Died: March 12, 2007
Children: James Lopez, Maureen Fernandez, Jan Fellows, Stephen Lopez, Thomas Lopez, Martha Chubb, Dan Lopez, Tresa Lopez, Susan Allott, Anthony Lopez, Lori Myers, Matthew Lopez, Kate Lopez, Kristin Lopez
Dr. Robert Lopez was a veterinarian in Saranac Lake for forty years. When he left the area, he sold his practice at 150 River Street to veterinarian Stuart Stevens and part of the parcel to Pendragon Theatre.
January 8, 1985
Lopez leaves Saranac Lake
By LINDA LUMSDEN
SARANAC LAKE - Forty years after arriving here with the ink still wet on his Cornell University veterinarian degree, Dr. Robert Lopez is leaving.
Lopez estimates he has tended more than 100,000 animals ranging from newborn puppies to a mountain lion since signing on as a junior partner with retired Westport vet Dr. Walter Way in 1945. He also commuted here throughout those years, eventually buying the Dorsey Street practice of Dr. Al Bouton in the early 1960s and moving it to its present location at the former General Ice Cream building on in the '70s.
Lopez has found time while commuting between the dual practices in a gold Peugeut to raise his 14 children now aged 19 to 30 years old, head many civic organizations and run 51 marathons, logging five to 15 miles a day.
He says he was a New York City kid who learned to love animals and the country in the Boy Scouts. "I saw a lot of wild animals on hikes and we went horseback riding on weekends," he said. "Those early interests made me the happiest."
"After I started to grow up in the city, I longed more and more to be in the country," he added. He transferred from the City College of New York to Cornell, where he met his future wife Marjorie, a home economics student. After graduation he started work for Westport's Dr. Way at $25 a week.
"I don't think I'd been there a month when I nearly lost an eye when a horse kicked me," he recalled. The two vets made the rounds of North Country farms, leading lives he compares to that nostalgically recalled by Scottish vet James Herriott in his popular book "All Creatures Great and Small."
Lopez said: "The warmth of the farm people was wonderful. When went out to a farm, you stayed for dinner.
Now we have access to modern tests, but in those days you had to use only your senses to find out what was wrong with an animal. You had to see it or feel it. That is the challenge of being a vet because animals can't tell what's wrong." Lopez also lacked modern obstetrical equipment and anesthesia.
When a sheep or cow was having trouble giving birth, he plunged his arm inside her to help guide the baby out.
While now his pets include a Yorkshire terrier, Australian parrot, cat and tropical fish, he has showed horses and raised cows, sheep, chickens and pigs on his Westport farm. The stock helped feed the burgeoning Lopez family, as did his forays into the woods to shoot a deer or pheasant for meat.
"In those days all of the kids milked the cows by hand," Lopez said. "When I hunted it was a question of putting meat on the table. We still have a big garden and pasture sheep in the summer, but we gave up the farm animals when the kids went off to college."
All 14 of the Lopez brood have gone to college. Last year, he said seven of them were attending, including Thomas, now in the Caribbean studying to become a vet like his father.
Lopez said advances in diagnostic technology such as blood chemistry and x-rays mark the biggest change in veterinary science over the decades.
"And people are more concerned about their pets; they are worth more so they are willing to spend more to care for them." he said.
Some diseases are more common today than in 1945. There is more cancer, more rabies in animals and heartworm. He said, "When I started, heartworm was only in Florida. Now it's spread everywhere."
Vaccinations also have increased and improved and antibiotics have been developed to combat disease where none previously existed. The most common dog diseases — parvo and distemper — are controllable by vaccine.
Diet has deteriorated. Commercial foods have too much protein for most house pets, whose teeth are rotted more often by treats, according to Lopez. He suspects food additives and chemical-laden flea collars may be causing more cancer.
Lopez sees more broken bones because there are more cars on the road. Unfortunately there are also many more dogs and cats; the task of euthanizing many of the hundreds of unwanted pets that turn up annually at the Tri-Lakes Humane Society falls to Lopez. He tries to persuade clients to sterilize their pets. "They are just clogging the shelters," he said of strays. "Anyone who owns a dog or cat should discuss neutering them."
Lopez hesitates to dismiss the pseudo-science of animal psychology, recalling a dog brought to him which was listless and refused to eat. "It turned out she'd had a litter of pups the owners had drowned," he said. "The dog was having a nervous breakdown. With lots of extra attention and long walks, she got over it."
The saddest sight he has seen in 40 years was a double-decker trailer crammed full of dead and dying horses on their way to Canadian slaughter houses. State troopers had pulled the vehicle over on the Northway when they noticed a dead horse's head sticking out.
Other animals suffered compound fractures and were starving. Lopez recalled, "When we let them out they started eating the snow they were so hungry."
Taken from the haulers, some of the animals were euthanized and others auctioned to North Country residents. The resulting publicity helped Lopez persuade the state Legislature to pass a law setting standards for the transport of animals through New York, the only one of its kind in the United States, according to Lopez.
One of his happiest memories is the look on a little girl's face when he saved her horse, badly injured when it was hit by a car in Ticonderoga. 'We were up all night sewing it up," said Lopez. "She reminded me of it recently. She's a nurse now."
While he holds a special affection for horses, Lopez concedes they are the most difficult animals to handle. He said, "Now we can anesthetize them with a shot. In the old days, we tied them and a couple of helpers held them. Some of my friends lost eyes from being kicked."
