Friday, May 3, 2002
Serving 'All Creatures Great and Small'
(The following interview of Dr. Morey is part of the Carlisle Oral History Project, supported by the Mosquito and the Carlisle Historical Society. The tape and transcript will soon be available at the Gleason Library.)
Dr. Peter Morey remembers the day, many years ago, when a woman drove up to his animal hospital on Bedford Road in a pick-up truck with two lion cubs in the back. The woman didn't have a permit for the animals, and at that time, there were few large-animal hospitals in the area. Morey believes she had gone from one vet to another, seeking treatment for the illegal felines. "The cubs were dehydrated," Morey recalls, "so we gave them fluids, but we finally had to get Mass. Wildlife involved."
More typical of Dr. Morey's patients today are cats and dogs, but in years past, they were the area's many farm animals. "All creatures great and small" have come under Dr. Morey's care in his 34 years as Carlisle's first veterinarian and it's hard to imagine a time when the big red barn on the hilltop on Bedford Road wasn't there.
Dr. Morey is a large, jovial man with a booming voice that masks a gentle manner. You know immediately that he can soothe a frightened puppy and at the same time reassure the animal's anxious owner. Professionally, he is a thoroughly modern vet who has kept up-to-date with the tremendous advances in veterinary medicine. In addition, he is a keen and outspoken observer of the vast changes in town since he first came here in 1955.
A farm-hand at Bates
Peter Morey was born in Lexington and "always wanted to be a veterinarian." As a student at Boston University in the mid-1950s, Morey spent his summers working at Bates Farm, then one of the area's largest dairy farms. "I did all kinds of farm chores," he remembers, "milking cows, baling hay, driving to Milford, New Hampshire, before there was a Route 3, to get sawdust." One of Morey's m any jobs was delivering milk on one of Herb Bates's three milk routes. "Those were the days when milk with thick cream on the top came in glass bottles," he notes appreciatively.
Morey's next step toward becoming a vet was training at Cornell University, then one of only three veterinary schools in the East. He graduated in 1964 and, because he loved this area, he joined Drs. Russell and Tucker at the Concord Animal Hospital. "We did large-animal work then," says Morey, "and we serviced something like sixty farms in the area. Small-animal work was really secondary." He names the three large dairy farms in Carlisle at that time: Farnham Smith's Great Brook Farm on Lowell Street, Guy Clark's farm on Concord Street and Bates' farm on Bedford Road. The rest were smaller family farms. "And there were lots of piggeries Francis O'Rourke ran one on Maple Street and people raising chickens, like Paul Swanson and Larry Sorli."
Morey looks back at those days with some nostalgia. "In those days everyone would help one another," he says. "There weren't that many people in town, so in haying season, if Guy [Clark] needed help for a day or so, they'd send us over from the animal hospital to help out. It was a nice, small community and everyone knew everybody." He stayed with Drs. Russell and Tucker until 1968, when he set up his own practice in Carlisle.
Carlisle Animal Hospital
"I bought this house [on Bedford Road] from a brick mason who had built a large room in back for a pipe organ. That's where I started my first hospital." In 1968, Lexington, Concord, Chelmsford and Lowell had practicing veterinarians. Dr. Morey became Carlisle's first. "When I first started, we did a lot of large-animal work; I was always on the road. I would fit the smaller animals in between, but there wasn't that much." He put in 12- to 14-hour days, with many middle-of-the-night emergencies that rousted him out of bed. In 1970, Morey built the separate building for the animal hospital, and in 1972 he hired his first associate. "One of us would be on the road all day, while the other one stayed in the hospital, and then we'd alternate days."
There was plenty of work to keep two vets busy in Carlisle. "With cattle and horses there was always herd maintenance," Morey explains. "We would vaccinate them, and the pigs, too, and there were always injuries. Cows would get sick with all sorts of problems. Sometimes there were calving problems, and the horses got respiratory diseases.
