Ranchers react to Eldridge retirement announcement
By MATTHEW WEAVER
When Washington state veterinarian Leonard Eldridge first started college, he was told not many folks make it into veterinary school.
He tried all aspects of the practice, including surgery on small animals.
“But I was just like a caged lion,” Eldridge said. “I needed to be out there leaning against a chute or fence talking to the cow man about animal health, how to prevent this or that disease. The satisfaction is what I enjoyed so much, helping folks.”
Eldridge studied veterinary medicine at Washington State University, graduating in 1965. He kept a practice for 37 years, then joined the state Department of Agriculture in 2004 as state veterinarian.
Eldridge plans to retire July 1, noting he feels it’s time to spend more time with his wife, Diane, and his family.
Washington ranchers say accessibility was Eldridge’s hallmark.
“You could call Dr. Eldridge on his cell phone — if he wasn’t in the office, he was probably getting back to you and addressing your concern,” said Wade King, Coulee City, Wash., rancher and a former president of the Cattle Producers of Washington.
“If you call his office line at 6:30 a.m., he’s there and answers the phone,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington State Cattlemen’s Association. “Just as if you call him at 6 p.m., he answers the phone. You can call him on the weekend and he answers the phone.”
Field said Eldridge has the ability to connect with people from many facets of life, from someone in agriculture to a person simply asking about import regulations for a pet
“It’s an enormous loss,” Field said. “He has done absolutely everything the industry could ever ask for in terms of animal health.”
Eldridge would have liked to see the state complete its work on animal traceability, which began in late 2005, but said it may be time for fresh minds to work on it.
The state’s database needs to be improved, he said. The brand program is an important tool in Washington, and needs to be updated into the electronic age.
“There are some gaps that need to be eliminated, so we have complete information on traceability at every change of ownership,” Eldridge said.
Some feeder and harvest cattle enter the state without Eldridge’s knowledge, in spite of entry permit requirements. They can be destined for harvest or a restricted feedlot, but might not wind up there and re-enter production.
“That’s probably the highest risk of what needs to be finished in traceability,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge recommends the entire livestock industry keep communications open and find common ground among different factions.
“They have much more in common than they have in differences of opinion,” Eldridge said. “It’s all about keeping the confidence of our export markets and other states in place that we have good animals to send them.”
He’s had the most fun interacting with the industry, he said.
“If someone’s got a problem, there’s nothing more gratifying than being able to solve that issue and put somebody back at a profitable level,” he said.