city. “There are over 60 clinics within a three-km radius of our hospital,” noted 58-year-old Dr. Hidemi Yasuda, who established the practice in 1982. “Our patient population is about 70:30 dog to cats, with an occasional ferret or rodent.”

Exterior Entrance to Yasuda Veterinary Clinic: Dr. Hidemi Yasuda (center)
with Junya (left) and Mrs. Sanae Yasuda.
Touring the well-groomed facility, I was struck by the efficiency of the operation and the ardor of the staff doctors and their support team. I asked Dr. Yasuda his recipe for success in a highly-competitive environment where clients arrive in a BMW or Mercedes-Benz and expect what he termed ‘better service’.

Hidemi thought for a moment. “The quality of our employees is critical to our success. From Nanayo Hashimoto in our front office to the veterinarians who are responsible for the medical care of the 60 patients who arrive each day, we provide dignified, individualized service for each client and their pet. This is a passion that was ingrained in me during my first job after graduation, when I worked for a pharmaceutical company.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dr. Gen Kato, the Father of Veterinary Textbook Translation in Japan

Visiting a modern small animal hospital in Tokyo in early November, I marveled at how far the Japanese veterinarians have progressed in the medical care of companion animals in recent years. And one of the reasons for these advances is evident on the book shelves in veterinary offices where I see frequently-used copies of the most influential veterinary textbooks translated into Japanese.

Dr. Gen Kato and his technician in front of his CT scan machine

It wasn’t always so,” 78-year-old Dr. Gen Kato, explained to me. “When I opened my first small animal practice in 1964, I did not know how to diagnose and treat many of the problems of the dogs and cats presented to me because our veterinary education in those days was mostly limited to large animals.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Interview with a Japanese WW II Veterinary Officer

We were only informed that we were heading south, and it was not disclosed how many days it would take to reach our destination.” So began the five-year war journey of a young Japanese veterinary officer in December 1941, as he disembarked from a port in occupied China with 300 horses under his care.

This afternoon, I had the privilege to interview 93-year-old Dr. Takehiko Takahashi, one of the few remaining veterans of the China-Burma-India conflict. Tall and erect, with a surprisingly facile command of the English language, this distinguished gentleman would later in life become president of the Japanese Small Animal Association. With the assistance of a young Japanese veterinary student named Junya Yasuda, Dr. Takahashi shared with me details of how he transported a boat-load of horses through the South China Sea to Thailand, and from there to the front lines in the jungles and mountains of Burma.
Dr. Takehiko Takahashi, November 7, 2010

The horses were secured in tightly-packed quarters in the ship's hold for the journey. Lack of ventilation and the tropical heat became serious health hazards as they coursed south into the tropical sea. The horses that became sick with respiratory disease were helped by treatment with anti-Strangles serum delivered to their boat while en route. Dr. Takahashi was also successful in convincing the ship’s captain to periodically hoist horses by crane onto the upper deck for fresh air and exercise.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Personal Accounts of Veterinarians Serving on Opposing Sides of the China-Burma-India Conflict During WW II

Three years ago, I interviewed my longtime friend, Dr. Kenneth Gumaer '43, who had served during World War II in the China-Burma-India theater. His responsibility was to supervise the safe transport of over 250 mules from New Orleans to Calcutta, India. Despite being torpedoed by a German U-boat and enduring rough seas that caused massive hematomas on the mules, Dr. Gumaer proudly reported that they lost just one animal during the 87-day passage. 

From the disembarking point, the mules were transported by train to Deogarh, India for training and final preparations for combat. Then Gumaer led them through almost impenetrable jungle and over treacherous mountain passes behind the Japanese lines in Burma until they finally captured the strategic airport at Myitkyina. It was a major Allied victory in the C-B-I campaign and a significant turning point in the war.

Dr. Kenneth Gumaer with a Pack Mule
in the China-India-Burma Campaign in WWII (1944)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Traveling with Beau

I needed a break after serving as dean of the veterinary college at Cornell University, so I climbed into a Jeep with my dog, Beau and headed north and west. Two weeks later, we arrived in Alaska.

Entering Alaska from the Yukon

Our wheels never touched the interstate as we traveled the secondary roads across Ontario and the northern states. We crossed Lake Michigan by ferry and visited numerous small towns and interesting sites that "just happened" along the way. We crossed North Dakota, then traversed the Canadian prairies before reaching the Alaska Highway in northen British Columbia.

Happy Birthday to My Beau

Cornell veterinary college community and visitors to the campus sometimes recognize pictures of Beau, my red English Cocker Spaniel who will be 14-years-old on Election Day, November 2, 2010. He is my joyful and loyal companion.

Beau Loving the Snow, March 2007

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kentucky's Consummate Veterinarian

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 20, 2010.

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

As a young man growing up in Kentucky in the 1930s, Delano L. Proctor wanted to be an army officer and a pilot. The Navy rejected him because he was color blind, however, so he followed his father into the veterinary profession. He became a legendary Lexington equine veterinarian, serving some of the best stables in the world’s equine capital.

D.L., as he was affectionately known to his colleagues, joined the service following his graduation from Cornell in 1942. The Army wisely took advantage of his expertise with horses and assigned him to Fort Reno, Oklahoma, the country’s largest remount station, with 5,000 mules and 10,000 horses. He traveled from there to Calcutta, then to India’s embarkation point for the rugged China-Burma-India campaign. His responsibilities were to break, condition, and assure the health of horses and mules used behind enemy lines in the severe jungle and mountain terrain.
Dr. Proctor with a massive bull elephant that he and two colleagues killed.
The state's wildlife warden had ordered it destroyed after a week-long rampage
that had left 35 residents of their village crushed and killed by the rogue beast.

