Ziskind.com > Writing > His Story: Morris L. Ziskind > Chapter Three - Memorable Clients

His Story: Morris L. Ziskind

Chapter Three - Memorable Clients

Every now and then the circus would come to town. The circus employed a full time veterinarian and wouldn't let an outside veterinarian handle any of their valuable animals. However once they needed a large animal veterinarian to treat a llama. They brought it to my office in a horse carrier. When I first saw the animal I did not know what it was! I had to do research before it could treat it.

Most of my clients were not as unusual as that llama. They were the pets of local people. Of course some of my clients and their owners were more memorable than others.

Buddy Hackett, a well-known comedian, brought his dog to me to treat. He was very fond of that dog, so when the dog was well Buddy Hackett took it with him on his travels around the show circuit. One time I was hailed by someone who at first I didn't recognize. It turned out to be Buddy Hackett. Every time he came to the Earle Theatre in Philadelphia I would try to see his show.

I treated the pets of some important local figures. One was Don Palumbo. Don was a very successful number writer who later became a politician in West New York, New Jersey. He claimed he never was arrested because he gave generously to all the local churches. I told him about the needs of our Secaucus shul and he immediately said, "Put me down for $100." He would come in late in the evening so he would be my last client and we could talk. On occasion he would take my wife and me to a restaurant on nearby Boulevard East where he was well known and he could show off his contacts and reputation.

He first came to me when his dog was still sick after being treated by a number of other veterinarians. I happened to be the right veterinarian at the right time: time was the cure and the dog recovered. Nevertheless I was the hero and got a lot of clients through his recommendations. He was an animal lover. He didn't want me to know when he paid the bill of some of his friends. Don Palumbo secured a short-term loan for me. I was telling him about a problem and he said, "I'll take care of it." He signed for the loan. We became good friends.

Another memorable situation involved a married couple that decided to divorce. They asked me which one should keep their dog. Neither wanted the other to have the dog, so they decided to leave the decision to Doc Ziskind. "What do you think, Doc?" they asked me. "You know our dog and what is best for him." I refused to make a recommendation. Eventually they decided the husband would get the dog. He gloated to me that he had won the argument with his former wife. Then he gave the dog away.

I referred to Mrs. Evans affectionately as "The Cat Lady". A cat lover, she functioned as a one woman Humane Society, adopting stray cats, bringing them to me to check their health and treat them, and then placing them with loving owners. She paid for their upkeep so they wouldn't end up in the pound. After placing a cat, she periodically visited the home to check if the cat was prospering. She would take it back if the setting didn't meet her expectations. When she was especially fond of a cat or if she couldn't place it, she would keep it herself. Whether she placed them or kept them she considered them all her cats. Her house must have been full of cats. I believe that people like Mrs. Evans with their extreme involvement with pets are neurotic. Professionally a school principal, caring for cats was her passion.

Morris L. Ziskind with 'Rusty' the 7-year-old Boxer

Animal lovers often would bring me a dog, either their own or a stray and ask me to find a home for the animal. A client who moved to an apartment house that wouldn't allow dogs worried until I could find a new loving home for their pet. Sometimes clients found a stray, were concerned about the welfare of the animal, and would pay to treat them and place them in an appropriate home. I was the middleman; I helped find a home for these animals. Sometimes they would check up on the placement I had arranged for their dog to make sure it was as appropriate as I had said. Mrs. Evans brought me stray dogs and asked me to find homes for them. She placed the cats herself.

One of my clients who picked up stray dogs loved to travel. When she had a stray and was going on a trip she would board it, usually for a weekend. Once she took a trip to Europe and decided to board Butch with us while she traveled. Butch was a good natured, ugly dog that constantly drooled. I received checks from this client from all over the world. Butch must have boarded almost a year. We let him have the run of the place and people thought he was my dog. When the client finally returned Butch didn't recognize her.

"It's your dog," I told her. "You've paid for him ten times over." She had me place him in a new home.

Sometimes clients would bring their dog to be treated and then abandon it rather than pay their bill. I couldn't give their dog away unless I had their permission. Sometimes I would end up with the dog until I could find it a new home.

Morris L. Ziskind with Parakeets 'Charlie' and 'Chap San'

Once I treated and boarded a bird for weeks. The owner always paid his bill. Finally he told me to destroy the bird. I refused. I tried to find the bird a new home with no success. Eventually he let the bird fly away.

Another time I had a bird that needed surgery. Bird surgery is very difficult because the patient often dies from the anesthesia. So my rule of thumb when treating birds was to be paid in advance. A two-column newspaper article describing how I had operated on and saved the bird appeared in a local newspaper. I would get calls from curious individuals who wanted to know how the bird was doing. The publicity brought me a lot of clients with birds.

