Dr. Don Johnson always asked me to drop copies of Action Magazine at his Acorn Hill Animal Hospital on Acorn Hill Drive at Perrin Beitel Road.He has been mentioned in my columns throughout the years, usually in stories of Kindrick dogs he has cared for. And although there will be no more magazine drops at Acorn Hill Animal Hospital, I am confident that my friend and chosen veterinarian of many years will be reading this piece from some lofty elevation in the spirit world.
Don died last month. He died doing one of the things he loved, driving a tractor on his rural home place. His heart stopped, and tears stung my eyes when I saw his obituary in the morning paper. I had just left his clinic the month before after getting annual shots for my Jack Russell pups, Henry and Annie, and my yellow-eyed house cat Boots.
Johnson loved us all
Don loved us all, me and my dogs. For more than 30 years. His passing triggers flashbacks of kindness, sorrow, and always hope for me and my canine family. Don’s memory will be forever yoked to the dogs I loved–Fancy, Hoss, Dynamite, Echo, Witch, Princess, and Petey the Wonder Dog, a tough little Jack Russell terrier who Johnson and I had to all but hog-tie before every traumatic toenail clipping.
Hundreds of animal lovers who took their pets to this special vet are in mourning. They jam-packed Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for the Don Johnson memorial service. When they ran out of pews, metal chairs were hauled in and set up in the sanctuary aisles. And the e-mailed messages of love and sorrow to the Don Johnson online guest book at Sunset Funeral Homes were passing the hundred mark as I penned this column.
Each of us has a Don Johnson story. And each of us felt like we were Johnson’s one and only client. I have more stories than would fit in this space, so let’s go back to the beginning some 30 years ago and my initial meeting with Don Johnson.
My bleeding dog Witch
When my female catahoula leopard dog named Witch was ripped half open by a feral hog, I rushed her to the only animal hospital I knew about at that time, the Animal Defense League facility on Nacogdoches Road. It was closing time when I arrived, and defense league doctors were already out the door and heading for their cars.
The hog’s tusk had opened a gaping wound in Witch’s belly, and she was bleeding all over me when I begged the defense league people for help.“Sorry, but we are already closed,” one said. “But there is a fairly new vet right up the street on Acorn Hill who might still be in his office. You might try him.”
With my blood-soaked Witch under one arm, I used the other hand to knock on the Acorn Hill Animal Hospital door.Don Johnson opened the door, took one look at my stricken dog, and asked, “What happened?”
“A wild hog got her,” I answered.
“Bring her in here,” Don said. “We’ve got to stop that bleeding and get her closed up.”
He didn’t mention money. He didn’t even ask my name at the time. He injected Witch with some sort of sedative, then proceeded to suture her up. It was all done in a manner of minutes, and the doc’s fee was a nominal amount I managed to fish out of my pocket. The dog’s recovery was rapid and complete.And I would go to no other veterinarian but Don Johnson throughout the next 30 years. He was my vet, and he became my friend.
Those who really knew Don Johnson will remember him as a no-nonsense pragmatic vet with a bedside manner not favored by hypochondriacs. He could even be abrupt on occasion, for Doc Johnson wasn’t into treating animals that had nothing wrong with them.
When fox terrier Dynamite swelled up like a weather balloon, Johnson told me, “He’s full of poop.”
“Why?” I asked.“Why do you sometimes get full of poop?” Johnson asked, answering his own question rhetorically. “”You get full of poop because you eat more than you dump.”
“What do I do for my dog?”
“You take him home and give him a laxative,” Don said. “The little rascal needs cleaning out. There is nothing wrong with him.”
The short and long sides
That was Don’s short and “keep ’em moving” side, for his patient load was usually heavy. His long on compassion and true love nature was made manifest when an animal’s life was really in peril.
I first saw this side of Don Johnson when Hoss, my 125-pound catahoula, fell into a coma after suffering a series of seizures brought on when he became entangled in an over-charged electric fence. Hoss was a magnificent specimen with double blue eyes and dappled gray leopard spots. I bought him as a puppy at a Denim Springs, Louisiana Catahoula field trial, and brought him back to San Antonio on an airplane.
Trying to save Hoss’s life, Don stayed by the big catahoula’s side throughout an entire night. The next morning, with puffy eyes and drooping shoulders, he said, “We lost him. I tried everything I know. I am so sorry.”
Then there was Don Johnson’s light and linspirational side. When Petey the wonder dog jumped out of my truck window at 70 miles-per-hour on IH 35, bouncing between 18-wheelers like white tennis ball, I gathered him in and rushed him to Acorn Hill.
The doc started laughing
Punching and poking on the skinned-up little varmint, Johnson started to laugh. When I asked him what in hell was so funny, he laughed some more.
“There is not one single bone broken. I can’t believe it. This is one tough little dog.”
The saga of Petey the wonder dog, including his gentle euthanization at age 17 by Dr. Don Johnson, may be read in its entirety among favorite Kindrick columns here.
When Petey’s body fell limp in my hands, Johnson put his arm around my neck and squeezed with the kind assurance of a Lutheran Christian who knew that the really big show is yet to come.
I will miss Don Johnson.