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Monday, June 25, 2012

Veterinary Medicine in the Post Land-Grant Era

By Donald F. Smith DVM, Cornell University
Posted June 25, 2012

I seldom use this blog as a forum to share personal opinions. This posting is an exception, however, and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Cornell University or the AVMA. Comments are welcome on this blog or by writing me at

         A century ago, there were three types of veterinary colleges. The majority were for-profit schools of varying quality, located in major cities with their focus on horses. These schools could not be sustained past the 1920s because of decreased enrollment when the horse lost its dominance to the internal combustion engine. An additional factor in their demise was the increased scrutiny given private, for profit medical and veterinary schools as the professions improved their regulatory standards. 
         A small handful of veterinary programs were affiliated with their respective medical schools, for example, those at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU and George Washington University. Only Penn survived. 
         The third type of veterinary college was part of the land-grant initiative. Established in response to the Morrill Act of 1862, land-grant institutions (one per state or territory and mostly located in towns or small cities) were designed to provide practical education for rural youth in agriculture, engineering and the sciences. Starting with Cornell University in 1868, veterinary programs developed at nine land grant universities in the next few decades. Iowa State University became the first public-funded (land-grant) veterinary college in 1879. 
         Another cluster of land-grant veterinary colleges was established in the post World War II era, and a final cluster in the 1970s. Like the early veterinary schools, most of these later colleges were also located in smaller communities apart from major medical schools. In some states, the colleges were located in towns without major transportation hubs. The agricultural lobby was often the dominant political force in justifying the new veterinary college and all but four of the current 28 veterinary colleges are located at land-grant universities. There is also an imbalance favoring locations of colleges in the Midwest and southern states compared to the most populous areas of the country.  Unlike major medical schools which are most prevalent in large metropolitan areas, only two veterinary colleges (Penn and the Ohio State) are located in the 40 most populous U.S. cities.
         In the early 20th century, it could be said that the land-grant system saved veterinary medicine. Without the emphasis on livestock and food production, as well as having state governments providing core financial support, veterinary medicine might otherwise have floundered as the horse lost its central role in transportation and industry. 
         However, in today's world, I believe that the dominance of the land grant system in veterinary education represents a serious challenge for our profession's sustainability. Starting in the years following the Great Depression, migration from rural to urban and suburban areas was accompanied by a massive growth in numbers of household pets and other companion animals. Meanwhile, livestock production was concentrated on larger agricultural units requiring veterinarians.  Today, fewer than 10% of veterinarians work with livestock or the food production systems. About 80% of veterinarians in private practice work with household pets. Another 10% work with horses, zoo animals, wildlife and laboratory animals. 

Beau is an important member of our family.
 Good nutrition, twice-daily scheduled exercise without fail, 

and quality veterinary medical care have given him health and mobility in his 16th year of life.
Photo by the author in 2007.

         Despite the dramatic expansion of the mission of veterinary medicine, state support for veterinary colleges is still largely defined based upon the needs for livestock and safe food production. While these remain a fundamental responsibility of veterinarians, they do not address adequately the larger and more diverse missions of veterinary medicine, especially the role of healthy and well-adjusted pets in supporting human health and well-being.
         To assure sustainability of veterinary colleges in the present era, we need to embrace enthusiastically the role that veterinarians play in an expanded family profile that often includes pets. In responding to this opportunity, we must adapt a bold new approach for public funding that emphasizes the role of veterinarians as critical members of the medical health community. This includes the veterinarians' role in public health and the prevention and control of diseases that are transmitted from animals to people. But it also needs to acknowledge the role of household pets and other companion animals in promoting both physical and emotional health of people at all stages of life. 
         In practical terms, the public funding of veterinary colleges should be broadened and not remain solely the provenance of departments of agriculture.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Friday, June 22, 2012

Veterinary Education and the G.I. Bill

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted June 22, 2012
Honoring the GI Bill, signed 68 years ago today.

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

As World War II was drawing to a close, hundreds of thousands of battle-weary veterans returned home. Eager to resume their lives, the G.I. Bill of Rights (signed by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944) eased the transition of some of them back into society by providing access to university and postgraduate education. Students who started veterinary college between 1946 and 1948 were mostly veterans, many of whom were already in their mid- to late 20s with spouses and small children. It is sometimes quipped that Cornell's 1950 graduating DVM class photo had 50 graduates and 50 children, most still in diapers. 

With only ten veterinary colleges in the United States in the early 1940s (1), available slots for veterinary students were very limited. The situation was especially acute in the agriculturally-rich midwest and southern states, and in California. Responding to this need, seven new colleges were established in the four-year period starting in 1944. Six were at land-grant universities; the other was at Tuskegee Institute, a member of the Historic Black college system.