Morris L. Ziskind with 'Pesty' the cat (November 17, 1961)

Anesthetizing black cats also entailed increased risk and some veterinarians would not operate on them. Black cats did not react to anesthesia as would normally be expected. Often the operation would be successful but the patient died. Since we lived above the animal hospital I would put any black cat I had operated on in a box with a grate over it, bring it upstairs, and place the box next to my bed during the night while I slept. When the cat woke up after surgery I would be right there to check on it.

I did not like doing surgery on boxers whose owners wanted their dogs to have pointed ears for cosmetic reasons. This surgery in my opinion was unnecessary and the mortality rates for females were high. Some of my colleagues who had unsuccessful results from this surgery would send me their clients. This kind of reference meant that the client was already informed about the risk of this surgery but wanted it done anyway. Most veterinarians used Nembutal as the anesthesia but boxers were sensitive to Nembutal. The animal would be under for four to eight hours - too long. I experimented using smaller, more continuous doses, which were shorter acting, giving the body a chance to absorb the anesthesia. When the dog woke up from the surgery she would shake her head and bleed a lot, but I knew the animal had survived the surgery. Later on pharmaceutical companies came out with new drugs that lessened the risk.

Surgery was my specialty in large animal work. Male pigs needed to be castrated or the aroma from their urine was too strong. Slaughterhouses would not take the animal and it could not be sold for meat. Typically farmers did this work themselves when the pigs were young. When a farmer called me to do the surgery, it meant that the animal was already older and a more difficult case. Two men held the pig upside down with its head in a large garbage can. I would give the animal a little anesthesia but you never knew how effective the medication would be. The key was the speed which you did the surgery. I could do three castrations in five minutes with 100% of the animals surviving. When things went wrong in the surgery the animal would die in an hour or so.

My reputation was good enough that once some farmers, unknown to me, had gambled on how many large boars would survive the castration procedure that I was doing. The farmer who hired me bet that none of the animals would die. His neighbors bet against my success. I used my usual procedure of selecting out the animals with the highest risk. They had tried to stack the deck by including ruptured animals and other animals at risk. I was successful in identifying the poor surgical risks and the animals on which I operated survived. Once I learned about the wager I made sure it never happened again.

In large animal work you are not dealing with an individual animal but with a group of animals. When a disease is present, you have it in the whole group. So I did a lot of vaccination to prevent disease. I was the first to report erysipelas, a disease manifested by skin lesions resulting in the animals being embargoed. I demonstrated to the farmers that $1 an animal per vaccination paid off in the long run.

Horse work usually involved treating colic. The farmers felt they knew how to treat their own animals. When they called me it meant they had tried everything and nothing worked. This was generally true of large animal work. They would do the easy ones and leave the hard cases to me. It took me a long time to realize the situation. Then I raised my prices. For regular clients I treated these special problems at my regular rate. When they called me in only for the difficult cases, I charged them more.

Mr. Griffith was a regular client of mine. I did necessary post mortems for animals that died as part of my service to regular clients at no extra cost. Harry Grayson, his next-door neighbor was not a client. Grayson put two of his dead animals on Griffith's property so I would do the post mortem at no charge. I realized they were not Griffith's pigs so I challenged Griffith to tell me whose pigs they were. Griffith was an honest man, but he did not want to squeal on his neighbor. I charged him $10 extra for those post mortems.

Other times Grayson would sneak in some of his difficult cases, such as ruptured animals that needed castration. He would tell Griffith to mix them in with his animals when I came for my regular work. Grayson was a powerful man in the community and apparently intimidated Griffith. Eventually I realized what was happening. Grayson's pigs were a different color and breed. Grayson was known for buying XX pigs - pigs that were not able to pass inspection. I spoke to Griffith. I pointed out that while he was a good client I refused to be used in this way. He almost seemed relieved. He knew what was going on but hadn't tried to stop it. Ordinarily I charged one price for all animals and did the one or two ruptured animals for the same price as the healthy animals. On his bill I charged him an extra $10 for each of the ruptured pigs that I knew belonged to Grayson.

For a long time afterwards I refused to do any work for Harry Grayson because I did not trust him. I would have liked to have his business since he had one of the largest farms in the area. Once he had an outbreak and the state sent me in to deal with it since it was in my area. Another time I was inspecting his herd and I had to condemn the whole group. While I had good reason to do it I also had a sense of retribution for what had happened in the past. I rarely worked for him again and we never improved our relationship. Luckily, his son James, our next-door neighbor, had nothing to do with the dealings I had with his father and older brother. James's family and ours are friendly to this day.

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