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Weyburn veterinarian's memories shared in recent book

Should appeal to anyone who loves animals, has ever owned a pet; cared for, owned or managed livestock
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In Dr. Gary Hoium 40-year veterinary life, he says he has lived, witnessed and experienced an abundance of unique adventures, interesting -- often surprising -- events, and met and dealt with some truly unique characters (clients).

WEYBURN - Avid readers and TV watchers are likely aware of All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, a very successful book adapted for television in at least two series, the latest heading to season three on PBS. 

The book and TV series focus on the life of a rural veterinarian in Scotland before the second great war. 

A little closer to home, and more contemporary in terms of being current is Don't They Kick When You Do That? Stories of a Prairie Veterinarian by Dr. Gary Hoium. 

“Just days after graduating from veterinary college in 1984, Dr. Gary Hoium joined a mixed animal clinic in Weyburn, SK,” explains the publisher’s page for the book at www.driverworks.ca “Thus began a long, successful career serving animals of all shapes and sizes, and their human owners/handlers.  

“Along the way, he collected humorous and heartwarming stories of the creatures he met. 

“Written with Dr. Hoium’s unmistakable wit and sense of fun, Don’t They Kick When You Do That is a compilation of his real-life adventures, mishaps, and successes. From cattle to hogs, cats to dogs, the creatures and men and women who love them have wormed their way into Gary Hoium’s heart … and his stories. And, yes, sometimes they do kick when he does that.” 

Interestingly, Hoium – who was born and raised in the Midale, Saskatchewan, located along Highway 39, midway between Weyburn and Estevan living on a small acreage on the north end of town with a few head of cattle, lots of chickens, cats, a dog and several pet rabbits -- wasn’t sure he wanted to be a veterinarian. As a youngster, like so many in Canada, he dreamed of a career in hockey. 

“Although I always liked being around animals my primary interest growing up was sports and in particular, hockey,” he told Yorkton This Week. 

“In pursuit of a hopeful professional hockey career I played with the Estevan Jr. B Cubs at age 15, then moved to Weyburn AA Midgets, followed by some 2.5 years with the Weyburn Red Wings. A short hockey stint with the WHL New Westminster Bruins and the SWHL – Reno Broncos left me in limbo.” 

So what to do next? 

“At 20 years of age I made the hardest decision of my life, shelved hockey despite my initial intention to play the next four years with the U of S Huskies, to focus all my time and energies on becoming a medical doctor -- hoping to ultimately become a pediatrician,” said Hoium. 

“However, despite my very best effort and commitment, I became ineligible to reapply for entry after I was refused entry the maximum three times.” 

What would follow next? 

“I was married with our first child soon to be born, and my pockets empty … What to do? I frequently walked by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine on my way home from campus. One day with a pungent smell emanating from the building's crematorium, a light came on! Hey, that's medicine; that's surgery; I should apply there. Go figure. I was accepted on my first application. The rest is history,” offered Hoium. 

Hoium graduated in 1984 after a total of eight years at the U of S. including four in veterinary college.  

“I was hired by a mixed animal veterinary clinic here in Weyburn (which I later purchased in 1989). I owned and operated this three to four veterinarian practice until 2004,” he said. “Due to the chronic shortage of veterinarians with large animal interest wishing to practise in demanding rural mixed animal practise -- the major part of our large animal practice being beef cow/calf -- I found myself running out of energy and burn out creeping in. I sold the practice to Prairie Animal Health Centre but stayed on as a contracted and later, salaried employee till I formally retired at age 65 this past November.” 

Hoium did note that finding veterinarians to serve rural areas has been, and remains a real concern. 

“I mention the chronic shortage of veterinarians wishing a career in large animal dominated rural vet practise because this was back in the 1980's-90's and remains a very real issue today,” he said. 

There are a number of reasons for this, offered Hoium.  

“The majority of veterinary entrants it seems have primarily a small animal interest from the get go. Small animal practice offers up a much more predictable, controllable work schedule with significantly less after-hours -- all hours of the day and night cases, as is the norm in rural mixed practice. Consequently, the likelihood of any work/life balance surely favours this type of urban practice.  

“Adding to its attractiveness is that it tends to be more lucrative than the traditional rural mixed animal practice.  

“Also, a significant change occurred during the 1980s and gradually significantly more females versus males are now trained and graduated. That trend remains today. I would estimate 2/3-3/4 of new vet graduates are now female with males generally applying in lesser numbers, rather focusing on alternative careers that offer up significantly better pay and a whole lot less demands on their otherwise free time.  

“Large animal practice is also less appealing to many because of its higher risk of serious injury along with well documented, traumatic wear and tear on one's body. I recently read the average working lifespan in large animal veterinary medicine was four years before moving on to another sector in veterinary medicine or an alternative vocation.  

“As we all know, women are also very often family orientated and wish to have and raise a family. Exclusive urban small animal practise certainly offers up a much more attractive and appealing work environment in the majority of these situations.” 

Retirement was fine, but it did mean a lot of extra time to fill, and Hoium wasn’t sure how to do that, but there was a thought about a book. 

