The Gentle Doctor

Patricia Lounsbury Bliss in her book Christian Petersen Remembered wrote,

The Gentle Doctor…reflects concern, affection, love, and the significance of life for all of God’s creatures—-great and small. The memory of Christian Petersen will live forever in the minds of the veterinary profession.”

In 1988, when I graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, I decided to purchase a Gentle Doctor Statue for myself. We were poor college students but as a young teen, my parents made a pack with each of their children that if they did not smoke by the time they were 25 years of age, they would give us each $250. Today that would not seem like much money, but as a teenager and a poor married college student, it was a BIG gift. Imagine how much money I have saved by not smoking, and I do have a treasured statue to commemorate my DVM degree and that pack with my parents.

When I decided to use the money for a statue, I did not want a bronze one. I had collected pewter pieces for years and wondered how difficult it would be to get one made out of pewter. I contacted the company that made the molds and was told to get permission from Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine for a mold to be made for a pewter cast. I would pay for the mold to be made and it would then belong to me and I would be able to make additional statues with permission from the College of Veterinary Medicine in the future.   I followed through on all of these steps and did obtain a statue made from pewter with my name engraved on the base.

A few years after graduation my father called and asked if another statue could be made from pewter for a long time veterinarian named Dr. Forland. He had practiced in the area where my parents lived and when told about my statue, he was interested in having one made with his name engraved in the base as well.   I again requested permission from ISU College of Veterinary Medicine and with the help of my parents had it delivered to Dr. Forland. I never spoke face to face with him and do not know if as a young girl I ever met him but felt glad I could help him get a statue that he could have his name engraved on the base.

Fast forward a few years and I was sorting through items and ran across a letter I had been sent from Dr. Forland after he received his statue. This letter was written 4 months before his death I was later told and obviously I had felt it worthy of saving since it was a hand-written letter and these are treasures to behold. The words he wrote shared a side of himself that he indicated he had never spoken of. I had decided I would hang on to the letter and if ever I could find one of his children, I felt they should have the letter.   And to my dismay, GUESS WHAT……18 years after the letter was written my parents happened to meet Dr. Forland’s daughter in a random place. After talking with her for a few minutes, and telling her the story of the statue that I had cast for him out of pewter, she went to her car and came back with 2 books titled “Christian Petersen Remembered”, the man who is responsible for the Gentle Doctor statue. Her father had purchased a large quantity of these books and she had decided to pass them out to people she met that had a connection with her father. One book was for my parents and the other book for me.

My parents called me to tell me about their encounter and I immediately asked if they got her phone number or address. My mother said yes, since his daughter was hoping that someday she could meet me. I requested the information and then sent her the original letter so she could read the written words for the first time, 18 years after her father’s death.

So why is all of this worthy of a blog……well let me share with you the letter contents and then you can see how important is was for me to return this letter to the family.

Dear Dr. Lonna Nielsen

Vallie met your dad at Fallgatters the other day so she obtained your married name and address. Please accept my apology for not getting in touch with you before for your kind consideration in allowing us to have the use of your mold for the Gentle Doctor Statue. Thank you!!! It is especially nice that an inscription can be permanently etched at the base. We will have one for each of our children.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think when I was modeling that it would become such an icon for ISU and world wide.

It was ironic that it was crafted in the Home Economics building (McKay Hall) at a time when there were no women students taking Vet Med! The college couldn’t find any other place for Petersen to work and teach. Of course he wasn’t too welcome because of the mess and smell of wet plaster, clay, etc. (It was my job to keep things clean)

One day I asked him if the pile of clay he was working on would have any redeeming value in the future. His answer was,” Young man, if you live another 50 years you may be glad you have given me some of your time.”

Jan 11, 1986, I had a massive heart attack with a lot of damage. Had bypass at Mayo. In June I had recovered enough so I got a release from my cardiologist to attend 45th class reunion. I had lost 50 lbs and was allergic to almost all medications.