Location of  Veterinary Colleges established
before 1920 (red) and between 1944 and 1948 (blue). 

Colleges are identified in footnote (2).

Members of the first graduating class of the new college at the University of Minnesota were all men, one of whom was Dr. Glen Nelson:  "Most of us were veterans. We had a B17 pilot who was shot down over France and escaped back to England with the French Underground. We had a B29 pilot [who] flew over Nagasaki the day after THE Bomb. I was a tank officer under Patton in North Africa and Italy. We had a prisoner of war in our class, an ex-POW, and another who was shot up pretty bad (sic) on Saipan. Going to the student center was like sitting around the American Legion Club."

Of the 17 veterinary colleges in 1948, all but two (University of Pennsylvania and Tuskegee Institute, later University) were at land-grant institutions. Most of these were located in rural areas of the country in towns or small cities such as College Station, TX; Ithaca, NY and Athens, GA. An 18th veterinary college was added at Purdue University a decade later, but no more were established until the 1970s.

(1) Middlesex University in Massachusetts operated a veterinary college  in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
(2) Veterinary colleges established between 1868 and 1920 were at: Auburn, Colorado St, Cornell, Iowa St, Kansas St, Michigan St, Ohio St, Texas A&M, U of Pennsylvania, and Washington St. Those established between 1944 and 1948 were at: Oklahoma St, Tuskegee, UC-Davis, U Georgia, U Minnesota, U Illinois, and U Missouri.

Some material for this blog first appeared in an article by Dr. Smith in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education (JVME, 38[1], pages 84-99, 2011).
Dr. Smith invites comments at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Edgar Sawtelle, Dr. Mark Morris and a Dog named Buddy

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted June 21, 2012

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

When a friend gave me the book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, she told me it was a story of farm life, a veterinarian, and the special bond that unites a boy with his dogs. Oh yes, and a murder or two! What Julie Kumble allowed me to discover on my own was that it also contained hidden references to one of Cornell University's most famous veterinary graduates, Dr. Mark Morris, Sr., and the beginning of prescription pet food formulations. 

Cover of David Wroblewski's novel,
"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle".

Photo by Dr. Smith.
Edgar Sawtelle is a fascinating novel about a multi-generation farm family and their exceptional kennel of breeding dogs. While investigating events surrounding the suspicious death of his father, young Edgar Sawtelle discovers letters written in 1934 by his late grandfather to a man named Brooks, one of the original breeders of seeing eye dogs in Morristown, New Jersey. His most famous guide dog was a German Shepherd named Buddy.

Author David Wroblewski doesn't tell us about the more far-reaching contribution of Buddy. That is his role in the development of the pet food industry in general, and prescription diets, in particular. Here is the "rest of the story."

An advanced-standing transfer student from the midwest arrived at Cornell University in the fall of 1925 and the following spring he received his DVM. Two years later, Mark Morris, Sr., established Raritan Hospital for Animals in Edison, N.J., one of the first small animal practices in the country.

Dr. Morris was convinced that proper nutrition was essential to pet health. At that time, Buddy was the guide dog of a blind man, Morris Frank, and they were touring the country by train to demonstrate the impact that a seeing eye dog could have by allowing a blind person to navigate independently, safely and with dignity. When Buddy's life was threatened by kidney disease, Dr. Morris was consulted and he formulated a unique specialty diet that slowed the progression of the renal failure. Buddy's life was prolonged and he and Mr. Frank were able to continue their travels about the country spreading the good news of dogs as companions for the blind.

Dr. Mark Morris, Sr., Cornell DVM 1926
Photo from Hill's Pet Nutrition
The special dog food was initially mailed as needed to Mr. Frank in glass jars, but the jars often broke in transit. "Frank arranged for delivery of several thousand cans to Dr. Morris as well as a hand operating canning machine."(1)  Morris and his wife initially processed the canned food in their own home and sent it to Frank and Buddy wherever they were traveling. Meanwhile everywhere they went throughout the country, they were telling people of the miraculous food developed by Dr. Morris back in New Jersey.(2) Morris' fame spread and the prescription pet food industry was born. His 'kidney diet' was appropriately named Canine k/d®, and was licensed to Hill's Packing Company (now Hill's Pet Nutrition) to produce what soon became a growing line of pet prescription formula diets.

With the royalties from the sale of these diets, Mark Morris established a foundation dedicated to animal health and well-being. Morris Animal Foundation is now the largest organization in the world that invests in research that will advance veterinary medicine and improve the quality of life for companion animals, horses and wildlife.

2. Personal Conversation between Dr. Mark Morris, Jr. and the author, Cornell University, circa 1995.

Dr. Smith thanks Julie Kumble for sharing the Sawtelle book. She is director of grants and programs at the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts, and the aunt of a member of Cornell's DVM Class of 2015.
The author invites comments at