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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women's Leadership in the U.S. Congress and the AVMA's House of Delegates: Exploring Parallels and Looking Forward

By Julie Kumble*, Guest Author
with Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted November 28, 2012

As veterinarians watched the election returns on November 6th, most eyes were on the top of the ticket or on specific congressional, state or local races. However, something else was happening as the election of women to Congress reached historic proportions. For the first time, the Senate will have 20 women (an increase of three), and the House of Representatives will reach 17% women.

Julie Kumble, 
guest author
What was particularly fascinating to us is how closely the gender distribution in the 113th Congress will approximate the number of women representatives in the House of Delegates (HOD) of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The HOD is the AVMA's principal governing body and consists of 52 delegates, one from each state including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; plus 14 members from professional associations like the specialty, species and career-based organizations. For each delegate, an alternate is also a sitting member of the House. 

Only delegates (not alternates) can vote within the HOD, and their votes are weighted proportionate to the population of their respective states. For example, California has 47 weighted votes and Texas has 41. At the other end of the population scale, Wyoming and Vermont have four and five weighed votes, respectively. The allied groups each have two weighted votes.

This graph shows the gender proportions in the newly-elected 113th Congress compared to the 2012-13 HOD. We further segmented the data in the first two columns for those HOD delegates and alternates who are state representatives (104 total) from the total number of delegates and alternates that includes those representing other organizations (134 total).

Percentages of Women and Men  in the 113th US Congress
and in the AVMA's House of Delgates

The proportions of women in the HOD and in Congress are entirely consistent with other sectors, from academia to business to politics, where women hold only an average of 18% of the top leadership positions. However, women earn 57% of college degrees, with most of the gains above 50% being achieved in the last decade. Women have been more numerous that men in veterinary colleges since the early 1980s, and have earned over 80% of veterinary degrees for almost 20 years.

The following graph shows the relative age distribution of delegates and alternate delegates for the HOD, using graduating year as an rough proxy for age. The mean year-of-graduation for each cohort is shown on the y-axis. For example, the mean year-of-graduation for all HOD delegates is 1979 (33 years ago). For women, the mean year-of-graduation is 26 years ago (1986). Male delegates on the other hand are older, with their mean year of graduation being 35 years ago (1977). 

Not surprisingly, the alternates who represent the more recently-appointed HOD members are more likely to be younger. That age difference is seen in men as well as women.

Distribution of House of AVMA's House of Delegates
by Year of Graduation
Experts recommend a minimum of 30% women for leadership positions in any sector to achieve a critical mass where women’s roles become part of the norm of that sector. The Wellesley Center for Women considers that proportion to be the minimum needed for change at the governance and top levels.  With the total population of women veterinarians now over 50% and growing more rapidly than any other major profession, it is even more important to establish institutional frameworks to assure that the number of female HOD delegates and alternates reach and maintain at least the 30% critical mass as soon as possible.

Karen Bradley, DVM
Delegate and Chair,
House Advisory Committee
Dr. Karen Bradley is the current HOD delegate from Vermont and also currently serves as the chair of the House Advisory Committee. This is a group of seven members who act as the executive body for the HOD.  As the leading member of the HOD and also the owner of a four-doctor veterinary practice, Bradley has the opportunity and the responsibility to look ahead and consider the changing demographics in our profession from a leadership point of view. 

She comments: "How states and allied groups identify HOD members varies greatly. Some states have many people waiting in line for their turn as a delegate, and others have to seek out people for the position.  Some states even have a formal election from their membership.  Though the Manual of the House of Delegates states that the term for delegates and alternates is four years, there is no limit to the number of terms imposed by the Bylaws nor the Manual.  Without term limits, delegates can remain in office for decades.  

"I am very fortunate to be in Vermont, a state with very active women veterinarians--and men willing to share the table.  Our state VMA's Executive Committee has been approximately 50% women for the last 10 years whereas 20 years ago it was similar to the HOD and Congress with 20% or fewer women.  What did Vermont do to effect this change?  It seems that in our small state, the veterinarians active in organized associations tended to bring in new blood more frequently.  After serving for a number of years they would seek out new recruits for committees and leadership positions and those happened to be women more and more as the population of veterinarians in Vermont became more female.  And for what it’s worth, Vermont's AVMA HOD delegation over the last 20 years has been four women and two men! " 
Looking ahead and considering the changing demographics in our profession, we will do well to encourage more women to run as delegates, to mentor younger female veterinarians and encourage them to take on leadership roles, and to serve as role model to other professions by striving to achieve and surpass the critical mass point of 30% in the House of Delegates.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

*Julie Kumble is Director of Grants and Programs, Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts
Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027. She can be reached at 

Photo credits
Julie Kumble's photo provided by Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts
Karen Bradley's photo provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Driving with my Dog to Alaska: The Road Home

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted November 27, 2012

Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first 15  installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page.  My wife, Doris, flew into Anchorage and joined us for 10 days. 

Doris flew out of Anchorage on September 3rd, on the last direct Chicago flight of the season. The following day, American Airlines would be rerouting its Chicago plane to San Juan, yet another indication that the north is ephemeral and relatively isolated especially in the winter months.

