On the road: changing trends in equine mobile practice
The means of transportation for a country practitioner was preferred in the order named; horse or team and buggy; horse and road cart, a two-wheeled vehicle with a simple and very hard board seat on which no cushion could be fastened; horseback; and finally just plain everyday walking it."
Such was the description of "mobile practice" at the turn of the century provided in the book, The Horse and Buggy Doctor, by Arthur E. Hertzler, MD, published in 1938.
This early definition of practice vehicles applied to veterinarians as well, though many horse owners were willing to transport their animals to the livery or vet clinic when sickness and lameness did not prohibit travel. Still, veterinarians have been taking to the road and making their rounds for decades. The types of vehicles they use for practice have changed and evolved throughout that time, and recent developments seem to signal the beginning of another chapter in the history of mobile equine practice.The mid-19th century saw veterinarians using medical bags or "grips" that could be stored conveniently in the large trunks of the cars of the 1950s and 1960s. The appropriate bag was simply grabbed from the trunk and taken to the field or stall to treat a colic or to suture a laceration.
The rapid expansion in medications and other pharmaceuticals in the 1960s, however, soon meant that practitioners had to carry a bigger inventory, so more space was required. Fortunately, automobile manufacturers were producing just such vehicles and veterinarians began to move from cars to station wagons and then to vans. Gasoline was cheap and plentiful, and the need for space and carrying capacity was paramount.
Inserts and 'vet boxes'
Automobile makers later dictated the next trend in mobile practice as the pick-up truck was perfected. This vehicle allowed the equine veterinarian a means of transport that was rugged, could deal with rough and occasionally uneven rural roads, could go out into pastures as needed (important in cattle and some horse practices), was relatively comfortable for the practitioner and still provided a large amount of room.
Because drugs and equipment (like newly introduced mobile radiographic units) had to be protected, a new industry emerged: The production of inserts or "vet boxes." These were cabinets, or boxes with sets of drawers, that could be put into various vehicles for organization, ease of access and protection of valuable inventory and tools.
In 1960, Dr. M.C. Bowie founded Bowie Manufacturing in Lake City, Iowa. He was frustrated with working out of his car when making veterinary calls and developed a mobile unit designed to make such calls more convenient and efficient.
Dr. R.J. Buzzetti, a large-animal veterinarian, and Jim Barber founded the company Porta-Vet in 1964 and began building durable and functional mobile clinics that fit into the back of a van. LaBoit Inc., of Gahanna, Ohio, is another company that began producing its particular cabinet clinics that fit into vans originally.
Porta-Vet was sold in 1972, and the new owner had a vision: A new mobile unit made out of an emerging material — fiberglass — and engineered to fit into the back of the increasingly popular pick-up truck. Bowie Manufacturing already was producing truck insert units since 1969, with the first such mobile clinic called the "mini," and these three companies (Bowie, Porta-Vet and LaBoit) provided the majority of practitioners' mobile units for the next 25 to 30 years.
But veterinary practice continued to evolve and the type of practitioner, the nature of practice and the environment and economy combined to trigger a new set of changes.