TAMPA — When elephants at Busch Gardens started dropping dead suddenly one night in the 1970s, local veterinarian Earl Schobert got a late-night call from park officials. He stayed up all night diagnosing and treating their mysterious malady.
When officials at Miami's MetroZoo wanted a female rhinoceros to keep its male rhino company, they also called Dr. Schobert. With special permission form the Nepalese government, he flew to Nepal and rode through the wild on an elephant until he found an appropriate female rhino. He shot it with a tranquilizer dart from a blowgun and arranged for it to be shipped to Miami.
And for almost 50 years, when countless Tampa families had ailing dogs and cats, they brought them to Dr. Schobert.
Dr. Schobert was the first veterinarian at Busch Gardens and was the only veterinarian at Lowry Park Zoo many years ago, before the zoo belonged to the city. He also ran Forest Hills Animal Hospital until age and failing eyesight forced him to retire about five years ago.
He died from congestive heart failure June 8. He was 89.
"He just loved animals," said his wife, Carol Schobert. "And he loved his clients, and they all loved him."
Dr. Schobert was still actively practicing when he was well into his 80s. His wife, who worked with him, had to insist he let his practice go.
"In our last operation we were spaying a cat," she said. "He was having trouble seeing to thread the needle. The operation went fine but when it was done I just said, 'That's it. That's the last one. I'm not going to assist you anymore. You never harmed an animal, and you just have to stop before you do.' "
Even so, Dr. Schobert's customers weren't quite ready to let go.
"They'd still call us when their animals were sick and ask us what was going on," Carol Schobert said. "Finally, I had to just say 'That's enough.' "
Dr. Schobert developed his love for animals growing up on a farm in Nebraska. After a stint as a military pilot, including action in the Pacific theater in World War II, he began his veterinary career. He practiced first in California but came to Tampa in the 1950s.
His practice was on the outskirts of town, so he treated cows and horses in addition to the standard house pets. When Busch Gardens started bringing in jungle animals, a park official knew of Dr. Schobert's ability to treat a wide variety of animals and asked him to be the vet for the burgeoning attraction.
"They wanted him on a full-time contract, but he didn't want to give up his private practice," his wife said.
It wasn't unusual for him to spend all night tending to an ailing chimp at Busch Gardens, then go straight from there to his animal hospital.
Because he was so dedicated to animals and had experience with exotic breeds, Dr. Schobert started getting calls from other organizations, including Lowry Park Zoo and Disney World.
It was at Disney World that he suffered his only animal-related injury.
"I got a call in the middle of the night," his wife said. "They told me he had been bitten by an otter and he had to have plastic surgery to repair his hand."
Even after he gave up his practice and his health was failing, a lot of his four-legged patients still kept in touch.
"People would bring their dogs by so he could pet them," his wife said. "It did him so much good just to touch them because he loved animals so much."
Besides his wife, Dr. Schobert is survived by his son, Neal; his daughters Janice Kreuzinger and Bonnie Schobert; sisters Gladys Beem, Marion Finnell and Dorothy Krieger; and two grandsons.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]