Veterinarian Dr. Joe Cannon has had his fair share of adventures during his four decades as an animal doctor. He has vaccinated elephants as well as kittens and is deeply devoted to all of his patients.
For Cannon the notion of becoming a veterinarian was never in much doubt. He credits his boyhood experiences on a farm populated by an eclectic menagerie as sparking his interest in animal science.
“Back then it was all about animals,” he said. “We had everything?sheep, cattle, horses and dogs and cats. There was the occasional wild animal pet that came along. It was just a typical farm life. Very rural.”
His decision about the vocation was made at an early age. And his father fostered his dream through the chores he was assigned.
"I was 16 when I decided to become a vet,” he said. “My dad always had me helping with delivering the sheep and pulling calves. The medical aspect of it appealed to me. And I always liked biology in school. It seemed to be a natural fit.”
Cannon's clientele was never limited to a particular sector. Aside from the usual influx of pets entering his clinic, he ventured into the equine sphere pretty early in his career.
"Working on thoroughbred race horses was a big part of my life,” Cannon said.
He counted Weatherford based Trinity Meadows Race Course, the Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie and Remington Park in Oklahoma City among the venues that afforded him access to treating thoroughbreds.
Cannon never limited his work to any particular breed, which opened avenues that led to a very interesting history in the field of animal medicine.
"I had my practice in Grand Prairie for 35 years, and I treated everything,” he said. “I took care of small animals and treated a lot of horses. But during that time as well, my interest was broadened with the exotics I treated.”
Cannon had nabbed the position of resident veterinarian for the Lion Country Safari in Grand Prairie. He was to maintain his place with the drive through theme park for the next 10 years.
"I was there the entire time they were in existence,” he said. “I treated everything—lions, ostriches, giraffes, tigers, bears and chimpanzees.”
It wasn't long before the young veterinarian would come to realize exotic animal medicine was an entirely different arena. And Cannon was to develop a healthy respect for his new patients.
"There were several situations I got myself into that made me kind of fear for my life,” he said. “I had a scrape with an elephant, and a chimpanzee grabbed me and chewed me up pretty badly.”
Cannon described the elephant incident as being a case of one friend being concerned about another.
"I was vaccinating Elephant A, and Elephant B didn't like it,” he recalled. “He grabbed me with his trunk and slung me around a good bit.”
The chimpanzee attack came at the hands of Judy, an acting monkey who once scored a gig in the 1960's television series “Daktari.” She had been retired to the Grand Prairie park where Cannon was in attendance.
"She just snapped and I happened to be there,” he said. “I let my guard down with her because I had gotten very close to her.”
Cannon refuses to hold the two incidents against his attackers.
"You just have to be careful when you treat them,” he said. “I obviously never let my guard down again, and I survived and continued to treat them. I just treated them with more caution.”
Cannon had many curious experiences during his stint as an exotic animal doctor, one of which found him wrangling zebras and giraffes on a ranch in Mexico.
"I was hired to go down to capture some different varieties of hoof stock,” he said. “They were out on a 120,000 acre ranch. We went down to dart them and lived there a few weeks. We got them loaded and transported to the zoo in Mexico City.”
The oddity of his assignment was not lost on Cannon.
"That was a situation where I was asking myself what I was doing there,” he said with a laugh. “But it was something people don't get a lot of chances to do—going to a country and working with people on their home land—trying to speak their language and interact with them to get a job done. It was hard, but we did it.”
One might wonder what animals native to the African savanna were doing south of the border in the first place.
"A very wealthy family purchased them to have on their place,” he said. “Then they turned them lose and let them graze on their own. And they thrived. They still run wild down there.”
The Lion Country Safari had closed its doors in the mid 80's, just prior to Cannon's adventure in Mexico. In his autobiography, “Safari Doctor,” Cannon described himself as being at a crossroads after the park's demise, realizing the scope of his practice was narrowing down to the treatment of traditional animals. By 1999 he and wife, Sharyn, decided it was time to sell his Grand Prairie practice and embrace a slower pace of life. He has since returned to the area of his family farm and opened Green's Creek Veterinary Hospital where he treats all varieties of four legged patients in need of tender loving care.
Cannon said he has reached a stage in his life where he has a new appreciation for the emotions and intelligence of the charges entrusted to him.
"As I have gotten older, and been in this business for so long, I see how smart they are and how much they feel,” he reflected.
Things are decidedly less hectic in his new practice, and Cannon has learned to value the calmer environment.
"I'm enjoying being back in the area where I was born and raised, able to breathe fresh air and watch the animals,” he said. “That's my retirement. I just sit back and enjoy them.”