Our class took a bus tour of campus, with special point of interest “the old vet quadrangle” (it has been remodeled for classrooms). The Prof that was hosting the group was telling the story of the old building and where Bas Relief & Statue location was before it was moved to the new location. One of my classmates knew of my involvement and posed the question, “Does anyone know who Christian Petersen’s model was for it?” When it was known it was me, the Prof came with his microphone for the story.

I just fell apart emotionally and could not speak! (Embarassing) In my mind, I must have seen and heard Petersen telling me what I could expect if I lived another 50 years. It was within a month of 50 years.

God spared me some more time so that I could be around to see what it has meant for ISU and the world!! I was honored this last Homecoming in the unveiling at Rededication Ceremony.

Excuse all this talk about the above experience. I haven’t told anyone about this before.

Most sincerely,

L M Forland

You see in 1936-37, Dr. Forland, as a poor undergraduate student cleaning up the messes of Christian Petersen had modeled for him holding only a small pillow on his forearm in a position similar to a puppy. He later applied and was accepted to the Veterinary College and graduated in 1941. This humble man realized years later what his small contribution means to the world of Veterinary Medicine. This statue is held in high esteem within the heart and mind of every veterinarian that graduates because it represents the bond each of us shares with our patients.

This month I got to meet Dr. Forland’s daughter and she again thanked me for the hand written letter. One of her siblings has the pewter Gentle Doctor Statue with Dr. Forland’s name engraved on the base. Never did I realize that a mold made to commemorate my DVM graduation would also touch the heart of a man who was a model for the Gentle Doctor Statue back in 1936. I find it interesting how small gestures of kindness can come back and bless your life in ways you would never imagine. Dr. Forland never was paid for his time as a model and yet he found great joy and gratitude 50 years later when he was recognized for his small part in this world wide icon the “Gentle Doctor Statue.” And as they say…. the rest is history.

Ovariohysterectomy for my puppy or kitten before 6 months?

Why would we even consider doing such a major procedure on such a young pet? Women who have these procedures are not allowed to lift, drive, work, etc. for weeks after. Yet we are performing this procedure younger and younger for our pets. This movement began many years ago when shelters realized how few adopted pets returned for their spay or neuter at 6 months of age. This quote from the Fayette Humane Society really sums it up:

“An average cat has 1-8 kittens per litter and 2-3 litters per year. During her productive life, one female cat could have more than 100 kittens. A single pair of cats and their kittens can produce as many as 420,000 kittens in just 7 years.”

Those are staggering numbers. For this reason, shelters began spay and neuter procedures prior to adoption of puppies and kittens. What was discovered was there were no growth issues and the younger pets recovered much more quickly than the older patients from anesthesia as well as the surgery itself. Clients are often surprised how playful and happy these younger patients are after surgery. We have less complication with swelling and incision redness. With young puppies and kittens very few “cones of shame” are needed to keep them from licking at the incision.   Most clients report that their pet is back to normal activity within 2 days.

Now we come to one of the most important reasons to spay your pet in the first few months of its life, BREAST CANCER. Having your pet spayed before her first heat cycle will remove the risk of breast cancer. Clearly, that is a great reason to spay your pet. After 2-3 heat cycles, a female’s chances of breast cancer are just as great as a pet that has never been spayed. Doing the spay early removes almost 100% of the risk for this clinical condition. Breast cancer is aggressive and spreads to numerous glands and to other internal organs as well. When a partial or complete mastectomy is performed, the recovery is long and painful for our female pets. Even with this surgical procedure, there are high probabilities that the cancer will return or be found in other locations in the future. Why put our pets through this if it can be avoided?

BEHAVIORAL studies have shown that a spayed or neutered dog is 3 times less likely to bite or be aggressive to humans or other animals. Awareness of behavioral issues is becoming more common. People realize that a dog that attacks humans or other dogs is not normal. We recognize that this is dangerous and make attempts to reduce the pets fear and anxiety. We remind people that if you wait for your dog to show signs of aggression and then you spay or neuter the pet, this may not change the situation. The success stories come from doing the procedure before the behavioral issues have begun. Therefore highlighting the positives of an early spay or neuter program.

