By AMANDA BOWES
Veterinarian Noel McGirr, retiring after more than 43 years, can spin a story or two about his long career, including the burglar who passed out while sampling the spoils from the drug safe.
Staff had arrived to find the back door open and an unconscious man on the floor, Noel recalls.
The burglar had broken into the safe and filled a bag with controlled drugs. Sampling the merchandise, the man had injected himself with a strong sedative for cattle and deer.
Happily out cold, he awoke to find three puzzled staff and a police officer ready to arrest him.
For 43 years, veterinarian, Noel has tended to the needs of Hurunui’s largest and smallest animal residents.
The decision to retire has brought back many memories, including how his practice has changed over four decades.
In 1974, he began as a vet in Waikari working for Cartridge and Wood (Mike Cartridge ran the Waikari clinic and David Wood the Cheviot clinic).
Noel’s wife, Lois, had graduated as a teacher and got a job at Waikari School.
“I was equipped with a brand new Datsun 180B, which was amazing, a radio telephone and a mixture of old and new equipment,” Noel says.
Mike Cartridge decided it was time for a holiday in the Sounds, so Noel was left to run the practice with vet nurse Sandra.
“It was all new, dealing with after-hour calls, finding my way around farms. We quickly developed friendships, getting to know people through work and were often invited out to dinner.”
Noel says there was a good group of young people in Hawarden and Waikari – the train still delivered freight, the flour mill at Waikari was operational, and the town boasted a butcher and two grocery stores. Hawarden was also well serviced.
After a couple of years, he and Lois went overseas for 12 months. Noel picked up locum jobs in Liverpool and Manchester.
When they returned, he became a partner of Cartridge and Wood, setting up in Pound Street, Amberley, which he described as the smallest vet clinic in New Zealand.
It was quickly outgrown and the practice shifted to where the medical centre had been, next to the council buildings. (Now the site of the Amberley public toilets).
John Turner had set up practice in Culverden, servicing mainly dryland farms and the former Cartridge and Wood became North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics Ltd.
Farming practice changed from the traditional sheep and beef. Angora goats, ostriches, emus and deer were introduced to the district. Of the newcomers, only deer are still farmed in any numbers.
New sheep and cattle breeds were making their mark, embryo transfers became more common, and land-use was changing to vineyards and olives.
A few incidents have stuck in Noel’s mind, including the burglaries.
Ivomec sheep drench was expensive when new to the market in the late 1980s. Break-ins would occur where Ivomec was stolen to sell on the black market.
In 1992, a snow storm prevented farmers from reaching their stock and the area behind the clinic became the landing pad for Iroquois and other helicopters.
They ferried volunteers to help rescue sheep by stamping tracks in the snow. They also flew hundreds of bales of hay to starving animals.
Years wrestling with large animals took their toll and Noel suffered the inevitable broken bones, strains and sprains common in large-animal practice.
By the late 1990s, the building again became too small, with a growing small animal clientele.
A section on the corner of Osborne Road was bought. A new purpose-designed clinic was built. It was opened by the then Hurunui Mayor John Chaffey.
Staff numbers grew over the next few years and, between the four clinics, North Canterbury Vets now employs around 50 staff, from vets to vet technicians, sales representatives, grazing managers, clinic co-ordinators, vet nurses and account managers.
Irrigation in the Amuri area changed the dynamics of the Culverden clinic, which meant bigger buildings and a big increase in staff.
Technology changed, the old radio-telephones being replaced by mobile phones, then smart phones.
The internet changed the way information is used and farming became more technical.
Noel has relinquished his shares in the practice and says North Canterbury Vets is in good hands.
Now a grandfather, he says he is looking forward to more time with family. He will take
some part-time vet opportunities, but will have more time to spend on his hobbies – greyhounds, horse trekking, boating, travel, woodwork and doing volunteer work.
“My advice to anyone on retiring is to learn something every day, seek opportunities,
embrace change and strive for continuing improvement.”