"In those days it was what we called 'the backyard horse,' he continues. "Everybody had horses around here. There would be weekly shows at Foss Farm in the summer, and 4-H was very active back then. Now it's all very fancy and all the barns are big conglomerates." Morey himself owned a riding stable, Sly Fox, in town, where the public works department is now. "You could go to the horse auction in Shrewsbury and buy a horse for $500 or $600. That's where I got a lot of my horses."
According to Morey, the veterinary business in Carlisle started to change in the 1980s. The large dairy farms in town were disappearing Farnham Smith, who owned Great Brook Farm, had sold it to the state in 1974, Bates Farm became Kimball's, and Guy Clark kept only a few cows "for his own amusement." The cattle industry was drying up and the big farms in the area sold out to developers. (Today, Mark Duffy remains the only dairy farmer in Carlisle. Beef cattle like the white-faced Herefords owned by the Valentines on Acton Street and the Shohets on Bedford Road require far less maintenance than dairy herds, Morey points out.)
Even the backyard horses were dying out in the eighties. "The horse farms became political," Morey says. As he describes it, a veterinarian had to be friendly with the barn manager in order to service the whole barn; otherwise, he would not be allowed access to the barn. At about the same time, the small-animal business picked up and so the Carlisle Animal Hospital changed its focus.
Advances in veterinary medicine
Around the same time, the practice of veterinary medicine began to advance. Following innovations in the medical profession and using the same techniques, the veterinary world changed too. Specialized veterinary medicine, once practiced in the large centers like Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center and Angell Memorial Hospital, attracted vets who began to set up their own practice specialties like oncology, endocrinology, acupuncture, radiology, and animal psychology, outside those centers.
Animal emergency care is another specialty growing out of the eighties. Dr. Morey is one of ten founders of the Acton Animal Emergency Hospital, and he and his associate, Dr. Betty Johnson, are still actively involved. When it was created, the veterinarians and technicians handled large-animal emergencies, but they now treat mostly small animals. Starting the center was "a long, hard struggle," Morey says, "but it paid off. We now have a dedicated crew of emergency personnel who really know what they're doing."
As a result of better care and scientific advances, "We're making animals live longer today," says Morey, but we're seeing the downside too tumors, blood disorders, vision and hearing loss, even cognitive dysfunction that mirrors Alzheimer's in humans. "The costs are outrageous," Morey booms. "A new little ear-flushing unit now costs over $500, and a fancy one costs $15,000!" Speaking candidly, Morey says, "Sometimes things go too far. Does the dog really benefit from it? You really have to give the owner all the options, and then let him make the decision."
Veterinarians are concentrating on senior dogs and cats todayyet another specialty in contemporary veterinary practice. Wellness programs start when the pet is young"we try to catch problems before they develop." Special diets work well, Morey reports. "If our food was as well regulated as the animals', we'd be a lot better off. Sugar-coated Pop Tarts are not part of their diet," he comments with a hearty laugh. "And they can't open the refrigerator door!" Homeopathy, acupuncture, holistic alternatives, dental care and pain medication like Glucosamine all contribute to keeping today's aging pets wellat least, in our affluent society that spends more per year on pets than most Third-World laborers make.
"Immense changes in Carlisle"
Asked to comment on the changes he has observed in Carlisle, Morey finds them "immense." "In the 1950s, there were about 800 people in town. You got to know almost everyone. By the time he started his practice, people [with an animal emergency] would come by in the middle of night and pound on my window!" People usually agreed on town issues and routinely voted down tax increases "without huge arguments."
One thing that Carlisleans agreed on in the 1960s and '70s was the need for conservation. "They would vote for more land to be purchased for conservation, but they wouldn't go overboard," says Morey. He remembers when the town was considering buying Foss Farm. "The biggest argument was over the value of the land. This was a large wetland. I worked that land and knew it was half under water most of the time in heavy storms, and all of us who knew the land knew that it couldn't be used for buildable lots." The town did buy 57 acres of Foss land in 1971, and the following year bought the Greenough property ("a beautiful piece of land"). "At least the town was looking forward in preserving land," he says.
