The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 22, 2006 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Vet's practice grew from calving to kittens
by Catherine Joyce
When Mark Froimovitch arrived as a young vet in 1979 with his wife, Carol, he first settled in the Meech Creek Valley and opened a clinic in the basement of their rented home, the former Harvey Cross residence. Soon 'word of mouth' brought farmers to the door. Many had survived for years with the help of experienced neighbours like Homer Cross who had an innate sense of animal care but now they had a skilled vet to call. And they did.
"At the crack of dawn I might find someone at the back door wanting a bottle of penicillin. Or I'd get a call in the middle of the night and arrive to find five or six farmers gathered round a cow, deciding what to do next. I felt so good when things went well and I could help.
"In the early days before we had kids, Carol and I would go out together on farm calls. Our expenses were few, so we could spend the whole day on one or two calls - that's all we needed to get by. It was so beautiful out in the countryside and the farmers were so grateful, I couldn't believe I was being paid. We fell in love with the place and knew this would be our life."
Growing up in Montreal, Mark first decided to become a vet while working as a teenager in a local clinic. He always imagined he'd be a city vet but after graduating from Guelph's Veterinary College in 1975, he discovered he loved working with large animals. He spent six months on an Alberta game farm with cariboo, elk and musk ox, then a year in northern B.C. where he flew in to isolated farms, followed by a year's practice with dairy cattle in Ormstown.
In the early years of his practice in the Hills, Mark divided his time equally between farm calls and pet care, travelling as far as Gracefield in the north, Masson in the east and Shawville to the west. It was a huge area to cover.
"I'd have my gear ready in the car - instruments, drugs, portable X-ray machine. I remember one winter there was a sick cow out in the woods and the farmer took me in by snowmobile with all my stuff. Often they'd give me directions quickly over the phone with landmarks that meant something to them - like 'turn right at the schoolhouse', which would end up being two doors on a deserted building! But I always found my way.
"At first we used two-way radios, with the base station at our home. There were others on our channel-like Ryan's Garage up in Alcove. They always kept the radio on in case of emergencies. You knew they'd be listening, especially if something gory was going on. I think we kept them entertained!
"You never knew what to expect from each call. Sometimes I'd be standing in old manure packed so high I'd have to hunch down under the roof beams to work. Or there'd be no electricity and I'd deliver a calf by flashlight. Or no running water and it'd take the farmer half an hour to boil it and bring it back from the house. Cows might be caught outside calving in winter and I'd have to quickly shelter the newborn under straw. Or in springtime I'd be sorting out a tangle of lambs inside a sheep - feeling for which leg was front or hind, belonging to which lamb - before I could bring them out. Sometimes it was scary but it was always rewarding."
After five years in the Meech Creek Valley, Mark built his Wakefield clinic. On moving day, farmers arrived with their trucks to help him move in. Their wives brought sandwiches - it was a community affair. Even now, with two clinics and a second vet, Dr. Penny Wootten, to help handle the practice, which has become 99 per cent pet care, he has never forgotten the kindness of the farmers who welcomed him here.
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