Retirement likely to keep long-time vet on the run

17:00, May 13 2014

Okato vet Dave Lilley has taken his share of punishment from animals during his time but says he will still work with them now he's retired.

Lilley, who had devoted 41 years to animal care, has been crushed by a cow, suffered a collapsed lung, been kicked, scratched and had his fingers flattened.

The 64-year-old triathlete and half ironman competitor aims to run the New York marathon in November.

"I'm saving my body for a full ironman too," he said.

Raised on a dairy farm in Warea, Lilley was lured back to the coast in 1973 after graduating from Massey University's veterinary school and four generations of some local families have had him as their vet. "I've really enjoyed being part of the Okato farming community, I love the people and the country life," he said.

Lilley, who has a passion for hands-on farm work, has vaccinated countless cows and delivered hundreds of calves but his career has been far from routine.


Once he was called out to vaccinate a herd of cows in a herringbone milking shed and ended up getting crushed.

"That particular vaccination, it's recommended to vaccinate in the neck and a highly-agitated cow jumped the breast rail and squashed me.

"I thought I was going to die. I had been training for stamina, not speed," he said of his failure to avoid the irate cow.

As a result Lilley was laid up in hospital with broken and bruised ribs, and a collapsed lung.

On a quieter note, he has also dealt with the whole gamut of household pets, including cats, dogs, birds, rats, mice, rabbits and even the odd turtle.

"I enjoyed treating the smallies too," he said.

Modern communication technology had made a huge change to his rural practice.

His wife Kerry recalls the early days when she had to man the phone to relay callouts by two-way radio to Dave out in the fields.

"Cellphones and paging services gave us much more freedom and reduced farmer frustration," Kerry said.

Lilley is a practising JP, a life member and former club champion of the Okato Squash Club and was a Civil Defence volunteer.

He was looking forward to doing more running, fishing, tramping and diving in his retirement - if his lung gets the doctor's all clear.

Although he would miss his workmates and clients, Lilley said he hoped to keep working with animals and was considering volunteering to de-sex cats and dogs in the Pacific Islands.

*Christine Walsh is a Witt journalist

Taranaki Daily News