Dr. Conley still going strong at 90
LE MARS — Le Mars veterinarian Dr. John Conley keeps a regular schedule of office visits with his small animal practice, even though he turned 90 years old in October.
What keeps him going?
“Well, I think there’s a physical age and a mental age, and they can be wide apart and they can be close together. You can be mentally good and physically bad, or physically great and mentally bad,” he explained. “I think I’ve got a balance kind of between the two. It’s nothing I’ve done, it’s just the way I am built.”
As far as going to the office each day, he said, “I get up in the morning, and most mornings I’m eager to come to work. I admit I would like to get home at about 4 in the afternoon, but that’s impossible, you can’t be a part-time vet.”
Conley was raised on a farm by Kingsley until he was 11, when the family moved to farm near Anthon. He graduated in 1955 and served in the military before beginning his vet practice years in the small town of Coin in southern Iowa.
“I moved to Le Mars in 1961. I’ve been here 60 years and six years before that, so about 66 years,” he said of being a veterinarian.
When he came to Le Mars, 90 percent of the practice involved large animals. He purchased his practice from Le Mars veterinarian Gordon Held in 1964. It became Town & Country Veterinary Clinic.
Conley said he changed to being a small animal vet only about eight years ago.
“Large animal medicine is getting so specialized, so either you can be a general practitioner, but there are swine veterinarians, and beef and dairy veterinarians, and you can’t be a specialist in all of those fields,” he said.
Age also played a factor in his shift to small animals.
“I’ve had a left hip replaced four times and I’ve had the right knee replaced and it was just physically easier to phase out of large animals, and you know, I quit in ‘13, so that was eight years ago and I would have been 82, and you just don’t move that fast around animals,” he explained.
He keeps quite busy with his practice these days, which seems to grow as the number of pets grows.
“In small animal medicine there are so many things you can do right now and so much better,” he said. “We have digital X-ray and I can take a picture and have it within minutes, I can enlarge it, I can darken it, I can send it away to get another opinion on it. We have our own blood analyzer machines that we can do CBCs and chem panels and thyroids and phenobarbital. In our surgical suite we have monitors and we check the oxygen levels, the heart rate, the body temperature, it’s just more rewarding the more things you can do.”
He said technology has make quite a difference.
“As a result with technology and investment on the part of the veterinarian comes increased revenue. Small animal practices make more money than large animal, I think,” he said.
Through the years, Conley has treated a variety of pets.
He related the story of his his most unusual pet animal.
“It was a pet camel and it came it couldn’t pee. I had to do what they call a urethrotomy,” he said.
“We did it at night in a dark barn with a 75 watt light bulb and a 1,200 pound animal. In the urethra, we found a stone about the size of a grain of rice, and as soon as we got it out, Clyde could pee. That was the most rewarding.
“I have spayed an African lion, I’ve tubed boa constrictors and ferrets and gerbils and hamsters, cats, dogs, llamas, and alpacas. I’ve done caesarean sections on cats and dogs, and sheep, alpacas, llamas and cattle, and hundreds of them in hogs.”
Conley has a great love for animals and it shows in his work.
He related how a little child and the parents came in with a little pug dog and its three babies. One was born dead, and it was not fully developed.
“I cremated that baby and gave the ashes back, about a tablespoon, but the child wanted the ashes back on that puppy,” Conley said.
He also finds rewards in helping animals and their owners.
“It’s very rewarding, too, better now than it used to be. People really want to get to a conclusion, unlike maybe 30 years ago, the pet was not as valuable to them, and we didn’t have the equipment,” Conley said. “So you examined the animal, you think this is what it has, you rule out one or two things, but you don’t have a conclusion to know you were definitely right. Now we have more conclusions.”
One thing Conley is adamant about is euthanasia.
“We will not euthanize an animal unless it is in pain or suffering. We don’t just euthanize,” he said.
“I like being able to help the animals and see satisfaction in the client, the owner,” he said.
He admits he lays awake at night when he will be doing surgery for an animal the next day.
“Sometimes you lay awake the night before as you wade through what needs to be done.
“There is some apprehension. To me, anytime you give an animal an anesthetic is a risk,” he continued.
He and his wife, Barbara, live on a acreage with one dog and one cat. He sold the Belgian draft horses a few years ago.
The two find time to take in some fishing each summer, and Barbara accompanies him on any night calls.
As for retiring, he said, “I would probably sell the practice if somebody walked in. But I put it in the market, no one wants to buy a single veterinary practice. They want to buy into a group, with 3-5 people and more time off,” he said. “So I will probably go until I can’t do it or am disabled.”
Conley looked around the clinic and said, “I’m very comfortable here. I love the smell of iodine.”
And as for his clients, the furry and wiggly patients are comfortable with him, too.