Dr. Louis Bounds poses with his dog, Pumpkin, Saturday at Animal Medical Center on Highway 69. Bounds, who founded the clinic in 1975, is retiring Wednesday. Photo by: Carmen K. Sisson/Dispatch Staff
August 27, 2012 11:03:43 AM
All is hushed at Animal Medical Center. The Saturday morning patients have been examined and the animals are snug in their kennels, without so much as a woof or a whimper as Dr. Louis Bounds makes his way through the darkened labyrinth.
His 14-year-old Shih-Tzu-Poodle, Pumpkin, waddles along beside him, as sure-footed as her master though cataracts dim her eyes. It's not unusual for either of them to be at the Highway 69 clinic after hours; Bounds frequently drops in to check on patients or tend emergencies.
But leaving? That will be an adjustment. Bounds' step is still as spry, his eyes as sharp, his mind as quick as they were 47 years ago when he opened AMC. Retirement will allow more time to spend with family but Wednesday, his last day, approaches rapidly, and the realization makes him uneasy.
It's not that he worries about the clinic or its sister location on Martin Luther King Jr. Road. Both offices will remain in the steady hands of his longtime partners, Dr. Jim Dowdle, who joined him in 1975, and Bounds' first cousin, Dr. Clayton Anderson, who arrived in 1978. Anderson's son, Dr. Clay Anderson -- the eighth veterinarian in the family -- will join them, as will his wife, Alicia, also a vet.
The clinics will be fine without him. But his love for animals and his passion for his profession burns with the same intensity as when he was a younger man. At 71, that pilot light is nowhere near fading.
It seems like yesterday when he started the practice, he says. The years flew by so fast.
Growing up on his grandparents' farm in Shuqualak, there were pigs, horses, cattle, chickens. Every morning, he trudged to the barn to milk cows, tolerating frequent slaps in the face from muck-caked tails as hot milk hissed into the pail. It was hard to love a cow.
He adored dogs and cats, talked to them as children, treated them like babies. His siblings teased him for that, but he didn't care.
Back then, livestock made up the majority of a veterinarian's day. His uncle was a vet, and he and his older brother often accompanied him on calls. But when his brother entered vet school, he had little interest in following.
His mother had been a math teacher at Shuqualak High School and East Mississippi Community College, and he liked math and English, so he entered the liberal arts program at EMCC.
A vocational aptitude test changed his plans: It said he should be a veterinarian. Suddenly, everything coalesced -- his love for animals, his veterinary lineage, the whisper of a calling he had not been able to hear.
Because MSU had not yet started a veterinary medicine program, he went to Auburn University on a scholarship, graduating in 1965. His first job put him right back in the pen with cattle. The United States Department of Agriculture stationed him in Brookhaven, testing cattle for brucellosis, an infectious disease which can be transmitted to humans.
Bounds hated the work. It wasn't what he was trained to do. He was thinking of leaving the USDA when he got a call from a Columbus veterinarian, Dr. Alexander "Bam" Williams, who was retiring and wanted someone to take his Highway 69 clinic. He chose Bounds' name from a directory of recent Auburn Veterinary School graduates.
After two weeks under Williams' tutelage, Bounds received the keys to the practice where he would spend the rest of his career.
In the beginning, he treated mostly large animals, waking at 4 a.m. to be part cowboy, part vet; chasing cattle over hills and across ravines as the sun rose, delivering foals and calves until night became morning again.
He had a wife and a new baby; the hours took a toll. And so he made a decision: He placed an ad in the phone book, announcing his intent to specialize in small animals. Business quadrupled.
He added one vet, then two. He had two more children. He built a second office, which later closed, then a third. He still came to the clinic three and four times a night, but he lived five minutes away and he was doing what he loved. The years were happy.
Painting a new dream
There are things he's looking forward to about retirement.
A while back, he developed a passion for oil painting, and he'd like to do more of it. He and his wife will return to the family homestead in Shuqualak, where the countryside puts his mind at ease and the 14-foot ceilings of their ante-bellum home evoke the hushed calm of a cathedral.
Soon, they will indulge a lifelong dream of traveling to Italy, where they will wander art museums, drinking in the works of Michaelangelo and the Old Masters.
But Bounds will miss his clients. He will miss surgery, especially the challenging cases. He has operated on paralyzed dogs and made them walk again. Knee surgeries, back surgeries -- he had a God-given talent for those, he believes. He enjoyed unraveling the puzzle, trying to glean clues from patients who could not tell him where they hurt.
As Wednesday draws near, the memories fall thicker, faster. So many special animals, so many loyal clients. He wants to hug each of them.
"These 47 years have passed by so quickly," Bounds says, gazing beyond the office walls, remembering wagging tails, rumbling purrs, long days that never felt like work. "The Lord has blessed me. I never dreamed life could be so good."
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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