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Dr. John Lang: Caring for Animals Small & Large

Dr. Lang with a newborn kid. A kid is a goat that is less than a year of age. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

Story by Peter Morris

“Personally, I have always felt that the best doctor in the world is the veterinarian. He can’t ask
his patients what is the matter, he’s just got to know.” – Will Rogers

Beloved humorist Will Rogers said a mouthful with his homespun appraisal of veterinarians,
expressing both love and admiration for those medical professionals to whom we trust our
world of beloved animals. Many decades later, after Roger’s death in an airplane crash in
Alaska, the world was again treated to the wonders of caring vets when American’s fell under
the spell of British veterinarian James Herriot, who charmed nations with his book All Creatures
Great and Small followed by a 90-episode television series of the same name.

In the High Country of Western North Carolina, it seems as if veterinary clinics are everywhere, on main throughfares, side streets and throughout the three-county region of Watauga, Ashe, and Avery. However, these statistics aren’t quite what they appear. With the exception on one veterinary clinic, Dr. John Lang’s Linville Animal Hospital, in Banner Elk, all other such services cater only to small animals ranging from Dachshunds and Pomeranians to the larger breeds of Labradors and English Mastiffs, to many of the 42-71 recognized breeds of cats that inhabit homes from Vilas to Deep Gap to Meat Camp.

Dr. Lang with beef cattle. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

I love what I do and the many types of animals I work with , but the larger farm animals, either they love me or hate me. It often takes some time to get those animals which hate me to understand that I’m only trying to help them.

Dr. John Lang

And, we might add, probably other critters ranging from birds to baby raccoons to flying
squirrels, turtles, and mice.

Dr. Lang works out of his “hospital on wheels” when making visits to farm animals. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

What sets Dr. Lang’s clinic apart is that, in addition to meeting the needs of his general fourlegged clients several days a week, by appointment, on Wednesdays and Thursdays he sees farm animals in the afternoons, additionally being on-call for these large animal emergencies 24-7.

Lang attended Indiana University for his undergraduate studies, later attending Ohio State University for his doctorate in veterinary medicine.

While there are other large animal vets who visit the High Country, they all reside and have their practices off the mountain in surrounding counties.

Dr. Lang’s animal clientele runs the gamut. “We treat dogs and cats at our Linville clinic but, on the farms, we see sheep, goats, cows, llamas, horses and alpacas,” explained Lang. “On some occasions, I will assist Dr. Lee Bolt, of Asheville’s Sweeten Creek Animal and Bird Hospital, with the animals at Grandfather Mountain, animals including bears, elk, deer, mountain lions and river otters.”

I do receive a bite or two while working with my patients, but that’s just part of the job.

Dr. John Lang

Young or older, Lang’s animal patients receive his brand of loving care and attention for what
might be termed “from the cradle to the grave” service.

Preparing a syringe to administer a vaccine for one of the many farm animals. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

“Aging changes such as arthritis, vision and hearing loss are normal and cannot be prevented, but many changes related to disease can be managed and treated successfully if detected early.”

Lang came to his calling from childhood experiences. He continues, “I have been a veterinarian for 24 years, having been led to this work at a very young age through taking care of my family’s small farm of sheep, our pony named Charlie Brown, numerous Saint Bernards, a Border Collie named Gracie, and various cats,” he laughed. “I would stay up on long, cold,
winter nights assisting the ewes in delivering lambs every year. I was always amazed by how fast our veterinarian could solve the problems with our animals,” he added. “He never hesitated to come out no matter what time of night. I did not realize how difficult his job was until later. I believe he enjoyed the people just as much as the animals he treated. I started volunteering for him in the summers at the age of 13, sometimes riding my bike to his office when my parents could not take me. It was such a wonderful experience and is why I still love what I do.”

Our entire healthcare team is committed in providing personal attention to the unique concerns of each individual pet and owner.

Dr. John Lang

Animals such as horses and alpacas are just a few of the animals that Dr. Lang
takes care of. Photos by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

Tame geese watch as Dr. Lang works at a local horse farm. Photo by Peter
Morris and Shirley Hollars.

What Dr. Lang and his team do is beyond extraordinary.

