All in the Family

Auburn alumni family practice celebrates golden anniversary

If the old adage was true and dogs truly aged at seven times the rate as humans, the Hueytown Veterinary Clinic would be entering its 350th year of operating as a family practice—an Auburn family practice.

Located in the town known for the legendary NASCAR Allison family and the Alabama Gang, the Hueytown Veterinary Clinic also has been a champion—so to speak—for pet owners in the Birmingham metro-politan area.

Fifty years ago, when Bobby and Donnie Allison were first bursting onto the NASCAR scene and a monstrous behemoth emerged from the ground in Talladega, another facility in Hueytown was emerging that would make an indelible mark on the people, and pets, in the community.

David Hayes ’67, DVM, grew up in the rural area on a farm with every type of animal imaginable. When the animals would inevitably need care, David’s father would tend to them or he would call Howard Hayes, a relative who owned a veterinary practice in neighboring Bessemer. Seeing Howard work with the animals piqued an early interest for David.

“Watching him deliver calves, goats and piglets, along with repairing lacer-ations and injured hooves, created an early desire for me to follow his career path when I grew up,” David said.

After graduating from Alabama College—now known as the University of Montevallo—in 1962 with a bache-lor’s degree in biology and chemistry, and having been an avid Auburn fan since the first day he could remember, he headed south to the plains to a place that stirs emotions to this day.

“I never considered applying to any other school,” David said. “As I look back on my educational experience at Auburn, my heart fills with joy. I had so many truly great people as mentors and was so blessed and privileged to be taught by Dr. Wilford Bailey, Dr. Frank Hoerlein, Dr. Don Walker and Dr. Tom Vaughan, just to name a few. I don’t have the words to adequately express how I feel about being a part of the Auburn family. Other than my family and my personal faith, Auburn is the greatest blessing of my life.”

After earning his degree in 1967, he had another calling in life—this time from Uncle Sam. David was drafted during the height of the Vietnam War and served two years with the U.S Air Force. Upon his discharge, he returned to Hueytown and, in 1969, began building a practice. Although he sold his interest in the practice to friend and fraternity brother Jerry Champion ’69, DVM, the two joined forces to form the Hueytown Veterinary Clinic. In 1974, despite limiting the practice to small animals, their impact on the community only grew.

“The Auburn Veterinary School highly encouraged veterinarians to stay in state and serve Alabamians,” Jerry said. “So it’s been very rewarding. Any time you have the opportunity to serve your community and friends for 50 years, it’s a great thing.”

David agreed.

“Growing up in Hueytown, I was familiar with the area and knew many of the old families that founded the city. Both Jerry and I fit in well with the local population and with the business community; both our families were members of local churches and we were well accepted by everyone,” David said. “We always felt blessed that we served people we knew and people our families had known for decades. It was truly special when former classmates and teachers visited our clinic, and we were even blessed to serve the famous Allison, Bonnett and Farmer racing families. It has been an indescribable blessing to serve those who, in many respects, helped to raise me and form my philosophy of living through service.”

The Next Generation

Twenty years after the Hueytown Veterinary Clinic refocused its effort on small animals only, its practice had grown large enough to add another doctor. Thus, in 1996, Jerry’s son, Blake, came aboard.

“I never had thoughts of doing anything other than to come home,” said Blake ’96, DVM. “From the moment I made the decision to pursue this career, I knew I was coming home.”

Like his dad and David, Blake was an Auburn man from the day he was born. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore year at Auburn that Blake decided he wanted to follow in his dad’s shoes.

“Veterinary medicine was who we were when I was a kid. I never thought about it for myself until Dad brought it up as a possibility,” Blake said. “I think he probably pushed me away from the idea when I was growing up, so as not to influence me, letting me make my own path. I always knew I wanted to do something in medicine, so when I finally made the decision, I never questioned it.”

The Auburn family practice in Hueytown expanded again nine years later when Blake’s cousin, Jeremy Birchfield ’05, DVM, came aboard.

“For me, it was a no-brainer. I have always been close to my family and loved the thought of joining them,” Birchfield said. “I was so proud as a child to claim my uncle and cousin were local practicing veterinarians that worked daily to help the pet owners and animals of our area. I wanted the reward of knowing I, too, would be doing work that could help the people and pets of our community.”