After leaving the airport, Beau and I retraced our path from Anchorage through Palmer and the Wrangell Mountains to Tok, where we spent our last night in Alaska. We had barely reached Tok when my daughter called with the news that my 89-year-old mother had fallen at a bus stop in Toronto and broken her hip. My plans for a circuitous trip back through the northern Yukon and then south through British Columbia changed, and we headed home by a more direct route, even including the interstate after we reached the United States south of Winnipeg, Manitoba four days later.

We left Tok very early on our second morning and soon crossed the border back into Canada. Though much of the scenery was familiar, the days are much shorter now and the higher elevations in the Yukon were snow-covered. 

On our way through Beaver Creek ten days earlier, I had noticed more than the usual roadside advertising for Buckshot Betty's Restaurant and Cabins. Though I'm not one for silly local fork lore, we were both in need of a breakfast break, so I pulled onto the spacious gravel apron and parked between two large RV's, each with miniature dogs barking at Beau through the closed windows.

I entered a cozy breakfast nook already inhabited by a large table overflowing with a dozen or more people with plates spilling over with pancakes, eggs and sausage. I patiently waited by the door for at least five minutes -- I didn't want to sit down until invited to do so -- when from the kitchen burst a larger than life person who could only be Betty herself, balancing another half dozen plates in one hand and two coffee pots in the other. She ordered me to sit down in the most colorful language I"d heard all trip, and reinforced her admonition with something about her not being my mother. When I told her I wanted takeout because a had my dog in the car, she replied without hesitation to "bring the mutt inside." 

Beau and I had a delightful time with Betty, especially after the RV's left and it was just she and her assistant with the two of us. She is a legend in these parts and, as we left, she tucked a copy of the CD, "The Ballad of Buckshot Betty", under my arm. 

'Buckshot Betty' and Beau in Beaver Creek, Yukon.

Red fox along the Alaskan
highway in the Yukon.
People in the Yukon seemed to be either natives or newcomers. Betty was a native. But at one midnight rest stop in Teslin (Yukon), I found a newcomer when I inquired of her  if the northern lights were often visible during the fall. Looking at me as if she didn't understand the question, I repeated it and said we had seen them in Denali Park. "No," she answered authoritatively, "I've never seen them.
As I walked back to the jeep, I saw the lights reaching from the expanse of the northwest and hovering almost above me. The multi-colored aurora was visible for the next two hours, so brilliant and beautiful that we stopped several times so I could marvel at the wonder of it all.
Proprietor of the Kluane Museum of Natural
History in Burwash Landing, with Beau

I met another long-timer at the 95-person hamlet of Burwash Landing at milepost 1093 on the Alaskan Highway. We were the sole patrons of the quaint Kluane Museum of Natural History with its interesting taxidermy collection complete with a standing polar bear that stretched to an imposing ten-feet in height. The proprietor, a caustic young man with long hair and beard told me he was originally from Toronto. "How did you get up here?", I asked. "By Greyhound!" was his curt answer, and the conversation deteriorated from there. 

An hour-long wait along the southern stretches of Kluane Lake
due to blasting associated with new construction.

Patience is a must requirement for travel on the Alaska Highway whether encountering long  sections of road with pot holes the size of boulders, or extensive delays due to construction and the never-ending maintenance associated with extreme frost upheaval that occurs during the long winter months. 

Almost two weeks earlier I had met truck-driver Jon at  near the beginning of the Alaskan Highway. He warned me to drive carefully, especially around wild animals. "Don't drive like dumb-shit", he had said. Jon's words were prophetic on the evening of my second return day when I encountered a black bear sow and three small cubs. One of the cardinal rules is to never leave your vehicle to approach wild animals, and to beware of oncoming traffic. 

Black Bear Sow and her Three Cubs
in Northern British Columbia
One of the three curious cubs
beside the Alaska Highway

As I was pulling over the right shoulder, facing east, a robust family of about eight tourists were piled out of a large van just ahead of me. Three of them spilled out onto the road, within ten yards of the sow, and incredulously, two more fumbled around in the back of the van pulling out tripods and cameras. Just as the pair with the cameras started across the road towards the bears, an enormous blast from a 28-wheeler erupted behind our jeep and an accelerating driver swept his rig past us, barreling down the middle of the road and barely missing the tourists. The sow kept on munching grass and inching her brood further down the ditch beside the road as the undeterred visitors set up their tripod and snapped pictures.

The remainder or the trip was relatively uneventful and I was visiting my mother -- she had returned to her assisted-care facility several days earlier -- ten days after leaving Anchorage. Beau and I stayed in Toronto two more days and then returned to Ithaca. 

Beau's behavior was no different from the many other times he had returned home from a long trip. As we neared our home, he sat up, started to whine and jiggle all over. His tail flapped loudly against the jeep's seat and he dashed from the driver's side as soon as I opened the door. Around and around the lawn he ran then bounded in the house as Doris opened the front door to greet him. After his hugs from her, he was back outside, sniffing new smells for deer and squirrels throughout the property. Then, as is his ritual, he raced around the house again, this time stopping at the water dish for a few noisy laps. Within half an hour, he was stretched out on his favorite chair, sound asleep and snoring softly.

