Vet making last rounds at the end of his shift in this world
MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa. (AP) – Dressed in a gray jumpsuit, looking more like an auto mechanic than a veterinarian, Richard Fondrk unfolds himself gingerly from his truck near Dusty and Karen Kerber’s horse barn in Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County.
He plants his cane in the dirt, and three dogs cluster around his legs.
Karen Kerber studies the doctor closely, her head tilted. He’s the vet who, just out of school, began tending her husband’s dairy cows. At one time they had 500 and supplied milk for Norwin area schools. Now the Kerbers own four horses and board two.
Their farm, and the one he visits the same recent afternoon in Youngwood, are among a dwindling number of stops Dr. Fondrk is making these days. He is administering shots and medication, listening to lungs, taking blood and advising, but the heavy lifting is over.
His cane has supported two arthritic knees recovering from surgery since November, but the news he got this summer explained why he was losing strength.
“It is with a heavy heart,” he started a letter to “Dear Friends” last month. “. the diagnosis is bad. I have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. All my troubles over the last three years all make sense now.”
On his rounds, people slip him cards, touch his arm. A client in Clairton wrote a letter that started “Well done thy good and faithful servant!!” underlining each word.
“One client asked if she could give me a hug,” he said. “She gave me the biggest hug.” He goes silent and dabs at his eyes. “It’s been an emotional time.”
Dr. Fondrk makes his way into the barn. He leans the cane against a stall door and puts his hand against the satiny auburn neck of Smoke, a 17-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ms. Kerber holds Smoke’s head as the vet sets his stethoscope on the rear flank.
Smoke forces his breath out in jolts.
After a few more breaths, the doctor tells Kerber, “He’s slightly better but not where he needs to be.”
They consult awhile, then the 63-year-old vet is back in his truck, en route to Youngwood. “I’ve been these guys’ vet a lot of years,” he says. “I’m not going to say goodbye, but I sort of am.”
In his letter, he recommended another equine practice. Horse owners have veterinary options throughout the region, but few doctors answer calls for goats, sheep, cows and chickens anymore.