In addition, Blake’s wife, Crystal, now serves as the practice’s manager. “I don’t know what it would be like for this practice to not be family. It has always been that way for me. Dr. Hayes and Dad were partners when I was born, I went to school and grew up with his kids, my mom worked as a receptionist for Dad when I was a kid and now Jeremy and I are partners. With us being first cousins and Crystal serving as our practice manager, it’s not just a job that I have to go to every day,” Blake said.

“Veterinary medicine is, and has always been, the fabric of my family. Our conversations about the clinic, our clients, patients, successes and failures are as common at the dinner table, holidays and birthday parties as they are at the office. For me, it has been the greatest blessing of my career.”

A New Day

In August 2018, Jerry passed away at the age of 74 after a short, but hard-fought, battle with brain cancer. While his passing left a hole in the community that will never be filled, his legacy lives on through the new 11,000-square-foot Hueytown Veterinary Clinic that was unveiled in March 2018, just months before his death.

For Blake and Jeremy, this new facility will honor the work established by David and Jerry and build on it for at least another half century.

The new facility was built with the community in mind, offering the gamut of pet care.

“New ideals in veterinary care and how pets should be housed and cared for while staying with us, during sickness and hospitalization, as well as while their owners are away and need some place safe for their pets, were the primary driving forces that encouraged our vision,” Birchfield said.

The new design has completely separate areas for medical and boarding needs. The medical areas have been retrofitted to triple the size of the previous facility, including eight examination tables with oxygen drops and lights, four of which are wet tables with running water and drains that provide the ability to clean wounds, perform dental cleaning procedures and sanitize. The clinic has doubled the number of examination rooms to eight, while also increasing the size of each room. Doctors’ offices are positioned in a “fish bowl,” providing an almost 360-degree line of sight overseeing the care and handling of the patients within the treatment room, as well as visualization of the animals housed in the sick animal wards.

On the other side of the clinic, the Pet Lodge employs a full-time trainer who oversees group play activities for dogs. The canine enclosures are glass-fronted in order to provide maximum visibility for the dogs, with options for extra large, as well as stay-in-the-patio suites with an outdoor enclosure that allows pets private outside access. There is also a spacious indoor play/training room to allow guests to play off-leash, including an area to hold group and individual training lessons.

The backyard area consists of more than two acres of fenced green space, with multiple segregated yards that allow for different size and disposition pets to enjoy off-leash play with other guests that have similar traits and characteristics.

For feline patients, a completely segregated room with glass-faced enclosures enhances the tranquility of a cat’s stay. And, a play room filled with an artificial tree and wall shelving for guests to climb, toys to play with and fish to observe in order to provide greater enrichment opportunities.

The spacious, redesigned reception area facilitates efficiency with a receptionist for each of the hospital’s lodging and customer service areas.

Since the addition of the new facility, the practice also has added another member of the Auburn family—McKenzie George ’17, DVM, joined the team last June. The practice’s first female veterinarian was drawn to the family dynamic and community feel that surrounded the Hueytown Veterinary Clinic.

“As a recent graduate coming from an emergency room environment, also having worked with zoo and exotic animals, I was looking to go somewhere where I could be mentored, and Blake and Jeremy have been just that,” McKenzie said. “The way they’ve converted their traditional clinic into a state-of-the-art animal hospital and boarding facility, all while maintaining that ‘mom-and-pop’ feel, has been quite exciting to watch and be a small part of.”

What started as a call to service for a few hometown boys has grown into one of the state’s most comprehensive animal care facilities, all born out of the plains.

“I am proud and privileged to have been a part of the practice in its formative and growing years, and I look forward with eager anticipation to an outstanding future for this new facility and its beautifully qualified and prepared staff,” David said.

For Jerry, he was extremely proud of this state-of-the-art, game-changing facility—even working, doing what he could, in his final months. But it was the time spent with his family—and extended Auburn family—and their hard work to make this new dream a reality that he cherished most.

“The highlight of my career has been watching my son take over my practice and improving it in such a grand way. Blake and Jeremy are taking this practice to a new and exciting level. I am very proud to have been a part of its beginning,” Jerry said just months before his passing. “The future for comprehensive veterinary care in this state looks very bright.”


Veterinarians Credit Dog’s Survival to Having ‘Strong Will to Live’

As his namesake suggests, Pilgrim, has much to be thankful for, and veterinarians who treated the nine-year-old Blue Tick coon hound at the College of Veterinary Medicine credit his survival to having a “strong will to live.”

