There’s a reason they’re called mixed-practice vets. From a teeny kitten that weighs eight ounces to a belligerent bull that may hit the scales at 2,000 pounds, animal physicians treat all creatures of all shapes and sizes.
Meet Josh Moses, 35, a 2003 graduate of Wilson Central High School, who knows he is one of a vanishing breed, the rural veterinarian. He opened Moses Animal Clinic in Watertown last July in a building on Highway 70 that was once a Dollar General store.
“Large animal service is a slowly dying profession around here,” confessed Moses, noting it’s becoming more of an uphill battle for vets who practice close to a metropolitan giant like Nashville as urban sprawl continues to gobble up small family farms in the surrounding counties.
Moses cannot afford to service solely cattle, sheep and horses. He estimates his patients run 60 percent domestic pets and 40 percent the bigger beasts.
One thing is for sure, no day or night is the same. He may go from spaying a cat and removing a tumor from a dog in the morning to working on a downed alpaca or birthing a calf in the afternoon to pulling a cast horse from its stall in the wee hours of the night.
“We make farm calls with large animals and then slow down to do small animal work. I love both,” he said, recalling two of his rarer cases involved a sickly hedgehog and a peacock bleeding after breaking some of its feathers.
The vet treats ailing dogs, cats, goats, sheep, horses, llamas, alpacas, camels, kangaroos and other exotic mammal but favors the area of reproductive medicine, theriogenology.
That means such procedures as artificial insemination in mares, putting embryos in cattle and doing laparoscopic inseminations on sheep and goats.
“We do reproductive work and service canines, bovines and equine patients. I’ve learned to do some of the more advanced techniques,” Moses said.
Regarding the shifts occurring in rural veterinary medicine, a June 2019 article in “Successful Farming” presented a wide variety of reasons for the changes. Among those were the following:
- Clinics are going corporate. Of the approximately 30,000 veterinary practices in the U.S. today, about 3,500 are corporate-owned, reported the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and that number is increasing rapidly.
- High debt hurts rural practices. According to the AVMA, 2018 graduates from U.S. veterinary colleges (including grads without debt) averaged $143,000 of debt.
- Fewer vet students are coming from rural backgrounds. Only about 10 percent of final-year students at veterinary schools have an interest in food animals.
Education about animals
Moses has transformed what was a Dollar General store into a small animal clinic in the southeastern corner of Wilson County, while his truck serves as his clinic-on-wheels for large critters. (His business logo shows a rooster standing on the back of a cow.)
He remembers the first time he thought about pursuing a veterinary career.
“I was in the fourth grade and was assigned to write about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m not sure I could even spell the word veterinarian at the time,” he recalled with a laugh.
Moses was born in Corbin, Ky., and he moved to Wilson County with his family when he was 4 and grew up on a hobby farm where there were dogs, cats, cattle, chickens and pigs. He attended Southside Elementary School and went to Lebanon High for two years before he transferred to the new Wilson Central. When he was 17, he began working for well-known local veterinarian Phillip Kinslow.
He entered Middle Tennessee State University in 2003 and then took a two-year break to labor in construction to pay for his schooling. He graduated in 2009 before enrolling at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine University on the island of Saint Kitts in the West Indies.
“It was a big culture shock when I got on the island. I almost immediately wanted to turn around and fly back to Tennessee,” Moses said. He found out it would be several days before he could catch a plane, so he stayed
After three years of classroom work at Ross, he completed his final year at Auburn University and graduated in 2014.
“I worked eight years for Kinslow as a technician before going to vet school and then four years as a DMV (doctor of veterinary medicine). The experience you can get before vet school is hands-on and allows you to excel in book work. It was invaluable. I learned a lot of great stuff from lots of people. Dr. Amy Hastings taught me a lot about small animals,” Moses said.
Setting up shop in Watertown
The animal doctor selected Watertown as the site for his clinic for several reasons: he lives in that part of the county, the population in Wilson County’s smallest city is growing and Lebanon has more than half a dozen veterinary clinics.
Longtime Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings said, “There could have been vets that lived in the area, but I don’t remember a vet clinic in Watertown before Mr. Moses.”
He laid the groundwork a year or two before opening his clinic.
“I ran an ambulatory service. I drove out to farms and would do whatever in Wilson, Sumner, Rutherford, Smith, DeKalb and White counties,” said Moses, who does service calls and emergency cases on all sizes of animals.
A 2018 Dodge Ram Commercial 2500 serves his needs when he is away from the brick-and-mortar office. Moses has outfitted the vehicle with electricity, lights and running water and keeps it fully stocked with medications and surgical supplies.
“You see such a variety of cases and have to have a vast array of equipment and medical supplies,” he explained.
At the clinic he is assisted by a staff that includes animal technicians Brittany Jenkins, Hailei Gibson and Bailey Sandford; office secretary Kelsey Edens; and groomer Heather Pierson.
The vet’s workday typically begins at 7 in morning in the clinic when he performs surgery and checks on small animal patients. He makes farm calls mostly in the afternoons; however, during calving and foaling seasons, his head may not hit the hay until midnight.
Relating to those nocturnal calls, he says, “They may range from colic or birth issues or I might be delivering a ewe lamb, or a thunderstorm comes through and a horse runs through a fence. Typically, it’s something trying to have babies.”
As he strives in a practice that goes against the grain and involves long hours indoors and out, Moses sums up his situation saying, “I think it’s going better than I anticipated. I try to do a good job for whoever comes in the door and try to be honest and straightforward and realistic about things. The most fulfilling thing is just being able to help people in a time of need.”
MOSES ANIMAL CLINIC
Location: 8500 Sparta Pike, Watertown
Owner: Josh Moses
Hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday (vet on call 24 hours a day)
Services: Veterinary care for dogs, cats and large and small mammals, including dental care, reproductive and breeding care and surgery
Contact: Phone - (615) 697-2207; website - mosesanimalclinictn.com.