When I grow up Aubrey and Cassie want to be veterinarians

OKEECHOBEE — Veterinarians help animals, and 5-year-old Aubrey Cole loves animals, especially cats, so that’s why she wants to be a vet, she says.

Aubrey Cole is practicing to be a vet. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Four-year-old Cassie Palmer wants to be an animal doctor because she loves her Papa’s cows and wants to take care of them when they get sick.

Cassie Palmer is posing with her Papa’s cows. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Dr. Jim Harvey said he always loved animals, too. As far back as he can remember, he used to catch animals and try to doctor them. It wasn’t until he was in about fifth grade, he said, that he realized what a veterinarian was and decided that’s what he wanted to be when he grew up. He didn’t prepare well enough, though, he said. He was always more into sports.

Dr. Harvey was born in Fort Pierce, but has always lived in Okeechobee except for the years he was away at college. He graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1970 and was the first on the Harvey side of the family to ever graduate from college. Because he didn’t really buckle down in high school, and his grades weren’t good enough for a university, he decided to go to a junior college for the first two years of his college career, which he said helped him get a good foundation and helped him transition into college life. He went to Tifton, Ga. They had small classes and a rodeo team. This allowed him to not only get the education he needed, but also to enjoy some outside recreation of the kind he had always enjoyed.

After he completed his first two years, he went on to the University of Florida for two years. They did not have a vet school, though, and he ended up at Auburn University, along with Dr. Randall Mims. They both attended for four years and then returned to Okeechobee. Dr. Harvey said their class just had its 40th reunion, but he was unable to go because he was just too busy.

When he returned to Okeechobee, he went to work for Dr. Tom Bass. He said he had never worked as a vet before, had never thought to do that as a high school kid, and so everything was new to him. He explained, in veterinary school, they have what is called a preceptorship, which is similar to an internship.

“You spend six weeks working for another veterinarian, and then,” he said, “you are out on your own!”

When Dr. Harvey first opened his practice, he started out with a mixed practice. He saw just about any animal. Most of his clientele were the big ranches, and the small animals were more of a courtesy. At one point, they enlarged the practice and had five vets, but then Dr. Harvey had some medical problems, and some of the vets went out on their own to open their own practices. Now there are only two veterinarians in the practice, Dr. Harvey and Dr. Candice Davis. They no longer treat the large animals and just focus on the small ones.

Dr. Harvey said he has enjoyed it all. His practice has been a lot like the book, “All Creatures Great and Small,” he said, but nowadays, everyone wants to specialize. “When I came out, we were doing it all.” He believes there is a lack in the veterinarian community of people willing to do it all.

Someone once told him he had never met someone from Okeechobee who wasn’t proud to be from Okeechobee, and Dr. Harvey said he wholeheartedly agrees with that sentiment. “People in this community have been good to me,” he said.

Dr. Harvey’s advice to Aubrey, Cassie or any other children who hope to become veterinarians one day is: “You can’t do what I did. Don’t cut yourself short. I just coasted by in school, but the competition is stiffer now. You have to work harder, get better grades. If you’ve got the will and determination and apply yourself, you can do it. Lay the foundation early.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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