Dr. Gerard Dahl has had many adventures during the past 40 years
PISEK, N.D. -- "Move along Babe. Come on Sweetie. That's the way, Grandma," coaxes Dr. Gerard Dahl. On a chilly late fall day some of Dahl's bovine patients are reluctant to enter their temporary exam room, but his warm bedside manner reassures them.
PISEK, N.D. -- "Move along Babe. Come on Sweetie. That's the way, Grandma," coaxes Dr. Gerard Dahl.
On a chilly late fall day some of Dahl's bovine patients are reluctant to enter their temporary exam room, but his warm bedside manner reassures them. One-by-one the animals file into a squeeze chute where Dahl quickly examines the cows to determine whether they are pregnant.
Dressed in a disposable jumpsuit covered with mud and muck and standing at the north end of a cow facing south, Dahl's work at Dan Dub's farm near Pisek is dirty, difficult and sometimes dangerous.
That's why he loves it.
Being a country vet is a perfect fit for Dahl who has a genuine affection for animals and an affinity for the kinds of adventures that result from being matched up with critters that are from five to 10 times his size.
"I remember when I was young, one thing I wanted to do was vaccinate some buffalo," Dahl says.
He's done that, along with elk, llama, cows, horses, pigs and sheep.
In these days when many young veterinarians prefer going into small animal practices, Dahl, 65, has no plans to retire from the large animal practice he has been part of in Park River since 1968.
Dahl, a 1966 University of Minnesota Veterinary School graduate, has been fond of animals since he was a small boy growing up on a farm near Atwater, Minn.
"The farm we had was a small dairy farm. It seemed like my brother gravitated toward the machinery and I gravitated toward the livestock," he says.
During the past 40 years, Dahl has seen the technological advances in his field leap ahead at the same time the number of farms with livestock have dropped dramatically.
"When I got up to North Dakota there were many small dairies and many (farmers) who separated their milk and sold the cream," Dahl says.
But in those days "antibiotics were limited. We had no vaccines to prevent respiratory diseases," he says.
Now many diseases that used to threaten the health of livestock have been brought in check or, in some cases, eradicated.
Keeping animals healthy is a service to their owners, and to the entire human population, he notes.
"I've always had a good feeling that you're not only assisting with the animal's well-being, but also with the owner's well-being." Meanwhile, preventing livestock diseases from spreading also protects human health.
Through all the changes in the past 40 years, the human-animal bond has remained strong, Dahl says.
"You take Bossie the milk cow, she was an important part of the family. The same with Barney the horse," he says.
Now, pet owners have the same strong attachment to their companion animals.
Dahl clearly is at home with animals both great and small. Whether cradling a kitten in his arms or urging a cow into a squeeze chute his tone is gentle, yet firm.
"Our philosophy has been we would help someone, regardless of the species," Dahl says. "We probably do about 10 small animal surgeries a week."
However, "I draw the line when someone brings in a reptile. I don't know enough about reptiles that I feel comfortable" working on them.
Though Dahl is at ease with most other species, on occasion he has been in situations that were too close for comfort.
"There's been a few times you have been a little nervous about things, but in most cases, you have been on the right side of the fence," Dahl says.
Being on the right side of the fence has prevented major injuries, and he's had only one broken bone.
"I had a bull break my arm," Dahl says. He was trying to adjust the halter on the big Charolais when it got squeezed between the animal and the chute, he explains.
Another time, an ancient cow with a sore hoof got a sudden burst of energy when he walked up to her in a pasture, stopped limping and started charging. After she knocked him down and rolled him around in the muck a couple of times, she strolled away and left him alone, Dahl says.
Adventures like that are the stuff of good stories and gave him better bragging rights than some of his other U of M classmates at his 40th reunion last summer.
"The large animal boys had a lot better stories than the small animal people and the research people," Dahl says.
During a few tense moments at the Dub farm it appeared that Dahl might have fodder for another story. He was examining the next-to-the-last cow in the chute when the final patient panicked at being left alone and decided to keep the other cow company.
Dahl, pinned between the two 1,200-pound bovines, retained his characteristic calm and quietly asked Dub and the four men helping him for assistance, at the same time jockeying between the two cows for breathing space.
The men backed the second cow out of the back of the squeeze chute, let the first cow out the front, and Dahl escaped through a side gate. A few minutes later he went back in and finished the examination then came out smiling broadly.
"You've got to have a little adventure," he says.
Ann Bailey is Recollections editor. Reach her by phone at (701) 787-6753, (800) 477-6572, ext. 753 or e-mail her at email@example.com