Pilgrim belongs to Dr. Marsha Cashwell ’80, a practicing veterinarian in Phenix City, Ala. The hound was diagnosed by Cashwell in February as suffering a potentially life-threatening condition known as gastric dilatation-volvulus complex (GDV). Also known as bloat, the condition is a medical emergency. It results in the dog’s stomach twisting, causing the stomach to fill with air. Pressure builds, stopping blood from the hind legs and abdomen from returning to the heart. Blood pools at the back end of the body, reducing the working blood volume and sending the dog into shock.

“Unless this condition is treated surgically and very quickly, dogs with GDV have a very narrow chance of survival, and if not treated, the condition is fatal,” Cashwell said. “I don’t have the capability of doing this kind of surgery in my veterinary clinic, so I immediately set out for Auburn.”

Cashwell, whose veterinary practice is a small animal clinic, has long referred complex and serious cases to Auburn. For two years, she also has served on the college’s hospital board.

“We are very fortunate to have Auburn so close to us. I will put its emergency care and expertise up against the quality found in top human medicine hospitals,” Cashwell added.

Pilgrim’s journey with Cashwell began during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

“We came home and found him lying on our front porch,” Cashwell said. “He was tired, hungry and just completely worn out, but he seemed very glad to see us.”

Cashwell said the hound appeared to be a stray.

“He was not wearing a collar, and I scanned him for an identification chip,” she said. “We could not find out anything about his owner, so we took him in. We named him Pilgrim, because we found him on Thanksgiving day.”

Cashwell said that her husband, Jim Morpeth, took an immediate liking to the dog, but after some two weeks, contact with the dog’s owner finally was made. However, after talking with the owner, it was agreed that the Cashwells would adopt Pilgrim.

“Pilgrim had received basic veterinary care,” Cashwell said, “but he had a benign tumor that I removed in my clinic. It was while he was in the clinic recuperating from that procedure a week later that he developed GDV.”Cashwell said she immediately loaded Pilgrim into her SUV and started out for Auburn.

“I called Auburn while I was on the road, and they met us in the parking lot,” Cashwell said. “I looked into the back where Pilgrim was lying just hoping and praying that he was still alive. He was, and the emergency critical care staff took over and began focusing total attention to helping Pilgrim.”

Veterinarians are unsure of the cause of GDV, but it is more common to occur in large-breed dogs than in small breeds, said Lenore Bacek, DVM and head of the Emergency and Critical Care section at the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital. Emergency and critical care resident Jiwoong Her, DVM, attended Pilgrim’s case under the supervision of Bacek; and Harry Boothe, DVM, performed the surgery.

Pilgrim’s case proved to be more complex than expected.

“All the bad things that could happen in a case like this did happen,” Cashwell said. “But Auburn addressed and handled every one.”

Pilgrim had part of his stomach removed, received a blood transfusion and even went into cardiac arrest. His veterinarians called it one of the most challenging cases of GDV they have treated.

“Pilgrim’s gastric dilatation and volvulus episode included necrosis of a substantial portion of the fundus of the stomach, necessitating removal of the necrotic portion—a partial gastric resection,” said Boothe. “Partial gastric resection adds to the seriousness of Pilgrim’s condition, making for a more prolonged, complicated and less predictable recovery; but Pilgrim exhibited a strong will to live during his recovery process.”

Pilgrim remained a patient at the hospital for a week following his surgery. He was discharged March 3 and is now completely recovered, according to Cashwell.

She posted on her social media just after taking Pilgrim home: “He looks amazing! Climbed up on a chair to look out the window, eating. … he has exceeded expec-tations by far to still be with us. Most dogs will live their lives and never need the kind of medical expertise he has had the benefit of, but it is amazing and we—general practice veterinarians and pet owners—are so fortunate to have such a great facility as Auburn and critical care specialists like Dr. Her and Dr. Bacek and surgeon Dr. Boothe.”

Williamson Honored

by Cullman Agriplex

Dr. Tom Williamson ’71 was recently honored by the North Alabama Agriplex with the naming of its Heritage Center in his honor to recognize his many contributions and lifelong service.

Known as “Big Doc,” Williamson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Cullman area for nearly 50 years, first coming to the city to work as part of his preceptorship as a veterinary medical student.