BEHAVIORAL issues of wandering also come into play with an intact female dog. When her cycle begins, she will be driven instinctively to find a partner as much as the male will be driven to find her. With the first stage of her cycle, which can last anywhere from 7-10 days, she will have a large amount of valvular swelling and a heavy blood discharge. During those early days each time she urinates or drops blood she is sending pheromones out to all intact males in and around the area. This is why you will see stray dogs wandering into your yard or loitering around your home when your female begins her cycle. After the heavy discharge ends is when she is ready to stand for her mate. She may be in her standing heat for 7-10 days as well, so be prepared to keep her on a short leash while outside and never leave her unattended during those days. The final 7-10 days she may have a lighter colored pink discharge and still be swollen but will not stand for a mate. The dogs cycle will last up to 21-30 days. This is important to remember since she is driven to be bred instinctively and it is your responsibility to make certain that does not happen. They usually will cycle twice per year.

BEHAVIORAL issues for the feline are different. Cats are what we call induced ovulators. When bred, ovulation is triggered, without being bred the female cat can wax and wane in her cycle and cause a large amount of frustration to owners and other pets in the home. The female cat in heat is agitated and vocal and often attempts to get outdoors. This can last for days and cause the entire household to be at odds about what should be done. Female cats can have repeated heat cycles stimulated by daylight, warmer temperatures, and the presence of other intact cats. Spaying her before any of this begins can prevent frustration for every person and pet involved. Some cats will cycle as early as 5-6 months. Spay early and avoid the hassle!

Another huge health risk to our female intact pets is PYOMETRA. This condition is difficult to detect since many describe their pet as just not acting right. Maybe eating less, drinking more, laying around more, there may be a discharge but not always, some very vague symptoms. Most owners report that her heat cycle has been irregular and cannot remember the last time she cycled. When checking blood work, we see a very elevated white blood cell count that gives us concern for a possible pyometra. The photos below show an older dog with a normal uterus on the left and the one on the right is the same aged dog but with a uterus full of pus. These cases can have a uterus full of pus as large as a pregnant dog’s uterus. Of course, the infected uterus must be removed and the patients are already debilitated so the procedure is risky. Spaying your female pet can avoid this situation 100%.

Some common myths that we hear often when discussing a spay procedure are:

“I do not want my pet to get fat and lazy.” As with any pet, if feeding the appropriate calorie intake based on their daily needs you can control their weight. The trouble is many want to continue to free feed their young adult pet which leads to weight gain. Also, the age we used to spay a pet was around the time they were maturing and so activity levels were naturally dropping but we continued to feed them at the same level as when they were a growing puppy. We need to adjust their intake based on weather and schedules to avoid them gaining weight in the winter when no one wants to walk their dog and when school begins and we no longer have time to walk. Your dog will still want to protect its family and territory even after being spayed. Any behavioral changes noted after a spay are more likely caused by something other than the spay.

So, what are the disadvantages to a spay? As with any surgical procedure the risk of anesthesia is something we can never underestimate. Pediatric pets are sensitive to heat loss and blood loss so those factors must always be considered at the time of surgery and postoperatively. Your pet will never have a litter of kittens or puppies. That can be considered a disadvantage by some but I see it as a positive advantage. Are there increased health risks with age associated with early spay and neuter programs? Recent studies have indicated with some breeds of dogs they are seeing a higher incidence of osteosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma in altered dogs. I believe more studies are needed to verify these results since most pets we treat are altered so does this give a fair representation of the case studies. Where the study was done, how did they account for diet and environmental variations? Did they make certain that these dogs were not related since the study was done in Golden Retrievers? With all the research that is happening in humans studying our DNA and finding early links to different diseases, I believe this will help us learn more about the how’s and why’s of cancer in pets. So, the jury is still out, but I can definitely say that there are many great reasons to consider a spay for your pet to make them more family orientated and help avoid unnecessary pain and frustration for your pet and yourself.


