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Monday, February 28, 2011

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: A Tribute to Daniel Skelton, DVM, Cornell 1939

By Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
Posted February 28, 2011

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

Dr. Daniel Skelton, DVM
Photo by Cornell University
As Black History Month comes to an official close for 2011, I wish to recognize Dr. Daniel Skelton, who died earlier this month at age 98. He is believed to have been the last surviving African-American veterinarian to have received his education during the Great Depression.

Daniel was born in Tennessee on September 10, 1912. He attended undergraduate college at LeMoyne College in Memphis, one of the Historic Black Colleges, majoring in chemistry and biology. Seeing his interest in medicine and animals, university president Frank Sweeney encouraged him to become a veterinarian. However, with no veterinary colleges available to him in the segregated south, President Sweeney suggested he move to New York to establish residency and then apply to Cornell.

Dr. Skelton described what happened next during my 2008 interview with him, I graduated on a Tuesday night [in 1934], then Mrs. Sweeney took me directly to the train station and I was washing dishes in Brooklyn 48 hours later. I wrote to Cornell’s veterinary college, but was rejected. I applied two more times, but to no avail. Discouraged, I called President Sweeney. “Don’t do anything”, he told me, “I will look after it”. Within a week, I was accepted.

Dan was a popular and well-respected student among the 40 members of the Class of 1939. After graduation, he joined the federal food inspection service and was assigned to a meat packing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a small town, mostly white, and the people referred to me as a ‘fly in cream’. After 18 months, I was promoted to supervisor over the objection of some of my colleagues. One of the workers in another part of the plant said to his buddy who was assigned to me, making sure I heard his comment, “How do you like a N____ supervising you? What is the world coming to?

Dr. Skelton was transferred to Wichita, Kansas, in 1942. Though still a segregated community, he and his wife were much happier living in the larger city and they remained there for the rest of his career. He eventually became circuit supervisor, responsible for food safety at 22 packing houses and supervising veterinary inspectors throughout central Kansas.

Fewer than 70 African-Americans received DVM degrees from northern schools before a veterinary college was established at Tuskegee Institute in 1945. Several of these early graduates, and also many of the graduates from Tuskegee during the 1950s and 1960s, worked in the federal meat inspection service. Their legacy in helping assure a safe supply of food to the American public (and also the military) is an important aspect of African-American veterinary history.

Dr. Skelton was an important part of that legacy. The transcript from my interview with him, including a decription of his student experiences at Cornell and his family history may be found at'39%20BioInt.pdf.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Water for Elephants: Meet the Veterinarians

Posted February 26, 2011
Author Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

When the movie, Water for Elephants, opens on April 22nd, all eyes will be on Tai, the 42-year-old Asian elephant who plays the lead role of "Rosie". Veterinarian Dr. Linda Reeve Peddie considers "Rosie" the best-trained and most mature elephant in the world.  Linda and her husband, Dr. James Peddie, have jointly managed the health care of "Rosie" and her herd mates at the Johnson ranch, "Have Trunk Will Travel", since the early 1990s.
Dr. Linda Reeve Peddie and Dr. James Peddie, Cornell 1965,
Veterinarians to the Asian elephant, Tai,
who stars as "Rosie" in movie, Water for Elephants.
Interview and photo by the author.
The Water for Elephants story involves a Depression-era veterinary student at Cornell University whose parents are tragically killed just before he is scheduled to sit for his final examinations. The despondent Jacob Jankowski bolts from Cornell and joins the circus. Coincidentally, Drs. Peddie also received their veterinary education at Cornell, graduating together in the Class of 1965, more than three decades after mythical Jacob.

Linda and Jim have taken care of the elephants for Gary and Kari Johnson for almost two decades. The array of medical and surgical challenges, as well as the sheer size and complexity of their six elephants requires extensive medical knowledge, creativity, perseverance, and a gentle touch. Tai, who plays the role of "Rosie" in the movie, is in marvelously good health thanks in large part to their veterinary care.  

During the creation of the Disney movie, Operation Dumbo Drop, in 1994, Tai developed gastroenteritis during filming in Asia. She lost her appetite and dropped a significant amount of weight. The Peddie’s wisely arranged for a 747 jumbo jet to airlift her favorite Southern California oat hay to the set in Thailand. It was an immediate success, and Tai's appetite resumed miraculously.  Though some would call it a ‘Jumbo for Dumbo’, Jim simply refers to it as the most expensive load of hay in history.