Following his discharge at the rank of Captain in 1946, D.L. returned to Lexington and took over his father’s equine practice. For over 40 years, Dr. Proctor was veterinarian for some of the finest equine stables in Kentucky. The quality of his surgical knowledge and abilities was affirmed when he was admitted, by examination, as one of the early diplomates of the prestigious American College of Veterinary Surgeons. He also served as the 107th president of the AVMA in 1985-86.

Dr. Proctor had a deep respect for his alma mater, “Cornell did great things for me and, above all, there’s the prestige that you get from being associated with it.” While serving as dean, I had the privilege of sharing several lively and insightful conversations with him. Despite debilitating arthritis in his later years, he hired a private airplane so that he could join his remaining classmates for their 65th reunion in 2007.  A modest man who spoke sparingly of his own war experiences, he preferred to acclaim the horses and mules that helped turn the tide in the rugged Burma conflict.

In December 2007, I drove through the snow-covered roads of West Virginia to interview Dr. Proctor for the Enduring Legacy project. He spoke of the greatness of the veterinary profession, and his fondness for Cornell. In his later years, D.L. had become an impressive student of veterinary history, writing insightful (but sadly, unpublished) essays on comparative medicine and early veterinary scholars. When I asked him why he had become so interested in history, he said simply, “Well, it just seems to me like you ought to know where you’re coming from.

D.L. knew better than most where he came from, and also where the profession is going. When he departed this life in 2009, he left a legacy as the complete, the consummate equine veterinarian.

A Biography and interview (audio and transcript) of Dr. Proctor is available on the Enduring Veterinary Legacy series.

Friday, October 15, 2010

They Cared Enough to Give Their Name

Students at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine sometimes wonder why we call Lecture Suite I the Murray Room. Or why is there a Flower in the library?

It’s simple, really, and goes to the core of the blending of State tax dollars and private philanthropy in the making of Cornell. Without the combination of the two forms of support, year after year, our facilities would be Spartan.

Walking around the building, students and guests of the college see names in strategic places: ‘Greenberg’ on the M.R.I. suite, ‘Belinski’ on the teaching laboratory, ‘Turrell’ on the linear accelerator cancer facility, and so on.

Amazingly, the practice started just three years after the college was established. As the story goes, our first dean, James Law, was giving ex-Governor Roswell Flower a riding tour of Cornell’s campus in 1897 when the horse pulling their carriage balked in front of the new veterinary college building. The gentlemen used the pause to visit the young college.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

World Equestrian Games and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute

The caption on the large mural that greets incoming passengers in the Lexington airport says simply, “The world’s premier equine practice since 1876”. Lexington’s Hagyard Equine Medical Institute identifies the world’s most comprehensive and most advanced establishment in the world for promoting and sustaining equine health.  

              Hagyard Poster in Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, KY
During the World Equestrian Games being held for the first time in the United States in fall 2010, the Hagyard practice assists enforcing health regulations for horses that come from almost 60 foreign countries. With veterinarians and staff from Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, they also provide medical care for these equine athletes while they are in the Lexington area.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stephen Ettinger, DVM Honored with Prestigious Salmon Award

When Dr. Stephen Ettinger was presented with the very prestigious Daniel Elmer Salmon award by Cornell alumni on October 2, 2010, he gave an unusual acceptance speech. Rather than talk about the extraordinary achievements as a veterinary cardiologist, scholar and author that have made him the most recognized name in contemporary veterinary medicine, he chose instead to honor the man for whom the award is named.

Dr. Ettinger (right) with his former professor
and mentor, Dr. Robert Kirk (2008).
Dr. Ettinger began his presentation by holding up an egg, symbolic of the recent illnesses that have brought fresh attention to the challenges that we continue to face in preventing food-borne organisms from Salmonella and other contaminants. He then talked about Cornell's first DVM graduate, Daniel Salmon, one of the most renowned veterinarians of the 19th century. Ettinger talked about Salmon's inaugural leadership of the federal Bureau of Animal Industry that was created in 1884, and how he developed a system for food inspection that continued well into the 20th century. He also talked about Salmon's scientific relationship with another Cornell graduate, Theobald Smith, with whom he made many discoveries, including isolating the organism that bears his name: Salmonella.

During the Salmon era, human and veterinary medicine worked side-by-side to achieve great accomplishments in advancing animal and human health. Sadly, the professions drifted apart in the early years of the 20th century.

Cornell's New Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Opens October 1, 2010

Why should the people of New York State invest tens of millions of dollars to build a facility at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine to diagnose and prevent animal diseases?

Let’s consider the alternatives:
·    Ten million cattle and sheep were slaughtered and their bodies burned in massive fires to eliminate foot and mouth disease in Britain a decade ago;
·    Food poisoning caused illnesses for thousands of people in the recent outbreak of Salmonella-tainted eggs;
·    Thousands of cats and dogs became sick and many died from pet food tainted with impurities from China;
·    Dogs developed a new strain of influenza that caused pneumonia and death.

$70 million Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Opened Oct. 1 2010

These are the types of arguments that my colleagues and I made to the State of New York several years ago when I was dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. And why we rejoiced when Governor George Pataki visited Cornell in 2006 to announce the State appropriation for a new Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to replace our aging facility that lacked the size and sophistication to monitor and control diseases that have increased in virulence and scope.