After gassing and cleaning the jeep, I returned it to the Avis at the Ithaca airport the following morning. Thirty-five days and 10,049 miles after leaving Ithaca with my boy.

It has been five years since our Alaska trip. Beau turned 16 on election day, 2012, and is still a wonderful and easy traveler. My days as veterinary dean behind me, I rejoined the faculty and continue to teach and now do research and write on the history of veterinary medicine and its impact on the future of the profession. I have given several talks about our trip to various groups, encouraging people to be more attuned to the human-animal bond and more receptive to exploring life and this great country with our dogs and other pets.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dr. Harold M. Zweighaft, A Tribute to a Distinguished and Caring Veterinarian

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted October 19, 2012

Harold M. Zweighaft, DVM died on October 18, 2012, 
surrounded by his loving family. 

I don't remember when I first met Dr. Zweighaft. Perhaps it was at a Cornell function or at a meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association; maybe it was a social function of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. All I know is that it was a long time ago, and that our friendship and my admiration for him grew stronger with each passing year. 

Harold M. Zweighaft, DVM
presented the Daniel E. Salmon Award medal in 2000

Photo provided by Cornell University

Dr. Zeighaft graduated from Cornell in 1956. Though it was an era when it was not always popular to be a Jewish student in veterinary medicine, he became one of Cornell's strongest alumni, serving in many distinguished roles including over 20 years on the veterinary college's Advisory Council. 

He was director of the Tri Boro Animal Hospital in the Bronx from 1958-1984, and of the West Parc Veterinary Clinic on the upper west side of Manhattan beginning in 1981. He was a compassionate and committed veterinarian, loved and respected by his clients and their pets. A breeder of champion Boston Terriers, Dr. Zweighaft could always be found with his wife, Dorothy, and other members of their personal and Cornell family in his floor box at the Westminster Dog Show each February, enjoying the judging of the breed groups and the Best-in-Show.

Dr. Zweighaft's influence extended to the veterinary profession at the city, state and national levels. His most distinguished role was as chair of the Executive Board of the AVMA (1997-98), a position that carried great responsibility and impact for the profession nationally. 

Though his professional awards are numerous and lofty, Dr. Zweighaft was most comfortable "on the Hill" at Cornell. His lifelong love affair with Cornell has extended to the next generation of his own family and also to his clients, colleagues and friends. In 2000, he was presented with the Daniel Elmer Salmon Award, the highest distinction bestowed by Cornell veterinary college graduates to one of their own.

Dr. Douglas Aspros, president of the AVMA and a fellow New York State veterinarian wrote to me this morning regarding Dr. Zweighaft, "This is the passing of an era and the loss of a very effective advocate for veterinary medicine." 

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tuskegee and Cornell: A Shared Legacy in PhD Education for African-American Veterinarians

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted September 22, 2012

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

While visiting Tuskegee University this week to present a paper on One Health, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Eugene W. Adams, one of the college's pioneers and most distinguished faculty.

Now in his 90s, the youthful-appearing Dr. Adams regaled me with stories of his days at Cornell, where he received his PhD in pathology in 1961. He was one of three Tuskegee faculty who received PhDs at Cornell in that era, the other two being Dr. W. C. Bowie (physiology, 1960) and Dr. R. C. Williams (anatomy, 1961).  All three men became major leaders of the college. Dr. Bowie served as dean for 18 years.

Professor Emeritus Eugene W. Adams, DVM, MS, PhD
Tuskegee University
Photo by Author, 2012

In the early 1930s another Tuskegee veterinarian, Frederick Douglass Patterson, did graduate studies at Cornell in poultry pathology. He was the first faculty member at Tuskegee to receive the PhD and soon thereafter became the third president of the university. He founded the veterinary college in 1945, and also was the lead architect in establishing the United Negro College Fund (1946) as well as the Tuskegee airmen program during World War II.

Dr. Adams credits the warm relationship between Cornell's Dean William A. Hagan and Tuskegee's Dean T. S. Williams for paving the way for Tuskegee faculty to go to Cornell in the 1950s for graduate training (there were several others who followed in the 1960s and 1970s). The two men had much in common. Both Hagan and Williams had received their DVM degrees from Kansas State University, and Hagan had been the chairman of the AVMA's first institutional review team that eventually recommended the full accreditation of Tuskegee in 1954.

Dr. Adams recalled his days at Cornell very fondly. He studied for his PhD alongside future Cornell professors Drs. John King and Dan Tapper and never recalls hearing a racial slur nor a negative comment from anyone at the university. That was unlike some other universities at the time, and he attributes Cornell's welcoming atmosphere to the leadership of Dean Hagan. Dr. Adams also received a research stipend from the college that equaled his fellowship from Tuskegee.  Together, they gave him a salary equivalent to what he had as a full faculty member before his educational leave.