Drs. Peddie are regular visitors to the Johnson ranch and have examined and treated Tai and her herd mates numerous times. That familiarity, however, does not afford them casual access to the elephants. The Peddie’s would never approach Tai without being accompanied by one of the Johnson trainers. Elephants form a matriarchal society, explained Linda, and in Tai’s case, Gary Johnson is the head matriarch. A trusted trainer must always facilitate interaction with a non-herd member such as one of us.

How is actress Reese Witherspoon viewed by Tai? Reese and the others are simply props for "Rosie", who views herself as the lead actress, Jim said. As long as the human stars know their place in the pachyderm pecking order, everything proceeds smoothly.

What about the scenes depicting cruelty to "Rosie"? The Johnson’s were absolutely adamant that nothing harm Tai, either emotionally or physically. During trainer August Rosenbluth’s rampage where he portrays brutal treatment of Rosie, the handlers gently move Tai backwards and out of harm’s way, and August simply strikes the air next to her body. Because Tai has never known mistreatment, Linda told me, she does not view the flailing as anything more than some imbecile beating the air.

In a similar manner, the ugly traumatic wounds that the movie depicts on Rosie are just convincingly-fashioned latex molds that are perfectly affixed to her flawless hide.

Creating a movie of this nature requires a unique blend of almost mystical proportions. To more fully appreciate these numinous qualities requires an understanding of the longstanding bonds that form between animals and humans working with mutual respect at every level.

Veterinarians Linda and Jim Peddie are an integral part of that matrix. I think that fellow Cornellian, Jacob Jankowski, would be proud.

Addendum: In a future blog, I shall describe some of the medical problems that Drs. Peddie face in their care of elephants. The most serious challenge to young Asian elephants is a Herpes virus that causes acute death in calves. A research consortium involving clinicians and scientists at Cornell, Johns Hopkins, the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, and Baylor College of Medicine attempts to understand this devastating disease and create a vaccine for its control.

Readers are invited to support this important effort by following the donations link at:

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Friday, February 25, 2011

John D. Murray DVM, Cornell 1939: A Memorial Tribute

Posted by Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
February 25, 2011

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

Dr. John Murray, one of Cornell’s most loyal veterinary alumni, died early today. He was ninety-eight.

Born of hearty Irish stock on a farm near Addison, Pennsylvania, John spent two years at Alfred College, then applied to the veterinary college at Cornell. After waiting for several months without a response, he traveled to Ithaca one Saturday morning and had an impromptu meeting with Dean William Hagan.  

Dr. John D. Murray, 2008
Photo by the author

Three months later, his father carried a letter into the tannery where he was working. “My fingers were trembling when I opened that letter and read the opening lines, ‘We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted.’ That letter changed my life forever”, he recalled during a conversation in 2007.

Following graduation in 1939, he spent a year as Instructor in Surgery at Cornell’s large animal clinic then started a general practice in the rural community of Painted Post. He was a capable and innovative practitioner, and a good surgeon.

Dr. Murray became active in the local veterinary association and, in 1970, served as president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. John and his first wife, Agnes, raised three children, John, Martin (“Mickey”) and Mary Agnes, and were active in the local community until she unfortunately succumbed to Alzheimer’s.

Retiring after four decades in practice, Dr. Murray and his second wife, Marion, spent their summers in southern New York, relocating to Florida during the winter months where he enjoyed golf and fishing.

Dr. Murray served as the quintessential ambassador for Cornell, participating on the Cornell University Council. As chairman of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s fund raising committee, he never asked others to contribute more than himself. University President Frank H. T. Rhodes named him a Foremost Benefactor of the university in 1980 and the college’s John D. Murray Lecture Hall was named in his honor.

Though Dr. Murray’s later years were punctuated by sadness with the loss of Marion, he continued to serve as the Class of ’39 leader, staying in frequent touch with classmates and helping host their five-year reunions. Until a few months ago, he would even occasionally drive back to his beloved Cornell to meet friends and perhaps pop into the executive office to great the dean.

Dr. Murray recently developed heart failure and spent his remaining days in a local Hospice facility. It was there I had a wonderful visit with him two weeks ago. He regaled me with familiar stories of his early days in practice, and affirmed his love for Cornell and his classmates.