“It wasn’t three weeks until there was never a doubt,” Williamson fondly remembered. “That’s how quick the people in Cullman get in your blood.”

He became involved in the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association and began helping with county programs focusing on assisting local farmers. He also has been involved with, and held leadership positions in, the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, the Cullman Rotary Club and the Cullman Farm-City Committee. Williamson is particularly proud to have helped in the creation of the North Alabama Agriplex, where he is a member of the Agriplex Foundation.

After 48 years, Williamson continues to practice several days a week at Cullman Veterinary Hospital.

Whether working at the Agriplex or at other volunteer efforts, Williamson said all have a common goal: to promote agriculture. “Every year, there are fewer and fewer people who know about agriculture and where our food comes from,” he said.

Godbold Wind

Kumar Patel Prize

Dr. John C. Godbold ’78, a pioneer in veterinary laser surgery and education, has been named a 2019 winner of the Kumar Patel Prize for his outstanding contribution to veterinary laser surgery education.

Presented by the American Laser Study Club, the award honors Godbold and two educators in human medicine: Robert A. Strauss, DDS, M.D., and Warren Seiler, M.D. They received the awards earlier this year at the organization’s second annual symposium.The group credited Godbold with leading more than 600 laser workshops, wet labs and continuing education meetings around the world.

In 1980, he established Stonehaven Park Veterinary Hospital in Jackson, Tenn., where he practiced for 33 years. He now works with Stonehaven Veterinary Consulting, teaching and assisting colleagues and working in the development of new technologies.

Since 1999, Godbold has pursued a special interest in the use of light-based modalities in small animal practice. He has extensive experience with surgical and thera-peutic lasers, has developed new surgical and therapeutic techniques, and assists equipment manufacturers with the development of new laser- and light-based technologies.

In 2016, Godbold expanded his interests to include digital thermal imaging and has worked in depth in the development and delivery of educational content about thermal imaging and its application in veterinary practice.

He has published numerous papers, articles, and chapters about the use of lasers in small animal practice. His publications have appeared in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Clinician’s Brief, Laserpoints, The Feline Patient, Laser Surgery in Veterinary Medicine, The Integrative Veterinary Care Journal, and the Newsletter of the Veterinary Surgical Laser Society. Among Godbold’s published works are Atlas of CO2 Laser Surgery Procedures, Atlas of Class IV Laser Therapy—Small Animal and Laser Therapy in Veterinary Medicine—Photobiomodulation.

The Kumar Patel Prize is named after the inventor of the carbon dioxide laser.

Alumnus Honored

by Florida VMA

Dr. Jack L. Blackwood, Jr. ’82 was presented the 2018 Distinguished Service Award by the Florida Veterinary Medical Association.

Blackwood was honored for his service to the profession. He was one of the founders of the Okaloosa-Walton Veterinary Emergency Clinic where he served as president of the board for many years.

Blackwood was the first veterinarian employed by the Walton County Animal Shelter, which was established in 2009. He worked for the shelter part time while also running his practice, the Walton County Animal Clinic. Within the first five years of working for the shelter, he sterilized more than 5,000 pets and continues to provide medical care and perform surgeries at the shelter to this day.

In August 2012, Blackwood, with the help of his wife, launched the Animal Sterilization Assistance Program (A.S.A.P.) of Walton County. This program was born out of the desire to help in the prevention of unwanted and uncared-for pets ending up in the overcrowded animal shelter. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 1,800 family pets.

Blackwood strives to help the pets in his community whether it be at his personal practice, the local shelter or by providing a reduced-rate sterilization program.

Auburn College of Agriculture

Salutes Dean Calvin Johnson

Eight successful professionals who hold academic degrees from Auburn University’s College of Agriculture—including Dean Calvin Johnson—were recognized by the College of Agriculture as the college’s 2019 Outstanding Alumni Award winners.

Johnson ’86 was honored by the Department of Animal Sciences as alumnus of the year.

A 1983 animal and dairy sciences graduate, Johnson is in his sixth year as dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. After his DVM, he went on to obtain the Ph.D. in pathology and biotechnology from North Carolina State University in 1992. He was on the University of Florida faculty for 11 years before returning to Auburn in 2003, first as a professor, and later head of the college’s pathobiology department. His research emphases are veterinary immunology and the pathogenesis of feline immunodeficiency virus infection in cats.