During his first year in Ithaca, Dr. Adams rented a room on Linden Avenue, then later when his family joined him, they stayed in Cascadilla Hall..

Several veterinary colleges, notably Kansas State, Iowa State, Michigan State and the University of Pennsylvania (as well as Cornell), were instrumental in enrolling African-American students into their DVM programs prior to the opening of Tuskegee in 1945. However, the Tuskegee-Cornell partnership for PhD education in the early years of the institution stands alone and highlights the role that committed leadership --- in this case, Deans Williams and Hagan --- made in establishing and advancing the reputation of the new college.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

New York City's Five Veterinary Colleges

Guest Blog
By Samantha Rivera, DVM candidate, 2014 Cornell University
Posted September 22, 2012

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

As a New Yorker born and bred in the Bronx, I have deep cultural ties with my city. New York really has it all – a complex transportation system, numerous hospitals and medical schools, and restaurants that reflect our rich cultural diversity. So why did I reluctantly pack my bags during the summer of 2007 to travel all the way upstate for my pre-professional and professional education?   
Because New York City does not have a veterinary college.

When I took Dr. Donald Smith’s course in veterinary history as a first-year student, I was shocked to learn that at one time in the past, there were several veterinary colleges in the heart of Manhattan. What happened to these colleges? Why did they not survive? How did these veterinary institutions change and evolve? These questions have bothered me during the last two years, so, I finally decided to learn their history. 

This is their story.

In 1857, eight years before Cornell University was founded, an act was passed in the State capital of Albany to establish the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons. The veterinary practice of a French veterinarian-physician by the name of Alexandre Liautard was eventually selected for the site of the college, and clinical instruction began on November 23, 1864. This was only the second veterinary college in the country at the time.

Liautard was dean of the college for about a decade when internal disturbances resulted in his resignation. Joined by several faculty members, he left the institution and founded the American Veterinary College, which provided clinical instruction at 139 West 54th Street for the next 25 years.

A Graphic Outline of New York City's Five Veterinary College (1857-1921)

Problems between the board and staff persisted at the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons, and another group of faculty resigned in 1878 to found the Columbia Veterinary College. Also called the College of Comparative Medicine, the governing body of this institution contained several MDs with veterinarian Erskine Bates serving as dean.  

The three veterinary institutions existed simultaneously in New York City for several years, providing instruction to hundreds of prospective veterinarians. By most accounts, Liautard was the most prominent spokesperson for the veterinary profession in the United States at this time. He continued his role as dean of the American Veterinary College, while Harry D. Gills led the New York City College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Charges of impropriety in 1884 forced Bates to resign from his leadership of the Columbia Veterinary College, and college merged with the American Veterinary College. Despite its short history of only seven years, Columbia’s 80 veterinary graduates comprised almost ten percent of the total graduates of the five colleges over their six-decade history.

In another merger, the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons and the American Veterinary College consolidated in 1899 to create an entirely new veterinary institution associated with New York University (NYU). The name of this new institution was the New York University New York-American Veterinary College, with W.J. Coates as dean. New York College of Veterinary Surgeons had almost 300 graduates between 1857-1899, while the American Veterinary College had twice that many graduates between 1875-1899.

Though Cornell University had offered limited instruction in veterinary medicine since 1868, it was not until 1894 that the State passed a law authorizing the establishment of a veterinary college at the university in the rural upstate town of Ithaca. 

In 1905, eleven years after Cornell was designated as a state-supported veterinary college, a bill was introduced to the New York State Assembly that would fund a veterinary college in New York City. Cornell vigorously opposed the bill, but the law was passed and New York University became home to a state-supported veterinary college in 1913. The institution was known as NYU New York State Veterinary College. It had a total of 116 graduates between the years 1899-1913.

Period Veterinary Publication Advertising Two New York State Veterinary Colleges,
one  at Cornell University (L) and one at New York University (R), circa 1916

Dean Coates died in 1916 after a long illness.  Dr. Horace Hoskins served as dean until 1921, when he too passed. The institution was devastated by the loss of their beloved deans. Sadly, the challenge of funding and continued leadership, and the loss of the horse as the dominant means of city transportation, took its toll and the college suspended operation in the following year. 

Formal veterinary education ceased to exist in New York City ninety years ago, in 1922. Ironically, it was about the same time as Cornell’s medical school was pulling up its roots in Ithaca and moving to New York.  The nation’s most populous city has been without a veterinary college ever since.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Monday, September 10, 2012

Driving with my Dog from New York to Alaska: Whitehorse

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted September 10, 2012

Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first nine  installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page. In the last blog, Beau and I traveled through the Yukon on our way to Whitehorse.  