“We do sick and wellness exams and vaccines, in-house blood work and send-out blood work,
fecals, urinalysis, intra-articular injections, digital x-rays in the office and out in the field, laser
therapy for wound treatments and orthopedic rehabilitation.” Dr. Lang noted. “We also do
dental cleanings and tooth extractions, spays and castrations, soft tissue surgeries such as
mass removals, enterotomies (foreign body removals), hernia repairs, eye surgeries, floating
teeth on horses, c-sections and amputations. We also have Dr. Brett Wood who is a board certified veterinary surgeon who performs more complicated orthopedic and soft tissue surgeries for our clients.”

Dr. Lang does an ultrasound on an alpaca to test for a baby. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

Lang tells his animal owners, “We understand the special role your pet plays in your family and are dedicated to becoming your partner in your pet’s health care. Our goal is to practice the highest quality medicine and surgery with compassion and an emphasis on client education. It is our commitment to provide quality veterinary care throughout the life of your pet no matter how big or how small they might be and complete medical and surgical care as necessary
during his or her lifetime.”

Nurses and assistants who work with Dr. Lang include Angel McKinney, Chelsea Laws, Chandra Guinn, Elizabeth Lee, and Reagan Hughes. “Both of my sons have worked for me in the summer,” he says. “I also have a relief veterinarian, Dr. Miranda Lilly, who works with us once a week.”

He is assisted by son’s Noah, 18 years old and a freshman at Appalachian State University and
Jackson, 17, who graduated early from Watauga High School. His wife, Amy, a Registered Nurse at Appalachian gastroenterology, also assists him in his medical endeavors with the farm animals. They live in Vilas with sheep and chickens and, not surprisingly, two dogs and two cats.

Preparing to walk through the mud to check on a horse client. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

As might be expected, especially for those fortunate enough to have tuned-in on James Herriot misadventures with animals, Dr. Lang has a long list of what might be called “war stories.”

“One time while doing a cesarean on a cow, with Amy assisting me, the cow coughed and sprayed her face with blood from the abdominal incision as she was holding the uterus. Then after closing the abdomen and skin, we released the cow from the headgate, and she proceeded to run up the hill without her calf.” He smiled in recognition. “So, I hopped on the back of a four-wheeler holding a wet slimy calf chasing after the cow up the mountain in the dark with the farmer. We returned the calf to the cow, and he started nursing immediately.”

“Then there was a time where I was lowered down into a dry well to rope a calf in order for it to be pulled out. We got the calf and myself out of the well and then the mama cow started
chasing us around the pasture.

Farm calls often require trudging through muddy pastures to reach the animals.
Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

We understand the special role your pet plays in your family and are dedicated to becoming your partner in your pet’s health care. Our goal is to practice the highest quality medicine and surgery with compassion and an emphasis on client education.

Dr. John Lang

And, later, there is the tale about a horse having to be tranquilized prior to it being hauled out of deep mud by a large tow truck…another fun story indeed!

Having to tend to the animals year round and, as mentioned round-the clock, some on the farm visits with the animals can occur at any time and, to be sure, in any weather.

Dr. Lang feeding a steer. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars

A particularly unpleasant winter farm visit sticks in Dr. Lang’s mind.

“I did another cesarean in 0 degree weather. My hands got so cold in which they could barely function, so I put them inside the abdomen to warm them to the point where I could perform the surgery. Another time, while at an App State football game, I was called out to suture a horse’s tongue back together. I left just before halftime and made it back before the game ended.”

While Dr. Lang prefers not to name his revolving list of farm animal clients, he does note that Elk River, with horses, Apple Hill Farm, with horses, donkeys, and others, River Run and Circle G Farm with horses, and Blowing Rock Equestrian Center and Yonahlossee Stables and all among his favorites.

Traveling with Dr. Lang is an adventure in itself, as the photographer for this article learned on several photo-shoots as he traveled country backroads in “house calls” with numerous animals. On one visit with a horse who’d had a painful encounter with barbed wire, the shooter fell head-first into a thick, sticky mudhole comprised of horse, donkey and goose left-overs and urine, which re-injured his injured back and right leg, coated his camera with unacceptable offerings and, after thirty minutes of attempted re-standing and escape, eagerly hopped into Dr. Lang’s clean red Toyota Four Runner/hospital unit, which had been hastily padded with blankets. “Do I smell that bad?” came the question to the good doctor, who was grinning, as he quickly rolled down his driver’s side window.

Dr. Lang puts on his gloves to inspect a horse. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

With assistance from horse owner, Tonya McKinney, Dr. Lang checks the animal for a baby. Photo by Peter Morris and Shirley Hollars.

All in a day’s work!