He said he's been bitten by a dog or cat only a handful of times. "It's like being a fighter — you learn to take care of yourself," he explained. "You recognize a certain look in an animal's eye."
Some of his most exotic customers lived at the now-shuttered Sterling Game Farm in Lake Placid. He remembers being called to declaw a mountain lion cub.
"When I got there it turned out to be a 100-pound, full-grown animal," he said. He unpacked his anesthesia syringe and removed its claws and incisors. "He turned out to be a beautiful cat; his name was Felix."
The game farm chimpanzees also were tough customers. "They are very intelligent and could see when you were taking out a needle," Lopez said.
One day at the River Street office a man sat outside on the porch carrying a bulging gym bag while other customers went in and out. At the end of the day, the stranger came in and told the vet. "I'd like you to look at my snake."
"He took out this big boa constrictor. It started wrapping itself around my arm. I said, 'Just don't put him around my neck.' " Lopez laughed. "The snake had pneumonia. We treated him and he was okay."
Lopez took a break from his practice in 1951-52 to serve as chief vet for the 5th Air Force in South Korea, marking the first time guard dogs were used by the military in Asia. He said they helped quash sabotage because unlike the soldiers, the dogs could tell the difference between North and South Koreans.
Lopez also has served on numerous civic organizations over the years. He is a past president of the Westport Chamber of Commerce, Westport Fish and Game Club and Essex County Fish and Game Club and past chairman of the Wildlife Conservation Committee for the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. He is current president of the Lake Placid Roadrunners and North Country SPCA.
Injured wild animals are referred to him. Once he mended a deer chewed up by dogs in Westport. When the healed deer was freed from its run, "It was beautiful to see him bound off into the woods."
Thank you without words
One of the most difficult parts of Lopez's job is caring for dying pets. "A dog is like a member of the family," he said. He counsels clients to euthanize suffering animals with terminal diseases. "Sometimes people stand and hold them in their arms while we give them a shot. It is better not to be selfish and give them a kind and humane death."
The hours have been long, the commute tiresome and the work demanding, but Lopez said he continues to love his work.
"Sometimes all I get in return is the look in a dog's eye — and that's enough thanks," Lopez said. He will continue to work a couple of afternoons here with his successor for the next month or so.
Dr. Stevens, who has extended the office hours, said he is delighted to leave the New Jersey "rat race" for the Adirondacks. He moved here last month with his Labrador retriever Shaka and Appaloosa horse Sunburst.
A 1981 graduate of the Purdue University Veterinary School, he has worked in practices in Madison and East Brunswick, N.J. Before entering the vet profession, he studied biology at SUNY-Albany, worked as a medical technologist, earned a master's degree in embryology at Indiana University and worked as a genetic counselor in Indianapolis.
March 13, 2007
Dr. Robert Lopez
WESTPORT - Dr. Robert Lopez, 85, known to many area residents as "Doc" or "The Running Guru," died peacefully Monday, March 12, 2007.
Born Sept 27, 1922, he was the son of Florence and Luis Lopez.
Dr. Lopez married his loving wife Margorie in 1945 and has 14 children and 25 grandchildren. He attended Dewitt Clinton High School, City College of New York, Cornell University of Agriculture, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Dr. Lopez owned and operated the Westport, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake veterinary hospitals. He was the president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Association in 1991, a director of the New York State Conservation Council, volunteered veterinary service in the Dominican Republic for the "Heifer International" program and spearheaded the horse protection transportation project legislation.
Dr. Lopez also was a captain in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Korea from 1952 to 1954, 5th Air Force Chief of Veterinary Services, and was awarded Paratrooper Wings, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal for his military service in Korea.
He was the president and consulting veterinarian for the North Country SPCA, a venture he and his wife Marge founded in 1967 and operated until 1989. He also was active with the Adirondack Council Boy Scouts of America, Westport Fish and Game Club, Essex County Fish and Game League, St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, Lake Placid Kiwanis Club, Lake Placid Road Runners Club, Lake Placid Sports Council and Westport Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed by Gov. Hugh Carey to the New York State Winter Sports Education Trust in 1979 and was one of the 52 torch bearers the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics representing Lake Placid.
Dr. Lopez ran more than 65 marathons, including the 50-mile JFK Maryland marathon, and organized countless races, including the annual Westport 24-hour marathon. In addition, he was a "Polar Bear," one of the few who dared to take a dip in the lake through the ice each winter. He has several well-known protégés in the community whom he encouraged to take up his beloved sport of running.
He is survived by his children: James Lopez of Burlington Vt., Maureen Fernandez of Lake Tahoe, Calif., Jan Fellows of Salem, Mass., Stephen Lopez of Pleasantville, Thomas Lopez of Wellsville, Martha Chubb of Santa Cruz, Calif., Dan Lopez of Cooperstown, Tresa Lopez of Saratoga Springs, Susan Allott of Elizabethtown, Anthony Lopez of Buffalo, Lori Myers of Burlington, Vt., Matthew Lopez of Chicago, Ill. and Kate Lopez of Burlington, Vt.
He was predeceased by his parents, his daughter Kristin Lopez, and one brother Henry Lopez.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 15 at St. Philip Neri Church in Westport. The W.M. Marvins Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be forwarded to High Peaks Hospice and Elizabethtown Community Hospital.