With his passing, we lose a legendary veterinarian of incredible wit and charm, and unsurpassed loyalty to the profession and to Cornell's veterinary college.  

The full text and audio of a 2007 interview with Dr. Murray, including his sidesplitting rendition of “Petey the Snake”, can be heard at,%20John%20D.%20'39%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Veterinarian who Judged Best In Show at the Westminster

By Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
Posted February 13, 2011

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

In 1938, Josephine Deubler was the first woman veterinary graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Sixty years later, she was the first veterinarian to judge Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club at Madison Square Garden.

Dr. Josephine Deubler
Photo from Univ Penn

A lover of animals and raised in a family of veterinarians―including her father, brother, uncle and two cousinsit was only natural that she would also seek a veterinary degree. However, it was not that simple during the 1930s as fewer than 40 women had graduated from veterinary colleges in the U.S., and none had graduated from Penn. In addition, she had a serious hearing impairment.

Dr. Deubler not only earned her V.M.D., but stayed at the University of Pennsylvania and received her PhD degree in 1944. She was the first woman on the veterinary school’s faculty and spent her entire professional career teaching and doing research.

"Jo", as she was affectionately known in the dog world, bred and raised Dandie Dinmont Terriers. Licensed as an American Kennel Club judge in 1962, she worked her way up the judging circuit reaching its acme at the Garden in February 1998. She selected a Norwich Terrier as the winner.

Though she officially retired in 1987,  Dr. Deubler remained active in veterinary and dog fancier circles until her death two years ago at age 92.

Despite the many veterinary tributes which were bestowed upon her, Dr. Deubler considers her greatest honor being selected to judge Best In Show at the Garden.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When Washington, D.C. had Two Veterinary Colleges

By Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
Posted February 12, 2011

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

After 33 years of operation and educating almost 500 veterinarians, the United States College of Veterinary Surgeons in Washington, D.C. shut its doors forever in 1927.

“The passing of the horse sounded the death knell of the veterinary profession”, was the opening line of the June 16th 1927 article as The Washington Post announced the closure.

The other institution was the National Veterinary College, established in 1892 by Cornell University graduate, Dr. Daniel Salmon (the man credited with discovering the Salmonella organism). The college later became part of Columbian University, which was renamed George Washington University in 1904.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Only Woman in Her Class

By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Date of posting February 5, 2011

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


Though Cornell was a leader for women seeking a veterinary degree during the 1930s and 1940s, enrollment was more restricted during the subsequent two decades. Women, it was argued, were less likely than farm boys to pursue large animal practice, and that was the greatest priority for most veterinary colleges at that time.

Dr. Linda Dixon Reeve [Peddie]
Photo provided by Dr. Reeve, 2010

During spring 1961, Linda Dixon Reeve sat with seven other women awaiting her interview for the two slots (of 60) that were allocated that year to ‘girls'. She remembers very well the long and grueling meeting with the Admissions Committee:

It was on the order of the Grand Inquisition. All I was lacking was the bucket over my head and the gong, but there was a bright light. The interview table was set up in a “T” configuration with me at the bottom of the “T” and Associate Dean Gordon Danks at the head. There were men seated all the way around, all of whom had pens and tablets and hardly looked at me. It felt like it was just Danks and me.

He asked me if I cooked, if I sewed, if I danced, if I enjoyed dancing. Did I date? Then he wanted to know, “If you were to marry someone who had a vocation out in the desert where there really weren’t any animals, just what would you do with this degree?” That one really threw me because I thought, “Oh, my goodness, this man knows I’m dating a fellow from Dartmouth who happens to be studying oceanography”.
To her surprise, Linda was selected and became the only woman in her class (the college took three women the following year to make up the deficit).

After graduating in 1965, she married a classmate, James Peddie, and they moved to California. They partnered in the Conejo Valley Veterinary Clinic in Thousand Oaks, a large and progressive group of veterinarians who handled all species and managed both a hospital and ambulatory service. The size of the practice allowed Dr. Reeve a flexible work schedule while her daughters were young.

In addition of domestic animal practice, Dr. Reeve and her husband also were veterinarians to animal stars. They worked with all kinds of animals, including primates, large cats, and elephants. For over 15 years, they cared for the animals in television series, such as “Frazier” and “Full House”, and in such feature films as “Dancing with Wolves”.

