- Associated Press - Sunday, July 16, 2017

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - There’s one thing veterinarian Dr. Bob Baxa would like to make very clear.

“I’m not retiring,” he told the Beatrice Daily Sun (https://bit.ly/2tBKy30 ). “This is not a retirement story.”

He’s been treating animals large and small in and Beatrice for 50 years now and, he said, he’s not even close to being done. He serves as veterinarian at Beatrice Animal Hospital and said a lot of that staying power is thanks to his crew, some of whom have been at it nearly as long as he has.

He got his start after graduating from Kansas State in 1966. He was young for a vet back then, he said, being only 22 when he graduated.

After spending a year in Omaha, Baxa decided the big city wasn’t for him. He had grown up around Hebron and Deshler where his parents ran a farm. He said he got his love of animals from his mom and dad.

“Mom was a real animal lover,” he said. “We had rabbits for a while, we had fan-tailed pigeons. Dad would bring stuff home from the field. Box turtles, mice, just neat stuff in my mind.”

He was looking to work in a smaller town when he saw a veterinarian practice in Beatrice was looking for a new vet. He soon joined on and started taking care of a mix of pets and livestock.

He helped care for the typical cats, dogs, horses, hogs and cattle, he said, but then there were some animals that were a bit out of the ordinary. He treated buffalo, alligators, camels, bears, elk, sika deer, tortoises, emus, llamas, water buffalo, wildcats, alpacas and more.

There is one kind of creature he’s not tremendously fond of, however.

“I don’t fear anything,” Baxa said, “except spiders.”

Overall, Baxa says he’s been lucky. Really lucky. He’s had syringes break in his hands, he’s been bitten and scratched by all kinds of animals, but he’s still passionate about his work.

Janene Fitzwater has worked alongside Baxa for 39 years, and Pam Kelley has been working with him for 46. There’s a dedication and a loyalty in the office, Fitzwater said, that speaks volumes about Baxa.

Bob is just a great guy to work for because he’s passionate about what he does,” she said. “Sometimes veterinarians can sometimes be a little bit arrogant, but he’s always included us in decisions. If he wasn’t a fantastic guy, we wouldn’t have been here this long.”

Amanda Fitzwater also works at the office. She’s the newest employee, having been with the Beatrice Animal Hospital for about a year, and she’s Janene’s daughter.

Amanda takes care of several animals and has what she describes as a “Noah’s Ark” at home. Sometimes, that spills back to the office. In the drawer of her desk at work, she houses a tiny, pink-nosed kitten. She’s fostering it for now, but she’s pretty sure it will be living with her as soon as it has grown a little bit.

Other animals live at the clinic, including Nunu, a gray cat with big, piercing-blue eyes. There’s also Sunny, an older dog that spends most of the day napping before going home with Baxa.

All of the animals that live at the Beatrice Animal Hospital were rescues. Most would have been put down by their owners if Baxa had not intervened.

Being an animal-lover is a prerequisite for the job, Amanda said, but its necessary to be able to accept the absurd things that sometimes occur.

Earlier in the day, the office got a call from a woman who found 17 ducklings by her fountain. The ducklings were brought into the office and fed while staff called the wildlife rescue to figure out what to do with them.

“That’s the great thing about working here, because people bring in things like 17 wood ducks,” Amanda said. “And Bob encourages you to take the time to get them somewhere safe. A lot of people would say, ‘well, that’s not my problem,’ but not Bob.”

After 50 years, Baxa has had his share of difficulties, however.

He is currently receiving cancer treatments, he said, and it’s not his first round. Baxa received treatments before that injured his heart. Now, he uses a pacemaker and defibrillator, but that’s not going to stop him from treating animals. He’s barreling through and he won’t be slowed down.

“Every time I’ve had cancer, they said I was going to die,” Baxa said. “I keep bouncing back. But I think we’re here to do a job and the good Lord, when it’s time, he’ll let us know.”

There will be an open house to celebrate Baxa’s 50-year anniversary on Saturday, July 15 at Valentino’s in Beatrice. The public is welcome to attend, but Baxa doesn’t want gifts, and he sure doesn’t want people to think it’s a retirement party.

“I have no plans for retirement,” he said. “I don’t golf. I don’t fish. My best hunting years, you take the rifle and don’t fire a shot. I’m not into killing things. I like working. As far as retirement, they’ll probably carry me out of here.”


Information from: Beatrice Sun, https://www.beatricedailysun.com

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