Though Whitehorse was built on the quest for gold, it was made memorable by the poetry of Robert Service, the Scottish bank worker who came to British Columbia and then was transferred to the Yukon during the 1900 gold rush. Every Canadian school child of my generation has some familiarity with the poem, 'The Cremation of Sam McGee' that tells the story of a hapless man from Tennessee whose hunger for gold took him to the frigid Arctic where he froze to death, but not before making his buddy promise that his remains would be cremated.  The poem starts ominously,

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;"

As Service told the story, Sam  was cremated  by his prospecting friend on the banks of Lake LeBarge in a furnace in the hulk of a grounded river boat. As the inferno crackled and burned hotter, the prospector beat back the heat to open the furnace door. Peering out from the center of the fire was a smiling Sam, urging his comrade to shut the door and keep out the cold and storm because, "Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm".

Beau and I took the short drive to the shore of Lake LeBarge where we sat together on the bank of the lake as I recited from memory the cremation story, all 15 stanzas. It brought back wonderful memories of my childhood when I would rehearse my school-assigned poetry to the calves as I would feed them their milk, or to the cows as I would sit under them one by one, adjusting the milkers.

The SS Klondike replicates stern-wheelers of the gold rush era.

Whitehorse was built on the backs of working and sled dogs that were more reliable and better able to withstand the frigid winters than horses. The name of the city that was founded in 1897 refers to the white, frothy rapids which were an image of a horse's mane. 

Despite its equestrian name, dogs defined Whitehorse
as much as the gold that built it. 

For two nights we stayed at the Gold Rush Inn, enjoying accommodations more luxurious than anything we had experienced along the route to this point. Beau was as kindly received as any weary traveler and his presence provided a welcome memory of pets back home for many stopover guests. "Oh, I wish we had our dog with us, too," became a common refrain. Beau loved the attention, though in his inimitable way he would only comport to a stranger's attention for a few seconds before returning to my side.

The reception desk in the pet-friendly Gold Rush Inn was complemented 
with taxidermy: a wolf and several foxes.

Though Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon, a walk along the streets gives you the impression that all the working-aged men have left town. Here in the subarctic, men spend most of their summers in a place called simply, up north, where they harvest energy for use in southern Canada and the lower 48 states. As one sage told me when he stopped to chat with us, "The men are gone all summer, returning when they have a long weekend just long enough to impregnate their girlfriends or wives, then they head back to the gas or oil fields." 

A retired DC-3 is the World's Largest Working Airport Weathervane.

During the afternoon, I was drawn to a man dressed in khaki jeans and a white T-shirt on which were clustered an array of colorful pins. Today's cluster represented obscure sites and out-of-the-way places in Canada but the one that intrigued me was a pin from Nunavut. "Have you been there?" I asked. "Oh yes," he said, "I just flew in from Iqaluit last night." [Formerly Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit is the capital of the territory of Nunavut which was formed by separation in 1999 from the parent Northwest Territories. Whitehorse remained the capital of the remaining part of the Northwest Territories.]

So I asked him, "What do you do?"  "I'm a traveler," he said. Not a travel agent, a traveler, a professional traveler. Someone who spends the majority of his time visiting obscure and hard-to-reach places around the world to attain the distinction of being one of the world's 'most traveled people'.  
The 50-year-old New Yorker was ranked in the top ten on that rare club list of most-traveled people. He described some of the interesting people whom he had met on his travels:
  • The man from Madrid living in the Congo, who travels the "Voodoo Trail" to learn about medicinal plants and herbs; 
  • The two Cowboys from Amarillo who were on a Posse to rope in souls for Jesus;
  • A South African woman, schooled in London and Los Angeles, whom he met in Djibouti, and is a publisher and concerned member of a club that supports national parks throughout Africa.

Considering we had just traveled over 3,500 miles on our oblique route across the continent, I wondered if Beau and I could ever make his list.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Driving With my Dog to Alaska: Yukon

Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted September 4, 2012

Five years ago my dog, Beau, and I drove from our home in upstate New York to Alaska and back. The first eight installments can be found by clicking the "Traveling with Beau" link on the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page. In the last blog, Beau and I traveled through the province of British Columbia. We are soon to enter the Yukon.

This would be our longest day and we started it at 4:30 when we went for our morning walk in the dark. Dark, that is, except for the zillion stars that fenestrated the inky sky. Beau ate nothing and neither did I. Excitement, perhaps.

Beau's mood improved as we pulled into the Fort Nelson gas station alongside a huge tractor trailer with 'Lydan' written on its side. Driver Jon-without-an-h, a big man with a gregarious smile for such an early start, told me what to expect on this most challenging portion of the Alaska Highway, then we both went inside for coffee. We were the first customers of the day so the coffee was free; in reality, the women knew Jon, and I was in his shadow. 

As I watched Jon ascend the steep stairs and center his gravity in the massive cockpit, he turned back to me, “Just stay alert for animals, some days you see none and other days, you roll around a corner going too fast, and find a bull moose standing in the middle of the road staring at you. And be careful in the mountains. They are treacherous if you take the corners too quickly, especially Suicide Hill." Then he delivered a final memorable admonition, "Don't drive like dumb-shit, and maybe I’ll see you two at the hot springs for breakfast.

So off we went, headlights focused on the big rig ahead of us.  That worked well for the first 60 km, until we entered the mountains and Jon pulled off at a truck turnout to test his brakes.  We were on our own now, peering into the black morning as the caution signs for moose and other animals reminded us that we were not alone.

At our second pit stop of the morning, the stillness of the mountain air was sharply punctuated by a blast of a truck horn as a massive beast roared by. I was about to grumble about the evil monster when I caught the hearty wave and bright smile of Jon as he leap-frogged us. I wanted to jump in the jeep and race after him, but we both knew we would be foolish to move at his speed.  He would have to have breakfast without us. Sadly, we never saw Jon again, but whenever we saw a Lydan truck, or witnessed a driver doing “dumb shit”, I thought of our friend.

We had been traveling alone in the mountains for over an hour with the sun now shining brightly when I spotted two caribou walking down the road towards us. Beau saw them, too, and he sat up straight and peered intently through the windshield. I’m not sure which of us was more excited as Beau started to whine and jiggle all over, and I pulled over onto the shoulder and grabbed the camera. 

Bull caribou and yearling beside the Alaska Highway

We spent the next 20 minutes watching a bull and a yearling graze beside the road, periodically returning to the road to advance a few yards, then ambling into the brush once again.  I would like to have stayed with the gangly pair all day, but we were almost 800 km from Whitehorse, so we moved back onto the road and began to accelerate. Almost on cue, the mature caribou strolled out into the road just in front of us and proceeded to walk right down its center, not more than 10 feet from our bumper.  For the next 10 minutes, we inched forward as the bull moved to the side of the road, only to cross back into our path. Time and time again, his game continued–-at least, it seemed to me like his little game--then we finally crested a hill and they dashed into the brush and were gone. Regardless what happened for the rest of the trip to Whitehorse, we had seen and photographed our first big animals.

The scenery along the road was breathtaking. We were traveling through the rugged Canadian Rockies, with large mountains and fast-moving rivers racing along the road beside us. 

The Alaska Highway (arcing along the left side of the photo),
followed the course that the river had cut  between the mountains.

On that quiet morning, the reflection in the water was as clear
as the view above the surface.

Periodically we would come to a large lake, with vistas reflecting scenery below the surface as stunning as those above.

Stone sheep ram high on a ridge 
overlooking the Alaska Highway. 

For the most part, the road was in good condition. However, pot holes and deep trenches carved by shifting winter ice caught us unawares too often and we tempered our speed accordingly. We were also on the constant lookout for animals, and our slower-than-average speed made it difficult for the locals who barreled through in their large double-wheeled trucks, or the RV drivers who were more interested in getting to their park for the night than savoring the views.       

Suicide Hill was impressive with its tight curves and precipitous descent. On its shoulder stood two sets of  floral wreaths bearing testament to those who had been unable to control their vehicle on an icey morning. One of the wreaths contained in its circle the picture of a double-long rig that apparently went over the edge carrying a good-looking young man who was pictured beside his truck on a happier day. 

By midmorning, we had seen over 20 Stone sheep: ewes with sharp points on the horns and flat-headed calves still waiting for the first buds to appear. Males with ruggedly-built curved horns stood watch beside the road or perched in the rocky ledges high above.                                                                

Stone sheep ewe and lamb in the Rockies

We arrived at the Liard River Hot Springs about noon. Jon was nowhere to be found though other truckers had taken his place. Because the hot springs were popular with tourists, everyone seemed relaxed and in a jovial mood. Some were warmer than others, but I had a good excuse to decline the invitation to take a dip in the hot springs with an overly-friendly Minnesota woman because dogs were not allowed in the pool area. Instead, I gathered a hearty feast of chicken and vegetables from the convenience store and Beau and I had a lazy lunch and a well-deserved nap.

A large bison herd is frequently sighted near the Liard Hot Springs and Beau and I were not disappointed. Part of the herd was grazing on a hillside far from the road, but several of the cows and calves, and two massive bulls, were near the highway. Though they appeared to be resting comfortably, they were not chewing their cuds as I would have expected and when a boisterous tourist party got too close, they jumped up and disappeared into the bush. 

Wood Bison near Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park.

After crossing and recrossing the British Columbia-Yukon border, we were finally beyond the midpoint of our day's journey. Eight miles from Watson Lake we stopped at Sign Post Forest. Locals call it "the world's largest collection of stolen property" as there are signs from hometowns around the world. The first sign was placed in 1942 by a homesick U.S. Army G.I. who was one of the thousands of Americans sent north to build the Alaska Highway. He erected a sign pointing towards his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Watson Lake now maintains the site which allegedly contains over 10,000 signs. One could spend a full afternoon walking among the rows and rows of names and observing the clever ways tourists have celebrated their favorite places.  

Sign Post Forest near Watson Lake dates to 1942 and contains the world's 
"largest collection of stolen property".

It was a blazing hot afternoon and I could not leave Beau in the jeep to watch the historical movie at the adjacent Information Center. It tells the story of how the highway had been built by the American military in response to concerns of a Japanese land invasion following Pearl Harbor. Sensing my disappointment, the overtly friendly staff invited Beau as a VIP guest and we watched the movie together, then gathered outside for pictures and cold water.

Situated almost equidistant between
New York City and Tokyo, Japan,
Sign Post Forest lies a few miles from Watson Lake in the Yukon.

It was late in the afternoon when we finally said goodbye to our friends in Watson Lake, promising to visit them on our return trip. The Rocky mountains and the day's large animals behind us, we hurried on the last 440 km towards Whitehorse. 

The entrance to Teslin Bridge, approximately two hours
from Whitehorse, Yukon.

Stopping at the Teslin River crossing for dinner, we had a relaxing visit with a couple from Montana whom we had met at a rest stop earlier in the day. Driving the Alaska Highway can be like that: long stretches of nothing and no one, then you can be surprised by the joy of seeing a person you met earlier and it is as if you are reunited with a close friend. A friendly, helpful close friend. 

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vivien Thomas and Canine Surgery

by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
August 25, 2012

When I lecture on the topic of One Health, I sometimes tell the story of the first surgical repair of the blue baby syndrome to demonstrate how important dogs were in achieving major advances in human medicine. 

Through the first half of the 20th century, dogs were used extensively by physicians in medical schools to help them learn the physiologic and pathologic changes associated with disease in people. Many complex surgical procedures were tested by MDs first on dogs to see if they could be successfully performed in people. Surgical residents developed their technical skills in "dog labs" that were common in medical schools. 

Anna, the experimental dog used 
to develop the corrective surgery 
for blue baby syndrome.
Photo from Johns Hopkins U.
The blue baby story holds special interest to me not just because of its profound impact on human surgery, but also because of the special place of a dog named "Anna" in the folk lore of Johns Hopkins Hospital.  

The term blue baby refers to the bluish-purple appearance of an infant's skin caused by lack of oxygen going to the tissues. A rare but well-known cause of this problem in the early 20th century was  tetralogy of Fallot, in which heart defects during fetal development result in the inability of the heart to pump venous blood into the lungs to be properly oxygenated. Affected babies usually died during the first year of life. 

Vivien Thomas (1910-85), the surgical technician
who developed the technical procedure
for the correction of Tetralogy of Fallot.
Photo from Johns Hopkins U.
In the early 1940s, Alfred Blalock was head of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Vivien Thomas was his laboratory technician. A cardiologist named Helen Taussig approached Blalock and Thomas one day in their surgical laboratory and appealed to them to find a way to surgically repair tetralogy of Fallot. Though Taussig did not know it, Blalock and Thomas had years earlier created an experimental model in dogs in which blood to the lungs had been rerouted. The two men devised a variation of that model (in which the left subclavian artery was anastomosed to the pulmonary artery) and developed a plan to test the idea.

Blalock went back to his busy surgical practice and his administrative duties, and Thomas worked in his laboratory to create an experimental model in dogs to mimic the birth defect. Though he had never trained with a veterinarian and had only worked in a human surgical laboratory, he devised a way to surgically produce a condition in dogs similar to the one affecting human babies. Once he could produce the blue baby-like signs in his dog model, he operated on an affected dog to make sure that the type of repair that he and Blalock had devised would correct the blood flow problem that killed the babies. He designed instruments and delicate operative techniques to ensure that the repair could be performed on a tiny child. In his autobiography, Thomas said that he used 200 experimental dogs over a several-month period to accomplish this astounding breakthrough.

Photo from the first successful operation for
correction of tetralogy of Fallot, November 29, 1944
Vivien Thomas is at back left.

Photo from Johns Hopkins U.
The procedure was first performed on a baby girl on November 29th, 1944. Blalock was the surgeon. However, looking over his shoulder and coaching him throughout the procedure, was Vivien Thomas, whose knowledge of every minute detail of the operation was critical to its success. The symbiotic relationship between Blalock and Thomas was complicated by the fact that Thomas, though perhaps the most accomplished canine surgeon of the era, had no formal training in medicine or veterinary medicine. He was a tradesman, a carpenter, whose plans to go to medical school in the late 1920s were thwarted by the Depression.

He was also African-American, working in the segregated environment of Hopkins. His story was beautifully told in "Something the Lord Made" which premiered on HBO in 2004.

In his waning years and with Blalock deceased, Thomas identified what he referred to as the "troika" who developed the procedure to correct the tetralogy of Fallot. Equal with Blalock and himself, he included the dog named Anna. It is a beautiful example of One Health and the impact that physicians had on advancing canine anesthesia and surgery 80 years ago. 

Thomas' expertise continued to be felt for decades as he used dogs to train surgical residents who later progressed to important positions at prestigious medical schools. He occasionally assisted a veterinarian in a nearby animal hospital practice where he used his skills in canine anesthesia and surgery to save lives of dogs with spontaneously-occurring surgical problems.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Friday, August 10, 2012


By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted August 10, 2012

        The AVMA meeting in San Diego this week featured lectures and meetings on One Health, which is the branch of science that unifies human health, animal health and environmental health.
        The One Health concept was the signature initiative of Dr. Roger Mahr when he was president of the AVMA in 2006-07. He challenged the veterinary profession to assert greater involvement in what scientists and regulatory officials were warning was the growing threat of diseases like avian flu and West Nile virus. These infectious diseases, called zoonotic, were erupting with greater frequency and virulence in the U.S. and around the world.

