They can never admit it, but plenty of cats, dogs, horses and their extended families consider John “Jack” Brennan a great friend.
Brennan, the veterinarian who founded the Guilderland Animal Hospital in 1955, treated creatures great and small during a 40-year career that ended with his retirement in 1995.
Patients in fur and on four are gone now. But the stories remain and Brennan, now 80, has dozens of them. Like the one about the man who found a horse in his swimming pool at 3 a.m. and telephoned in full panic. The vet needed help from a tow truck to free the late night explorer.
People who appreciate stories about animals — some funny, some tragic, some sentimental — will appreciate Brennan’s self-published book “This Vet Has Tales.”
Adventures with cats, dogs, cows, elephants and horses — Brennan had fast clients when he worked for the state Department of Racing and Wagering at Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Raceway from 1980 until 1983 — are in the pages. So are details on his life and times.
The paperback is available at the veterinary hospital, 4963 Western Turnpike (Route 20) or by contacting Brennan Books, P.O. Box 815, Guilderland, N.Y. 12084-0815. Brennan will be selling and signing copies of the book at The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, from 3 until 4:30 p.m. on June 5
Q: How did you found the Guilderland Animal Hospital?
A: It’s a graduate’s dream to have his own practice. I worked for Dr. Harmon C. Leonard in Cheshire, Conn., when I was in veterinary school and after I got out of the Air Force, and Dr. Leonard was my mentor, he was kind of an inspiration. One of his pieces of advice for me was. “If you want to start your own practice, get outside of a city, go where the suburbs are.” I thought, “What would be better to be outside of two cities, Schenectady and Albany?”
Q: Who were your first clients?
A: Cats and dogs, horses and cows and occasionally an exotic pet — like a monkey, a snake, a gerbil, an iguana — that sent shivers up and down my spine. We had no training in exotics when I went through veterinary college. As we hired younger associates, whenever I could I would foster those cases off to them.
Q: It must be gratifying work, helping animals and at the same time, helping families.
A: It has changed. People loved their animals in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, but today, people are treating their animals as almost an equal in the family, which is wonderful. It wasn’t so years ago, economics, the way we’ve evolved as people who keep creatures. If it was $10 more than they thought they could afford, it was “Put him to sleep, doctor.” That doesn’t happen today.
Q: Why did you decide to write the book?
A: I have three children, and they would always say, “You ought to write a book.” They would ride with me on farm calls, they would help out here, many things as they witnessed, it was “Daddy, you ought to write a book.” So I said, “Maybe I will.” I started about three years ago, jotting down stories and it was fun.
Q: What are some of your favorite stories from the book?
A: I got a call one Thanksgiving, mid-day, from Mrs. Dickey in Mont Pleasant. She said, “Dr. Brennan, could you see Charlotte-Jean, my cat?” I said, “OK, bring her in.” She said, “Oh no, Dr. Brennan, I don’t drive. I want you to come see Charlotte-Jean.” So I go, and Charlotte-Jean has her own perch, pillows in her own room. I made a diagnosis that Charlotte-Jean wasn’t eating well because of her teeth.
Christmas comes, I get another call, Charlotte-Jean was having a relapse. I couldn’t believe it, did we miss something? I go back over . . . I thought, is this going to become a habit? Valentine’s Day, Easter? Shortly after Easter, I had a horse call on the other side of Schenectady and after the call I was curious and went to see Mrs. Dickey. I rang and asked for Mrs. Dickey, a young woman told me she didn’t live there any more. She had died. It was emotional for me, but I thought I had helped an old woman get over a sadness, especially at the holidays. Her cat was an anthropomorphic excuse for a person.
Q: How about a story for our thoroughbred fans?
A: I’m at Saratoga and we’re going around drawing blood samples from every horse that’s running that day as well as giving them a cursory physical exam. I always had a gentleman carrying blood tubes and needles and everything for me, he was an old trainer, Charlie, he knew his way around. We came upon this fellow, John DeMario, Charlie said, “Hi John, what are you doing here?” John said, “Well, I’m taking one more turn here at the big time.” He’s got this gray colt, Runaway Groom . . . he’s entered in the Travers and wins the race, beats the Kentucky Derby winner, the Preakness winner and the Belmont winner. John’s horses are stabled where there are manure piles all over the place. The biggest race happened after the finish line — there must have been 16 to 20 guys with pitchforks getting those manure piles away from the stalls where Runaway Groom was stabled. TV cameras were coming for interviews, and Saratoga didn’t want manure piles in the pictures.
Q: How would you sum up your career as a veterinarian?
A: It was a great run. I’m a happy man. I modestly consider myself a successful veterinarian, a successful father, a successful citizen of my community.