At the height of their career, they had penetrated the inner circle of Hollywood and were working for all of the major studios. Dr. Reeve became particularly adept at dealing with regulatory and quarantine issues associated with moving animals between the United States and foreign countries. She was a member of the National Tuberculosis Working Group for Zoo and Wildlife Species, formatting protocols for the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in elephants.

She was also instrumental in establishing the American Veterinary Medical Association's policy that advocated the use of the guide and tethers in managing elephants. This policy has helped halt legislation proposed by animal activists to outlaw use of the guide and tethers, tools she considers absolutely essential to assure the safety of both veterinarians and the elephants entrusted to their care.

Dr. Reeve retired from veterinary practice in 2002. Her biography and 2010 interview can be heard at,%20Linda%20Dixon%20Reeve,%20'65.pdf

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Which Veterinary College is Best for You?

By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University; posted February 5, 2011.

This is the time of year when members of the veterinary class of 2015 who have more than one offer of admission are making their final decision on which college to attend.

Should you choose the in-state school where tuition is lower, or the out-of-state college that has a program that better meets your academic goals? How highly do you value an established college with the enhanced career opportunities that come from a large and geographically dispersed alumni base? How important is weather, proximity to family, size of city, employment opportunities for your spouse or partner?

Here are the things that I suggest you consider.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: African-American Veterinarians at Cornell 1910-1920

Posted February 8, 2014 in honor of Black History Month
Readers are encouraged to see original story at 

Guest Author: Jennifer Morrissey, DVM
Editor’s Note: The first two African-American veterinarians in the US graduated from Harvard (1889) and the University of Pennsylvania (1907).1 It is unclear how many more African-American veterinarians graduated in that era, though Kansas State University had a graduate in 1912,2 and there were apparently three early veterinarians at Tuskegee circa 1910.3

While a veterinary student at Cornell (2009-2013), Dr. Jennifer Morrissey took an interest in the history of early African-American veterinary students at Cornell. She suspected that the previously-accepted university reports failed to accurately identify some of the black students who graduated in the early years, prior to the well-known Aubrey Robinson in 1920. With a determination and yearning for clues that was really quite remarkable, she deciphered class photos with tenacity, corresponded with experts in the field, and spent many hours in Cornell’s Kroch Library. Morrissey was eventually able to identity six black graduates between 1910 and 1919. She was proudly able to verify that Cornell’s contribution to educating African-American veterinarians this early in the profession’s history was unprecedented.
Donald F. Smith

Dr. Kirksey L. Curd, 1912, Graduation PhotoKirksey L. Curd, a native of Kentucky, was Cornell’s first African-American veterinary graduate. After receiving his DVM in 1912, he entered the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and spent the remainder of his professional career as a practicing physician at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia.

The next graduate, Garret Singleton ’14, was an Ithaca native whose mother was famous for creating a haven for black students in her house near the Cornell campus.4 After graduation, he had several jobs in regulatory medicine, including working for the Department of Health in Los Angeles. He eventually opened a small animal clinic in Venice, California, and was also an Assistant Humane Officer in the area. A musician, he was a member of a local symphony orchestra.

The Waller Brothers: Owen M. Waller, Sr., M.D., and his wife raised their family in Brooklyn, NY, where he was one of the founders of the NAACP. Two of their sons, Ray and Owen, Jr., attended Cornell and became veterinarians. Dr. Ray Benson Potter Waller ’17 practiced veterinary medicine in Harlem, NY, and also worked at the New York City Department of Health.

Owen Waller, Jr. entered Cornell with two other veterinary students. The three represented the largest number of male African-American veterinary students ever to graduate from Cornell in a single year (1918). Owen was a staunch supporter of the right of Black students to participate in varsity athletics. One of his influential essays was entitled, “The Colored Man as an Athlete”.

One of the reasons Owen was so interested in athletics was that his classmates, W. H. Seabrook (an Ithaca native) and Abram J. Jackson, Jr., were stars in baseball and track. All three men had successful veterinary careers, Drs. Waller and Seabrook in private practices in Brooklyn, and Dr. Jackson with the federal meat inspection service.

The last African-American to enter Cornell’s veterinary college between 1910 and 1920 was Aubrey E. Robinson, who became a large animal practitioner in New Jersey.

Ms. Jennifer K. Morrissey was a 2010 research assistant for the Veterinary Legacy Project.  This portion of her research will be presented at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine on Thursday, February 10rd, in honor of Black History Month.

Dr. Smith invites comments at