(La Porte, IN) - He’s like an old fashioned doctor making house calls but his patients are cows and other animals on farms in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan.
Dr. Larry W. Smith, a veterinarian from La Porte for close to a half century, has no plans to retire. “I like doing what I do and I like doing it for the people I do it for,” said Smith, who turns 71 at the end of this month. The owner of New Prairie Large Animal Practice at 1353 E. Indiana 2 also remains fascinated by the science and medicine involved in his line of work and keeping up with the advancements in the field.
Unlike medical physicians whose relationships with patients are more about business, Smith said he’s developed lasting friendships with many of the families whose farm animals he treats.
There’s a personal touch shared in their interactions. He’s even attended weddings and other special events for the children and grandchildren of his clients at their invitation. “That’s really nice when you’ve been around long enough to be involved in multiple generations of families. That’s always good,” Smith said.
Smith said growing up on a farm raising chickens and beef cows near Richmond in eastern Indiana is what led him to Purdue University, where he earned his degree in veterinary medicine in 1974. His first two years as a veterinarian were spent in Wisconsin and Ohio then opportunity presented itself in La Porte where he treated pets and farm animals. Eventually, he focused strictly on farm animals to get back to having a more manageable work schedule.
Most of the farm animals he treated back then were dairy cows. However, Smith said the number of local dairies vanishing from the landscape since then has resulted in horses representing about half of his calls for service followed by dairy and beef cows, goats and sheep. He also sees a limited number of swine, mostly for children entering the animals in 4-H related contests.
Occasionally, Smith said he tends to the needs of dogs and cats owned by his clients if the problems can be addressed with the medical equipment and drugs he keeps in the pick-up truck he drives to every farm.
Smith said he racks up about 50,000 miles a year traveling to the homes of his clients as far south as Knox and North Judson and north to about Niles, Michigan.
Much of his work involves vaccinations, blood work and delivering calves but he’s stitched up more than his share of animals like horses, badly cut from doing things like trying to jump fences or running into sharp objects. His surgical procedures include cesarean sections for cattle having difficulty with natural birth. He’s also used a scalpel in situations like cows needing twisted stomachs corrected and infected sores taken out.
Smith said he’s also found himself in some very unusual situations with happy and tragic endings like delivering live triplets from a head of cattle and four stillborn calves. He once removed the handle of a wheel barrel from a horse. He said the handle penetrated then broke off beneath the hide of the animal trying to jump over the wheel barrel. He has the handle on display inside his office as a conversation piece.
Smith also doesn’t seem to mind the broken bones and other injuries he’s suffered from doctoring large animals whose behavior can be unpredictable when treated. He once had several ribs broken from being slammed into a wall by a cow and suffered an injury from another cow that over time required both of hips to be replaced.
Smith said being in a profession that allows him to work outside, especially in an agriculture setting, also helps keep him going. “I’ll be 71 at the end of this month. My health is good. I have aches and pains like everybody else my age. As I age I may have to limit some of what I do from a physical standpoint but I do not have any plans on retirement,” he said. “My family jokingly says I won’t retire and I might just end up dropping dead in a barn somewhere which is o.k.,” Smith said.
Smith operates his business with help from his wife, Donna, and daughter, Donnell.