Dr. Roger K. Mahr, CEO, One Health Commission
President of the AVMA (2006-07)

Photo courtesy of the AVMA    

        One Health or One Medicine was advocated in the 19th century by physicians like William Osler (Johns Hopkins) and veterinarians like James Law (Cornell). However, physicians became less engaged in the potential spread of diseases between animals and people in the last few decades as the development of clinical specialties has changed the focus from the health of populations of people to that of the individual. 
        A One Health Commission was established to promote the understanding, prevention and treatment of zoonotic diseases. This becomes more important as the number and virulence of pathogenic organisms is growing and as the global travel of people, food components, and the movement of animals is increasing. 
        A second component of One Health is the realization that animals get many of the diseases and conditions that affect people. This was considered so important in the early days of veterinary education that at least two veterinary colleges (those at McGill in Montreal and Columbia University in New York) were actually referred to as colleges of comparative medicine. A book called Zoobiquity that provides several interesting examples of comparative medicine has recently received attention in the mainstream media (1).
        The third element of One Health relates to the ways in which pets and other animals actually promote human health. (2) A growing body of research is documenting the improvement of the physical, social, emotional and mental health of people who share their homes and environments with pets. Whether its walking your dog in the morning, riding your horse in the afternoon, or experiencing wild animals in their natural environment, animals improve the human condition. If these benefits to human health can be measured, we have the potential to not just improve the quality of life for both people and animals, but also to reduce the cost of human health care.
        One Health is an example of Back-to-the-Future Medicine, the re-discovery of concepts of medicine from past decades, but critically important in today's world. The leadership of veterinarian Roger Mahr was pivotal to energize a movement whose time had come.

(1) Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (Random House, Inc, 2012).
(2) The role of animals in promoting human health has been termed "zooeyia" by veterinarian Kate Hodgson who works with both physicians and veterinarians. 

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Western's College of Veterinary Medicine: An Interview with Two Faculty

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted July 31, 2012

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

Drs. Ana Alcaraz and and Jose (Txema) Peralta left Cornell University in 2007 to join the faculty of the recently-established 28th veterinary college in the United States. Western University of the Health Sciences had admitted its first class of students four years earlier and the wife-husband Alcaraz-Peralta team have now witnessed five classes of graduates complete their DVM degree requirements.

Drs. Ana Alcaraz and Jose Peralta are faculty at 
Western University of the Health Sciences in Pomona, CA
Photo by the author
‘Western’, as it often called, was established in 1998 as the first veterinary college to open in the U.S. since the early 1980s. Located in Pomona, California, it is one of four veterinary colleges not affiliated with a land-grant university. When Western was accredited fully by the AVMA in 2008, it ushered in a new era of how veterinary colleges can meet national standards for clinical education. That is because Western adopted a model that uses private clinical practices to a significant extent instead of maintaining its own comprehensive veterinary teaching hospital.

Ana and Txema visited Cornell recently, and I asked them to characterize the college’s reputation as they start their tenth year of teaching this fall. “Graduates are our best ambassadors,” Dr. Peralta replied without hesitation, citing their broad distribution in practices throughout the country and their success in attaining competitive internship and residency programs. He gave the example of Dr. Vanessa Rizzo who graduated in 2010, and is now a second-year oncology residency here at Cornell. 

“One of the advantages that our students experience is that they receive much of their clinical education in private practices where they see a broad cross section of routine and primary care cases similar to what they eventually experience in their own practices. This is different than university-based teaching hospitals that rely more heavily on specialty cases. While complex referral cases provide good instruction for residents, the hospital accessions are sometimes less appropriate for third- and fourth-year veterinary students who need to first master more basic material.”

“This allows students to gain a realistic picture of what follows in their careers,” added Dr. Alcaraz, “and the students are more often able to interact directly with the supervising veterinarian because many of the practices do not have the tiered resident-intern-student structure that is the norm in large academic hospitals. Also, these practices do not usually have as many students rotating through a service at a time as in a university setting.”

The distributed nature of the third-year curriculum allows students to spend up to 40 weeks not just in traditional clinical practice, but also in a variety of non practice settings, such as laboratory medicine, wildlife or zoological medicine, and public health centers and facilities. Ana believes this gives students exposure to a more expansive array of career choices in veterinary medicine.

Txema also noted that because the college is private and does not rely on public funding, they have been spared some of the economic challenges of institutions that rely on substantial levels of state support. “Everybody has financial challenges these days, but as long as we have a competitive curriculum, Western will continue to flourish. As I said earlier, our graduates are our best ambassadors and prospective veterinary students often choose to apply here through word of mouth.”

I shall present the introductory lecture on the history of veterinary education at the AVMA meeting in San Diego this weekend. During these remarks I shall pay tribute to Western for having created a new paradigm in the dynamic world of veterinary education. 

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at