As he prepares for a new chapter, veterinarian Don “Doc” McLeod faces a whirlwind of to-do-lists.
But on a recent afternoon, despite a growing list of calls to return, “Doc” — as he’s lovingly called by his clients — sat in Austin Animal Clinic’s empty waiting room and paused. After more than 60 years, McLeod closed the longtime practice on North Lamar Boulevard last month. The veterinarian who has treated animals of Austin royalty and rabble for decades will be retiring from daily practice and moving to Fort Worth to be closer to his children and grandchildren.
McLeod took a look around at the quiet reception area, glancing at the outlines on the blank wall where framed newspaper articles used to hang and at a cardboard moving box on the floor filled with pet pamphlets. “Lots of good times here,” he said.
His late father who also was a veterinarian, N. L. Tim McLeod, opened the Austin Animal Clinic in 1954, and throughout the years. the practice became an integral part of the lives of many Austinites. On the clinic’s last day, clients flocked to the longtime establishment to say good-bye. Cards, cakes and Tiff’s Treats inundated the office and clients came from near and far to reminiscence and to get their hug or handshake from McLeod.
“It’s a bittersweet situation,” he said of closing the clinic’s doors. “This was my dad’s dream for his family and all of his (six) kids. It raised all of us.”
As a boy, McLeod would ride his bicycle or sometimes walk to his father’s clinic after school, first from Lamar Junior High and later from McCallum High School. He grew up watching in awe as his father performed surgeries on injured or sick animals. Whenever he could, he assisted by handing his father instruments for the surgery. During summers, McLeod and his older brother pitched in with bathing and dipping the dogs for ticks.
McLeod remembers that during the 1950s, when pet skunks were popular, his father would de-scent skunks. He’d head out to the family ranch because of the unbearable stench that would otherwise suffocate the clinic.
Early in McLeod’s career, he opened a clinic in West Texas, but he soon decided to sell his practice and head back to Austin to work alongside his father. He’d heard too many stories from his clients about losing their fathers at an early age, and he didn’t want to regret never working with him. The father-and-son team worked together for more than 20 years until his father died suddenly in 2000.
“It was difficult at first,” said McLeod, who’s 70, “but actually he’s still here in spirit.”
A love of medicine and animals runs in his family. His mother was a registered nurse, and two of his siblings became orthopedic surgeons.
“If it didn’t have hair or fur on it, we didn’t understand it,” he said with a laugh.
Over the years, Austin Animal Clinic treated numerous family pets but also a few unforgettable critters, including a South African lion cub that University of Texas students in the mid-1960s kept for their fraternity. “It was a nice little fella when he was a kitten, but it didn’t take long before he got pretty aggressive,” McLeod recalled.
But it was clients with multiple animals, McLeod said, who really helped his father’s practice succeed “and helped feed us six kids, too.” Some of those clients included UT football coach Darrell Royal and his wife, Edith, who bred poodles. Other Austin Animal Clinic clients over the years included former Austin mayor Roy Butler and federal judge Jack Roberts.
In 2013, Oscar award-winning actor Al Pacino walked into the Austin Animal Clinic to film scenes for the movie “Manglehorn,” directed by David Gordon Green. McLeod, who also was featured in the film, played himself.
“That was just quirk chance,” he said. Movie location scouts approached him about using the building in the film and soon he was encouraged to audition for the part of the veterinarian. “But I’m not an actor,” McLeod told them. That’s exactly what the casting crew wanted. McLeod remembers chatting with Pacino about his love of animals. Pacino shared that at the time he had 10 dogs and countless cats. Framed photos of McLeod with Pacino still remained on the wall last week.
“It’s sad to see someone like Doc McLeod go,” said longtime client Grant Morgan. “There’s no one else like him.”
McLeod plans to keep his license current so that he can continue providing services as a relief veterinarian for some of his colleagues.
“It’s a rewarding profession,” he said. “It can also be challenging because sometimes you have to put an old family friend to sleep, but that’s also one of the last acts of kindness and grace that we can do when there’s no hope. That’s all part of it.”
For Morgan, having to put down his Doberman Pinscher “Jewel” earlier this year was particularly hard because shortly after doing so, Morgan had to head to Houston to undergo surgery to treat his cancer. “I didn’t have my best friend with me,” he said. “But Doc was there for all that and he kept up with me.”
Morgan can’t help but feel emotional when talking about his appreciation for McLeod. “I truly felt like I was a cousin or nephew or some part of the family,” he said. “He treats you like a person, not a number.”
That’s something McLeod said he learned from his father. In addition to relief veterinary work, McLeod plans to continue raising calves for the grass-fed beef market.
“We’re going to miss everybody,” McLeod said. “I hope (my clients’) relationships with the new vets they chose will be meaningful and long lasting, too.”