When Dr. Morey first came to town, "businessmen from Boston who had bought up land here in the thirties when there was nothing here" were major landowners. "Each one owned a section of town Alonzo Reed on Westford Street, Henry Hosmer down here [River Road area], and Farnham Smith of Great Brook Farm and other land on the north side of town. They were the power in town."
Commenting on the large number of new houses over the years, Morey notes that "we've moved from a small town to a large town. Now, when the call fire department has an emergency, they need maps to tell them where to go. And it's more of a transient group now; I see that in my practice. People are here for a few years, and then I'm mailing forms out of state. Before, it was the same group. There were the old-timers Bill Foss across the street, Ed French up at the other end, and Frank Biggi right across the street. They were characters and so much fun to talk to."
Citing another important change, Morey remembers that, "In those days, there weren't a lot of laws; everybody could do their own thing. You could start building a house and live in the cellar. Lots of families grew up in the cellar and the house around them was never finished. Finally, in the late '70s, the town passed a law that you had to finish the house.
"Zoning has been here since 1957," Morey goes on. "That was done because the farmers didn't want to build another expensive school. At that time, some builder bought up some land and wanted to build these $19,000 houses on it, and two-acre zoning would thwart that idea. The farmers wanted to make sure we weren't going to have a farm [land] full of houses and little kids," so that led to two-acre zoning.
Through all the changes, Morey has been active in town affairs, as animal inspector for almost 30 years, running the annual rabies clinic, and serving on various town-appointed commissions to study growth areas and land issues.
Carlisle's animal kingdom
According to Dr. Morey, pet owners are somewhat more responsible now. Puppies go to obedience school and more cats are being kept indoors, away from danger. "Cats used to get bashed right and left, dashing across the road. We saved a few and lost a lot. The smart ones survived, but now we don't even see them [in the office] the coyotes get them." Cats are hunters by nature, he reminds us, and they want to be outside. He advises people not to feed their cats much breakfast, so "they're hungry at night and will come in to be fed. The coyotes like cats for supper. The list of missing cats in town is due to the coyotes. They're getting bolder and bolder they're even going after a few small dogs."
Morey says the Eastern Coyote, weighing about 35-50 pounds, "goes after anything smaller, even foxes." The foxes, which are often seen in town, weigh about 14-18 pounds for a big male, and don't present too much danger to cats. Then there's the fisher cat, a particularly ferocious animal that "looks like an overgrown weasel, with a long, silky tail and small head. They'll go after porcupines, anything."
As more houses are built, wildlife is being pushed and pushed, and Morey predicts that we'll see more deer, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and even moose here. These animals can adapt extraordinarily well, in the city or the country, as long as there's a food supply, he says.
Morey is firmly opposed to a town-wide leash law, because it ends up costing the town money for personnel. Furthermore, "You don't catch the vicious dogs. They're gone long before you can even get there. All you catch is Freddie the Freeloader wandering down the street, wagging his tail, looking for a biscuit, and he gets fined! You've got to teach people to be responsible for their animals." One way to accomplish that is to set fines. Morey worked on an animal committee in town for years that established rules for setting fines for wayward animals. "As soon as we got the fines, no problem and we didn't have to go to a leash law."
Nowadays, Dr. Morey has reduced his hours at the Carlisle Animal Hospital he works Monday through Wednesday, and Dr. Johnson fills in the rest of the week. Morey and his wife Margit, who often works in the office with him, enjoy spending time at their home in New London, New Hampshire, which he built in the 1970s when his
children were young. There the family skis in the winter, and relaxes in the summer. Morey mentions fishing and hunting as his favorite leisure-time activities, along with some landscaping and some golf. "I have lots of hobbies," he says, "if I can get to them."
When he has more time, he'd like to get a puppy one that he can train himself. Until then, he'll continue to watch over other people's dogs and cats, while watching the ever-changing Carlisle scene.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito