ST. PETERSBURG — Thousands of mammals have lost an important friend and ally, and only some of them are human. Albert Few, one of the longest-serving veterinarians in Pinellas County, died Friday of pancreatic cancer, his family said.
He was 79.
Dr. Few owned Skyway Animal Hospital from 1972 until his recent illness. For more than 40 years, he helped sick or injured animals get well or, when necessary, helped them die.
"Everybody has their time, even dogs," he told pet owners at his clinic on Fifth Avenue S. His time-tested techniques seemed to soothe their crises, even if some found his Alabama drawl hard to decipher.
"He had a way of really defusing the situation when they would come in and they were just beside themselves with concern and scared," said Dr. William Slocumb, 67, his business partner.
He went to great lengths to save animals, who in turn reacted favorably to him.
"He really was the Dr. Dolittle of St. Petersburg," said Liz Few, 53, his daughter.
In 1976, after someone brought in a cat that had been struck by a car, he took a legal risk by operating without knowing if an owner existed or obtaining permission. He removed the animal's shredded eye and wired its broken jaw in place.
A news story ran about the rescue but no one stepped forward to claim the cat. "Miss Kitty" spent 18 good years in Dr. Few's home, along with other cats named either for Auburn football players or characters from Gone With the Wind.
Dr. Few never refused a sick or injured animal, regardless of the client's ability to pay. It's a code that dates back to his upbringing.
Albert Braxton Few was born in 1935 in Jackson, Ala., a cattle rancher's son. As the family story goes, John Few, his father, once tried to take a sick cow to a veterinarian who declined to render aid. The heartache left an impression when Albert Few wanted to become a veterinarian.
"My grandfather said, 'I'll pay for your veterinary school, so long as you never turn away an animal,' " said Dr. Few's daughter.
He earned his veterinary training at Auburn University, plus a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine from the University of Iowa. He married Southern belle and Duke graduate Carolyn Webber 53 years ago. Dr. Few taught for several years at the University of Georgia. He bought the St. Petersburg clinic in 1972, practicing for several years with Dr. Bill Goldston. In an era before specialized veterinary degrees, he honed an expertise in disc and neurosurgery.
At noon he went home, where a hot lunch prepared by his wife awaited. The two of them would then watch As the World Turns, a ritual they continued until the show went off the air in 2010.
The clinic, meanwhile, added a kennel and an enclosed exercise area. His reputation grew, as well, with former clients often greeting him in public. He recalled their pets' names more readily than the owners', but in a way they were patients too. Among other courtesies, Dr. Few made countless house calls to euthanize dying pets.
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"He was kind and caring through the whole process," said Carolyn Johnston, 66, who had an 18-year-old Samoyed. "He even helped me bury her."
He was diagnosed with the cancer in January and retired in April. But he still stopped by the clinic regularly.
During one appearance, the veterinarian talked to a client while Sammie, a German shepherd regarded by staff as "very aggressive," waited in an examination room, recalled Julie DeMarco, Skyway's office manager of 34 years. When the dog's owner heard Dr. Few was in the building, she entered the room with Sammie, not wearing a muzzle.
Employees retreated. The dog broke from the leash and bolted toward Dr. Few, who was seated.
"We're all like, 'Oh, no!' " DeMarco said.
Sammie came to a stop beside the veterinarian, who continued talking to another client while petting the dog. It turns out he just wanted to visit.
"I don't know if dogs can sense when someone is not well, but I think they can," DeMarco said. Dr. Few would live only a couple of months longer.
The dog "just sat with him, loving on him," DeMarco said. "That was something the dog could sense."
Contact Andrew Meacham at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.