Cathy and I moved to Valdosta, Georgia in 1969 when I completed my surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. I had been commissioned as a Major in the US Air Force Medical Corps for a 2 year stint of active duty at Moody Air Force Base. We were very familiar with Valdosta, because her brother George (Dr. George Young), and his wife Dawn lived there while he served as Dean of Students at Valdosta State College (now Valdosta State University). The summer we received orders to report to Moody were so excited to live in the same town as George and Dawn. When Cathy called him to excitedly tell our good news he reported the bad news (for us) he had just accepted the position of Dean of Students at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where Cathy and George were raised.
Our son John Aaron was 2 years old and Cathy was pregnant with Mary Kay when we moved to Valdosta in September, 1969. Mary Kay arrived on the scene the following February. We rented a small but lovely 3 bedroom home on Azalea Drive in Valdosta, which George helped us find before they left for Fort Lauderdale. The home had a fenced back yard which was ideal, because John Aaron was extremely adventuresome and prone to wander while exploring the neighborhood.
The base veterinarian was Dr. (Captain) Pete McKoy whose wife Flonnie was also pregnant with their 2nd child, and like Cathy was scheduled to deliver in February, 1970. We became friends very quickly. In conversation one day with Pete I happened to mention we were looking for a suitable pet for John, and one that might serve as a watchdog for our travelling young son. He said he had access to a German shepherd puppy which might be a good fit if we were looking for a larger dog. Our previous dog was named Schnicklefritz, a dachshund we owned while living in New Orleans. We had to part company with Fritz when John was born, because he was jealous of all the attention John received and snapped at him several times when John happened to grab some part of his fur.
The day our new puppy arrived we instantly bonded and were happy with the name Greta her original owner had given her. Greta was a loving, friendly dog, and most importantly loved John and was fiercely loyal to him. Whenever John was outside playing Greta was at his side. If John happened to get a little too rough or grab too much hair Greta would simply put a little space between the two of them. John could expend his energy wrestling with one of his two buddies who were usually around. Cathy learned when she couldn’t immediately spot John in the neighborhood she could call Greta’s name, and she would go to a position in the yard where Cathy could see her and immediately know John’s location. The photo above shows John in one of his more benevolent moods sharing some of his snack with Greta. On the back of the photo I had written, “Now get this straight – it’s one for you and two for me!.”
As Greta got older we definitely did not want her to have puppies, especially in light of the fact our family had already enlarged with the arrival of Mary Kay. I asked Pete if he would consent to spaying Greta to which he responded, “Sure. Bring her to the clinic tomorrow afternoon after duty hours, and I’ll get that done for you.” When my clinic finished the next day I drove home, picked up Greta and drove back to the base. Pete was finished seeing customers for the day, and the clinic was empty except for Pete, Greta and me. I told him I would stay to keep him company and watch the procedure if he didn’t mind. I helped him give Greta the intravenous medication and insert the endotracheal tube which would stay in place while she was anesthetized. He then shaved her abdomen and went over to the sink to scrub his hands in preparation for the procedure.
While he was scrubbing I asked, ” Pete, does the Air Force provide you with malpractice insurance while you are working here?” He turned around and said, “No they don’t, Why do you ask?” I said, “You know Cathy, John, Mary Kay and I have grown to really love Greta, and if anything happened to go wrong with this operation, I think I would have to sue you.” Pete had not known me long enough to know I was joking, and a malpractice law suit is something I would never do. Pete quickly said, “Have you ever spayed a dog?” “No, I said, but I’d like to.” Pete responded with, “Come on over here and scrub your hands!”
I had done a few hysterectomies in my training at Charity Hospital and assisted the base obstetrician with the procedure. Spaying an animal is the mini-version of a hysterectomy. Pete showed me several veterinarian techniques, and I was able to show him a few surgical techniques and surgical knots which would be useful for his practice. He and I had a grand time during that 45 minute procedure, as we talked and laughed together the whole time. Fortunately Greta not only survived but did very well, and I was able to take her home later that evening.
Early in my surgical experience I learned and applied the following lesson; a wise and skilled surgeon should never operate on a member of his immediate family. Even though Greta was our family pet I believed she fell outside this surgical maxim. I never told her I was the one who held the knife but even if I had, I think she would have been alright with it. Within a day or two she began playing with John again and life was back to normal. I never had the opportunity to spay another dog, but had the occasion arisen I was fully prepared.