“In terms of the book, I had no formal training or experience in writing, especially a book to be published. I always enjoyed writing articles,” he said.  

“As for reading, not so much. I was more of an outdoorsman, a sports action type of person. So the thought of writing a book was not intimidating but admittedly was a little out of my element. 

“Nonetheless, over my 40-year veterinary life, I had lived, witnessed and experienced an abundance of unique adventures, interesting -- often surprising -- events, and met and dealt with some truly unique characters (clients).  

“When COVID-19 took over our lives in the early spring of 2020, I found myself at home confined now with a lot of hours to fill. Even my beloved professional sports leagues (NHL, NFL, etc.) were suspended. How could I fill all this extra time?  

“I got to reminiscing and thinking back on my career and all the fine people, urban and rural, thousands of them, that I had had the honour of serving. They had left me with my head full of stories -- many of which I got to thinking might be of interest if I was to share them with everybody.  

“Occasionally friends or clients had suggested over the years, that I should write a book sometime. Well, after a little thought, very little thought actually, I grabbed a pen and paper and sat down one night to begin scratching down ideas or topics for stories. I had 65 after the first evening. By late the next evening, I had 125. Hey, I thought to myself, I can do this; write a book! Just do it! 

“So COVID-19 played a very significant role in motivating me and affording me uninterrupted hour after hour, day after day, to focus and dedicate myself to stay on task and get it done.” 

The book flowed for Hoium, the actual original, raw manuscript taking him about six weeks to pen – literally. 

“And so my writing began, pen and paper, ‘old school,’ since I don't type,” he said. “I wrote story after story as they come back to me. There was no specific order to them -- that could and would all be organized later. 

“I did no research. This was to be a book from memory -- my memory.  

“We all often frequently remember the same incident slightly differently, clouding, even maybe adding doubt as to how you yourself remember it happening. All the stories are true or based upon truth. I told them my way, with humour in mind.  

“I added a little colour at times if I felt it added to the entertainment value of the story. I shaded over some areas a bit if I felt it necessary to make the particular story more palatable to a wider range of readers.  

“Although not in any real chronological order, the stories flowed easily out of my cranial vault. I sat at the kitchen table and wrote day and night as the stories came back to me and as the spirit moved me.  

“The end result was some 45 or more chapters, 41 of which after editing and selection, made my book.” 

Hoium added, “I always hesitate to say ‘my book' because anyone who has ever written and published a book, well knows, although one person might be responsible for the original manuscript, thereafter it very quickly becomes ‘our book.’ Advisors, editor(s), a knowledgeable genuine, caring, publisher with marketing experience and success who has your best interests in mind is critical, photographer(s), graphic designer(s), a proven professional printer, etc. It takes a team to produce a successful book. I got lucky and was fortunately steered in the right direction through all the stages of production.” 

But, as writer, there were challenges too. 

“Actually, as it turned out, the two most challenging aspects of writing this book, were selecting a title from some 40-50 possibilities I proposed and coming up with the final design and presentation, (arrangement, colours, etc.) for the front and back covers,” offered Hoium, adding there were “many objections, rejections and suggestions during respectful discussions with the publisher. But finally, with deadlines looming or past, we got it done; mission accomplished! And everyone was happy and satisfied.” 

So when looking at the finished book, does the author have favourite stories within its pages? 

“As for favourite stories or chapters, I have 41 of them,” said Hoium. “In other words, all of them hold a special memory for me. 

“One chapter entitled, ‘Now, that shocked me!’ clearly demonstrates and validates the dangers and unknown risks of the all dreaded ‘electric fence.’ One incident, left me lying on my back with my rubber boot-clad feet pointing straight up in the air some six feet from the original source. But the ‘granddaddy’ of all the shocks in my life still awaited me. 

“Come along with me and live in my boots for the most feared two hours in my entire career as the city police and I deal with an 1800 lb wild-eyed aggressive bull that escaped my inner-city clinic only to end up in a residential backyard just blocks away during a weekday noon hour with an elementary school flanking us on one side, the Weyburn Comprehensive school on another and kids — potential targets — everywhere. I titled the chapter, ‘Cowboys are Easy to Love.’”  

In terms of an audience Hoium said it should appeal to anyone who loves animals, has ever owned a pet; cared for, owned or managed livestock of any kind, has a farming/ranching dad or husband or even grandpa, but doesn't read books - based on literally hundreds of testimonials “I can almost guarantee, he will read this one, love it and laugh! - laugh a lot!” 

The book is available directly from the author.

"The cost is $19.95 plus $6 (S&H). To order simply email: [email protected] or call 306-842-7356. E-transfers are preferred — no password required — Autodeposits to my book account. Direct sales are greatly appreciated but the book is also readily available from my publisher Deana Driver (DriverWorks Ink) online as well at: driverworks.ca."

Hoium added the book is dedicated to the memory of his sister who passed away in February 2020 after a five-year challenge with uterine-ovarian cancer. It is his personal pledge to donate $1 from every book sold to cancer research.

“My first donation for $1,090 was made this past December. With help, I hope to make an even bigger donation for 2022.”