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Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Veterinarian for Eighty Years

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 1, 2011

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

A hearty New Year tribute to 100-year-old Dr. Larry Waitz who marks his 80th year as a veterinarian in 2011. He was awarded his D.V.M. from Cornell in 1931, earlier than any other living U.S. veterinarian.

Dr. and Mrs. Waitz, and their dog, in October 2007.

I spoke by telephone with Dr. Waitz today at his home in Cutchogue (Long Island). Towards the end of our conversation, I asked if he had any words of advice for veterinary students today. “Just tell them that being a veterinarian all these years has been the most wonderful experience of my life. I just loved every minute of it.”

Dr. Waitz started practicing 15 years before antibiotics, and spayed dogs in the days of rudimentary anesthetics. He remembers cows being housed and milked in converted multi-floor warehouses in Queens and Brooklyn (my wife refers to this as the 'original factory farming'). 

As a boy of 14 in New York, Larry was able to get a job exercising horses and leading trail rides. At one of his stables, he met a veterinarian who so impressed him with his medical skills with horses that he decided to pursue that as a career.

He entered Cornell in 1927 at the age of 16 and graduated four years later with a DVM degree as the youngest student in his class. Unlike the fictional account of the Class of 1931 hero in the book, “Water for Elephants”, who was supposed to have had four female classmates, Larry assured me there were actually no women in his class--and Cornell records corroborate this (more on this book in a future blog).

Veterinary students attending college during the Depression lived on almost nothing. Though tuition was free for New York residents, the students typically held one or two jobs to pay their student fees and living expenses.

Waitz loved Cornell and took time from his work and studies to enjoy the area. He would sometimes walk down the hill into Ithaca after studying late into the evening, then climb the steep Seneca or Buffalo Street hill to return to his apartment on Eddy Street.

Though he also loved to ski, “There was only one snowstorm all the four years that I was at Ithaca. I put my skis on about 9:00pm at the back of my house. I went down all the way to the center of the town, and then I got the trolley car and came up again. I did that a couple of times. I loved the surroundings. Fortunately, I had buddies that always had an old car. It was a delightful time.”

I asked Larry what it was like starting a practice on Long Island during the Depression. “I started off when men were selling apples on the street for 5 cents but, right from the beginning, I made a good living. I was so fortunate to be a veterinarian because there was a shortage of large animal veterinarians in that area.

“At first, a lot of people, including a girl I dated, said, ‘You’re crazy to be a veterinarian. The horses are going; there won’t be any work once the horses are all gone.’ How wrong she was. I took care of about 18 commercial dairies, many stables of horses, and many private horses on estates and riding academies. And the horses are still going strong on Long Island!”

After retiring over four decades ago, Dr. Waitz became a master sailor and very accomplished painter. He and his wife, Anne, still live in a farmhouse a few thousand feet from the bay which he grew to love in his later years. You can read (and hear) my complete 2007 interview with this kind and gentle man at,%20Lawrence%20T.%20'34%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Dr. Larry Waitz died at his home in Cutchogue, NY on February 27, 2011, four months before his 100th birthday, and one month after Annie Lind, his wife of 72 years.