Story by Christina Stinnett
Dr. Tommy Richardson and his wife, Linda, take a few minutes to relax on the porch of their Russellville home. The pair, who met and married after attending Arkansas Tech University, recently retired after working together for more than 30 years. The owners of the former Richardson’s Animal Clinic in Dardanelle say they actually see each other less now than they did before retiring.
I think most animal lovers would agree that even though pets might not be our whole life, they make our lives whole.
And after 29 years of practicing as a veterinarian in the River Valley, Dr. Tommy Richardson might very well be a pet’s second best friend. With his rich experience in dealing with furry acquaintances such as dogs and cats, Dr. Richardson has also treated everything from bear cubs to cobras, gerbils to turtles.
Having just retired from his practice in Dardanelle, which he built in 1983, Dr. Richardson admits that he is currently enjoying being away from the busy-life and getting to spend more time with his own family — both two-legged and four-legged.
Dr. Richardson grew up in the small town of Hughes in eastern Arkansas where his parents had a farm.
“I had tons of animals — horses, cows, bird dogs — I was around animals constantly,” Dr. Richardson said.
He started college at Arkansas Tech University in 1964, the same year he met his wife, Linda, who happened to be in a freshman class with him. They married in 1968, and Dr. Richardson said that it was the first of only two times in his life that he has ever been scared.
“I wanted to turn around and run then, but my feet — they just wouldn’t move,” he said recently, laughing.
The second scare of his life occurred a number of years later when his wife Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is now in remission and doing very well.
Dr. Richardson attended veterinary school at Okalahoma State from 1973-77.
Linda and Tommy had enjoyed living in the Russellville area as undergraduates at Tech, and so they bought into a practice in Russellville to launch his career in the River Valley. Then, in 1983, he decided to build his own clinic off of Highway 7 in Dardanelle. The clinic was located in what he thought was a nice location, in an area that would grow and do well.
“I started out a little nervous because I had very little business experience. Then there is always anxiety with wondering if anyone will come.”
Dr. Richardson proved to need few worries with both the former and the latter. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and rabbits started to flow in. Not-so-everyday animals began to pop in to visit as well.
“The Game and Fish Department used to bring in bear cubs whose mothers had been killed. I would sedate and tattoo them, and then the Game and Fish Department would send them to foster homes where they could be raised in such a way that they had little contact with humans. That way, they could be released back into the wild equipped with the necessities to survive on their own,” Dr. Richardson said.
“A guy brought a cobra in once. I looked at it through the glass case but this was one instance where I wouldn’t let it be taken out,” Dr. Richardson said.
Dr. Richardson added that this is a popular time of the year for people to find baby deer in the wild. The young deer may have lost their mother, are injured, or caught in fences. These people tend to bring them in for help and then raise them as pets, Dr. Richardson said.
Dr. Richardson continued to talk about some of his favorite patients, which he always referred to by name.
“Some animals have very magnetic personalities and I’ve bonded with many of my patients over the years — Sassy, Jake, Angel, Kline, Honey…the list goes on and on,” Dr. Richardson said.
Dr. Richardson also said that some “miracle cases” stick out in his memory as well. These were animals that had undergone a trauma, were brought in and against all odds were able to survive.
“A chihuahua was brought in once that had been hit by a car. Its back legs were broken very badly. The family wanted me to try and fix it, even though it looked to me like the dog was never going to walk again.
I put pins in its legs and sent it home. When the family brought the dog back a few days later, I expected no improvement but asked how the dog was doing.
They said ‘great’ and I couldn’t believe it. Just as I looked down at the dog, it lifted its front legs up and started to dance around on its hind legs. Some animals are fighters, despite the odds.”
Another honorable mention is Frank the Cat, who still lives at the clinic.
Frank was found in a ditch, having been hit by a car. Dr. Richardson patched him up, and planned on finding a good home for Frank. However, Dr. Richardson said everyone at the clinic got so attached to Frank. They ultimately decided to let the clinic be Frank’s permanent residence, and you can still find him lounging there today.
Unfortunately, there are some cons to being a veterinarian, and this is most evident when an animal can’t be saved.
“Euthanizing an animal is one of the hardest things to do, because 90 percent of the time it is the vet that has to help the pet owner make the decision. Over the years, I feel like I have become a very good judge of knowing if an animal is enjoying its life or not. If it isn’t, then I feel like I am doing it a favor by relieving it of constant suffering. It’s a very stressful decision.”
Dr. Richardson admits that one of the hardest things he has ever done is put his own pets to sleep, so he can sympathize with all pet owners that have experienced it.
“I was extremely attached to one of my bird dogs, Blink. He was my favorite pet of all-time, and at 14-years-old was dying of cancer. I tried to put the needle in him five times before I finally could do it — I’m not ashamed to say I cried the entire time.”
On a more positive note, Dr. Richardson said that one of the greatest changes he has witnessed during his career has been the advances made with pet medications and vets beginning specialization in their practice. Most vet offices today can give your pet a complete blood count, total chemistry profiles, x-rays, digital radiology, cat scans, and MRI’s.
“Our era of computerization and technology advances has extended to our pet-care, increasing their life expectancy,” Dr. Richardson said. “Vet dermatology, oncology, cardiology…there’s almost as many specializations for pets as there are for humans these days.”
Currently, Dr. Richardson has a full family of his own pets to look after at home. He has five bird dogs (Ladd, Susie, Sugar, Jack, and Ben), and a 17-year-old Pomeranian named Abby.
He also has a cat named Crack, which he was inherited when his son Bryant started dental school.
Dr. Richardson is now filling up his time with what he refers to as his “one passion in life, quail hunting.” He also engages in lots of hunting and fishing.
Linda and Tommy have two children. Their daughter, Aaron, is a physical therapist and son, Bryant, is a pediatric dentist. Both work in Russellville.
The couple also has three grandchildren — Anna Kate, Madison and Ellie — and one grandchild on the way.
“I’ve been very fortunate and thrilled to have had the people of the River Valley support me through my years of practice, and even more fortunate to have Linda as my constant driving force,” he said.
Dr. Richardson said that Linda and he plan on using their new-found time together to travel to Alaska, Australia, and New Zealand. They also plan on spending lots of time with their grandchildren.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of my career. You come to work every morning and never know what is going to happen or who will walk through the door — we always thrived on confusion.
I’ve been lucky to have some great people work for me over the years. Linda has done a wonderful job of standing by me through all of it,” Dr. Richardson said.
Story by Christina Stinnett