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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Louis A. Merillat, Veterinarian of the Half-Century

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 13, 2015

Lost from the memories of most living veterinarians is the man who some considered the most influential veterinarian of the first half of the 20th century. At least, that’s how the Chicago Tribune referred to him when reporting an interview with him in July 1950, when he was 82.

“I’ve worked for two things during my life,” he told the Tribune, “better education in veterinary medicine and better working conditions for the educated man.”(1)

Dr. Louis A. Merillat
(Photo provided by AVMA)
The son of a horseman from Ohio, Merillat attended the Ontario Veterinary College--it was less expensive than living in New York City-- then moved to Chicago to learn more about equine medicine from Matthew McKillip. Though a physician and not a veterinarian, McKillip had one of the most successful equine practices in the country and he would later start a three-year veterinary college that carried his name.

Merillat became an instructor at McKillip (1893-1900; 1913-19) and also the Chicago Veterinary College (1900-13) while maintaining a vibrant equine practice during the heyday of the urban horse. Working and teaching out of the McKillip College facilities as well as his own practice at 1827 S. Wabash Street, he developed new surgical operations and anesthetic techniques. His expertise attracted the attention of some of the most prominent stables of the city, including several with show teams of draft horses.

During WWI he was a veterinarian for the 41st Division and later became chief veterinarian for the First Army. According to the Tribune, "he supervised the care and treatment of tens of thousands for horses crippled in battle."

After the war, he returned to France and spent six months studying at the Alfort National Veterinary College. By the time he returned home, “the automobile had wiped out" his practice so he turned to writing. He authored a major book on equine surgery and became editor-in-chief of the JAVMA.  He also authored a two-volume book on military veterinary history.  Always having been active in organized veterinary medicine, he served a president of AVMA in 1924-25.

Near the end of his life, at the 60th anniversary of his Ontario Veterinary College graduation in 1948, he was toasted as the “outstanding veterinarian in America.”

Merillat died on Feb 25, 1956, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

(1) Merrick, Mary Lee. Dr. Merillat is Honored as Veterinarian. Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1950. This citation applies to quotations and information throughout this story.