A Decade

August 7, 2017, marked my tenth year at Winterset Veterinary Center(WVC). On the one hand, that seems like a long time, but as I reflect on my years here, I am amazed at how quickly the time has passed. In 2007, I had 4 children ages 7-15 at home. Now my baby is a senior and within the next year, Dan and I will be part of the “empty nest” category. Our oldest 2 children have completed their college education and are adjusting to the work world in Omaha and Chicago. Our third child just started her freshman year at our alma mater, Iowa State University, to study Global Resource System/Horticulture. These are major changes from a decade ago when I started my employment at WVC.

A blast from the past: the WVC staff around 2009, complete with matching t-shirts.

A decade ago, there was no computer at WVC. Now, all transactions are being carried out on the computer to improve practice efficiency. The reality is we never got to a paperless practice but we certainly have a better record of purchases and medical notes. There are days that I am grateful for the computer when it works seamlessly, but over the last decade we did have one major crash that complicated our work day and made it apparent that we are helpless when the computer is down. Thank goodness for computer technicians that somehow find a way to retrieve data and get us back up and running again.

A decade ago there were 4 practices in Winterset with 6 veterinarians. Now we have 3 practices with 8 veterinarians. In the last decade we have lost some amazing veterinarians that were proud to call Winterset, Iowa, home: Dr. Gary Fisher, Dr. Craig Saveraid, Dr. Ken Henrichsen, and Dr. Robert La Follette. Each of these veterinarians had a long history of treating animals in Iowa. I think of the changes they experienced during their many years of practice. Change is a part of any profession and if one is not willing to explore new business philosophies, you cannot expect to continue to compete.

A decade ago, I never heard someone diagnose their pet’s illness based on Dr. Google’s wealth of information. People never attempted to do surgeries seen on YouTube or express their grievances on social media. WVC did not have a website, Facebook page or an online store. We never placed orders for products by using a computer. We did not have a blog. We realize that many of our new customers come to us through these different sources that have only been around about a decade. Many of these social media sites are helpful to share ideas and information about our practice. We share photos of any animals brought in by the city of Winterset to try to find their owners. We share photos of interesting findings in practice. We share the blogs I write to spread awareness of things happening in Veterinary Medicine or with animals in general. Since a majority of people use their phones now to search for veterinarians and phone numbers, our advertisement in phone books is at an all time low. Will phone books be a thing of the past in the next decade?

We’ve had some great times through the years!

A decade ago, Dr. Jim and Stephanie were on staff at WVC when I started. Everyone else has moved on to other adventures and that opened the door for new employees to start working at the clinic. We have been blessed through these years with great staff that help the clinic thrive and grow. Mary and Kristal do an amazing job answering the phone and waiting on customers. Our groomer, Carrie, is building her clientele one perfect cut at a time. Our kennel staff, Jessica and Lexi, keep the clinic and our in house pets in tip top shape. It is totally a team effort to keep WVC running smoothly. I cannot be more thankful that Dr. Ken retired right at the time I was seeking employment. The days and years have truly flown by. It can be challenging to work in a place that never has the same routine, but also prevents boredom and burnout. Each day is new and different since one never knows what will come through that door or call on that phone.

A decade ago, one thing was very evident with the people who came to WVC. They all had a great need to protect their livelihood or their furbaby from harm and needed us to treat and diagnose whatever might ail them. The clients have continued to be respectful and appreciative of our services. They recognize that we cannot turn back the clock or make time stand still to escape the tough decisions that present themselves way to soon in our minds. They always show concern and compassion to these critters in their time of need. They rejoice with each new life, whether this is their first litter of puppies or their last calf of the season.  We see our clients and their critters as part of the WVC family. We have rejoiced with them during happy moments and shed tears with them during the sad moments. Puppies that I watched grow up are now showing signs of age and maturity that gives me concern that to soon I will be looking into those eyes for the very last time. Yes, working at a business for a decade has the advantage of making long lasting relationships with clients. We reminisce about the past when our kids played sports together or how the kids got taller than us.   We remember loved ones that were present when they first brought that puppy home years ago. We attempt to make everyone that enters through the doors of WVC know that they are important to us. Without these clients, we would no longer have a reason to exist.

Thank you to all of our WVC clients for entrusting the care and wellbeing of your critters to us. We appreciate all of you now and in the future decades!

The staff at WVC, 2017





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