It used to be that everybody had a herd of cattle in one particular corner of the farms around Porcupine Plain. Now almost no one does and, if nothing else, that agricultural shift was reflected in the career of recently retired veterinarian Dr. Robert McLeod of Kelvington.
Rob McLeod and his wife Cathy, centre, and their daughters Becky, left, and Laura, bid a fond farewell to friends and clients who stopped in at the Kelvington Veterinary Clinic on June 20 to wish them well.
“When we first began at the clinic,” recalled office manager Sandra Beaumont, “Rob was preg-testing somewhere around 15,000 cows a year. In the last years, it was closer to 4000.” Beaumont began working at the vet clinic in 1990, the same year McLeod and his wife Cathy moved to Kelvington. Twenty-four years later Beaumont is taking the summer off to think about her next career; Dr. Rob pulled his last calf the last week of June, ending 31 years of vetting that began in Vita, Man. His retirement marks the end of an era in this part of the Parkland; Dr. Rob lived humbly and charged likewise.
“Rob always said he made a good living,” commented Beaumont, referring to his markedly affordable services. “He was very practical. He wouldn’t send you on (to a bigger centre) to spend a pile of money if he thought the outcome would be the same as to do nothing.”
Vetting in this area was almost all about large animals. Preg-testing, semen-testing, pulling calves and castrating, herd health. Dr. Rob did it all and he did it by himself. Almost.
“I have done a lot of praying over the years,” admitted his wife Cathy, “(with him) going off in the weather on all kinds of roads, and (me) knowing that he could get hurt.”
Cattle, sheep, horses – none let McLeod off the hook so that he could deliver their babies only in daylight. From January through to the end of May, he regularly got a call in the middle of the night, asking for help. “It was a career choice for me,” he said, when asked about all the late nights, early mornings and cold winds. “All of that is part of being a large-animal vet. I knew that going in. I expected to be on call.”
He wasn’t James Herriot and there was no Siegfried or Tristan to add to the mayhem of a small community practice, but McLeod, too, spent a lifetime in a career he enjoyed and was rewarded by the farmers he served. He had a very busy practice and some mornings Beaumont would come to work and the cars were lined up to the highway. “I just wanted to turn around and go home,” she chuckled. “Caesareans, calvings, rabies clinics. I have learned a lot.” Beaumont was joined at the desk in the late 1990s by Karla Elmy, who gave her a day off once a week and holidays in the summer, but for McLeod, one of his biggest holidays was the May long weekend. He considered it the end of calving season, for the most part, and almost always left the country so that he could sleep through the night. And then it was back to work.
Dr. Rob and his wife Cathy raised two daughters, Laura and Becky. Cathy taught at Robert Melrose Elementary School and she and her husband were both very involved in the community. “Kelvington checked off all the boxes of things we wanted in a community,” Rob explained to the 200 or so patrons who came out on June 20 for coffee and doughnuts and to wish the pair well. “And it ended up being a good choice or we wouldn’t have been here for 24 years.” Both were clearly touched by the number of people who came out and the faces of clients whom he hasn’t seen for a while, either because they went out of livestock years ago or never replaced a family pet. But they knew they couldn’t retire here, Dr. Rob explained after the crowds had left and the clinic was once again back in action.
“How could you say no to someone (who called for help with an animal)?”
The couple is moving to Regina, where Cathy has family. “We still have the cabin at Greenwater,” Rob laughed. The News asked if they could put that in the paper. “Go ahead. It doesn’t have a phone and you can say that too,” he laughed even harder. “Our girls still have the cabin as a connection to the community. We’ll be around.”
As the day ended, Linda Spray came in to say goodbye. “Do you remember what I said when I first saw you?” she asked Rob, who is not large in stature. Turning to the rest of us, she said, “He was so small and he was out for a calving and I asked him if he was going to crawl in and pull it out.”
The book the guests signed was full of well wishes and thanks. “We couldn’t have done it without you,” wrote Orlynn Lowndes. None of us could.
Remember, Rob, the coffee is still brewing at all of those farms you can now find in the dark with your eyes closed. We promise that all you will have to pull when you drive down the lane is a cookie from the cookie jar. Don’t be a stranger.
By Susan Lowndes