by Geoff Fox
After 46 years serving Hancock as the town’s veterinarian, Dan Murphy is hanging up his stethoscope and retiring from practice.
Murphy and his office sent out notices to the homes of his patients alerting their families about his pending retirement a few months ago.
Murphy saw his last patient November 30.
Murphy graduated from Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1977.
Murphy chose OSU as there were no veterinary schools in his home state of West Virginia. Murphy is originally from Keyser.
While waiting for his National Board Exams results to ensure he was qualified, Murphy said he came home for Christmas of 1976 and drove around areas he thought he would want to set up practice.
Murphy began looking in the Bedford and Winchester areas.
While in Bedford, Murphy met a couple that were vets but they didn’t need any help.
However, one had a connection to Dr. Leo Shives in Hancock. Murphy was told about Shives and how he was a “neat gentleman” who was getting ready to retire and looking for help.
“I knew nothing at all about Hancock, Maryland,” Murphy said. He only knew of the National Road and traveling through when his family would go to places like Gettysburg. He also heard about the town while searching for a motorcycle.
As he was coming down Interstate 70 from Breezewood, Murphy looked over the valley in the Flickerville area and commented on the beauty and how it would be a great place to live and open his practice.
When he made it to Hancock and found Shives, the vet was in the parking lot castrating a pig.
“That was the first time I laid eyes on him,” Murphy said.
Before heading back to school, Murphy knew he would be working in Hancock and working for Shives.
At first, Murphy was going to work under Shives for six months and then decide if he would buy the practice and take over.
In April of 1978, Murphy made the decision to take over the practice and it officially became his.
Murphy said his generation set goals and going back to his high school days, he knew he wanted to be a veterinarian.
He went through college knowing what the direction he needed to go down, even knowing what kind of practice he wanted to have.
“Everything was planned out and methodical pretty much and I was able to live that dream pretty much,” he said.
As he started getting older, Murphy wanted to start slowing down his professional practice.
When he came to Hancock at the age of 24, Murphy was doing everything — even making house calls to farms. After having back issues, Murphy came off the road 21 years into his practice.
This led him to focus on a small animal practice.
“I was blessed, too, with plenty of work,” he said.
Murphy started to step away from things like more involved surgeries and hospitalizations where he’d be up all night changing fluids. He’s reached out to his colleagues to assist in those.
He made the decision to focus on general medicine and internal medicine.
And then in 2020, COVID and everything got crazy, he said.
Murphy was doing parking lot visits and then eventually allowing one person in his office while wearing a mask.
He noted people adapted well to the parking lot visits.
As he approached 70 years of age, Murphy’s kids started asking when he was going to wind down the practice.
Last year, Murphy reached out to the veterinarian school at Virginia Tech and started exploring options to take over his practice. He had no takers.
After this past year, Murphy realized he was ready to slow everything down.
“This is a wonderful profession but I’ve lived it 45 plus years and every night you go to bed, every morning when you wake up, you’re thinking about a case,” Murphy said.
He said it’s been a constant concern and he didn’t have anyone to share that concern with, as he has been a solo practitioner over the years.
In reaching out to veterinarian schools to find a successor or vet for Hancock to take his place, Murphy came to understand that today’s veterinarians see the profession differently.
Many vets don’t want to own their own practice. Instead, Murphy said a report he has read stated 95% of graduates would rather work under another veterinarian or with others than owning their own practices.
“They love the medicine part, but they didn’t want to be in business,” he said, noting it’s also happening in human medical practices as well.
Murphy still needed to work toward his retirement.
“Still love the people. Still love the animals. I want to be able to not worry about them when I’m off at Canaan Valley with my family once a year at a reunion and I’m thinking about the dog that was vomiting when I left Hancock on Thursday,” Murphy said.
Murphy has been practicing with a basic clinic without the bells and whistles of a large animal hospital.
Labs were sent out, so there won’t be a lot of lab equipment left, and an x-ray machine was donated to a third world country via a Rotary program.
What he does have left is a lot of pharmaceuticals that would go out of date if not used, scales, and cages.
Murphy said if there would be a new vet come to the community, he’d pass those items off to the new person.
“I’m still hoping that we can find someone who would come in and basically start their own practice,” Murphy said.
In the last three months, Murphy and his staff have been contacting their patients’ families personally and helping them find a new veterinarian.
Murphy has also contacted his colleagues in the area, letting them know about the possible influx of new patients.
Murphy is bound by law to keep records for a certain amount of years and has been copying those records so when his patients go to a new vet, their family can get those records from Murphy.
“The records are being dealt with professionally,” Murphy said.
With his retirement, Murphy is getting used to not having to get up and answer phone calls and see people.
Murphy said there are also small projects around the house he’s been put on hold, cleaning up around the “old stuff” from the office before he either gives to another practice or sell, and of course his involvement in his church and around the community.
Murphy is now the president of the Hancock Rotary Club, the president of the Hancock Historical Society, and involved with the Hancock Arts Council.
He also hopes to get back on the rivers and lakes fishing in some of his boats that haven’t seen the water in some time.
“Most important, I have four grandkids that are an hour and a half away in Severna Park and we like to see them every so often on weekends,” Murphy said. “Well now I can go down in the middle of the week and be Granddad if I want to.”
Murphy said if they are able, he and his wife, Debbie, would travel, but nothing “grandiose things” just staying active and getting out as well as helping out in the community.
There had been rumors the Murphy’s were leaving Hancock now that he’s retired, but Murphy said they are not leaving town.
He’s not a native to Hancock, but after 46 years of working and living in the town, he’s put down roots.
He said Hancock has been a wonderful place with good people to make a living and raise his two children.
“Don’t want to run away from it and not remember all the good things that happened here,” he said.
Murphy served on Hancock town council for four years and served 20 as mayor and balanced it with his veterinary practice.
He credits the people under him on both ends — in the veterinary office and at the town — helping him.
Murphy’s practice and Town Hall are only three blocks apart, which made the juggle easier.
“I have been called out of town meetings for emergencies of animals,” he said. “Rarely was I ever called away from the animals because of town business.”
There are a lot of memories from his practice over the last 46 years.
So many good memories have been called back this past month since he announced his retirement, Murphy said.
There have been people tease Murphy that he can’t retire because they weren’t consulted, but most have been poignant farewells in the parking lot.
There have also been people letting him know they brought their pets to him when they were kids.
Both of Murphy’s kids traveled with him when he would do farm calls for livestock. Murphy said they’d sit on hay bales and talk to the farmer while he did his veterinary work.
The farmers were “wonderful to work for” because they appreciated what he did for them because it was their livelihood, Murphy said.
He said life and death was a way of living on the farm and the farmers knew if an animal couldn’t make it or was down and needed to be sent to market.
He also noted when it came to the pets and the emotional ties people had to them, he had to find the right kind of compassion to tell them their pet might not make it home.
“The relationships over time of my clientele were what I remember the most,” he said.
There were incidents where a dog had an accident with a severed limb and after Murphy performed surgery on it, two years later you couldn’t tell anything had happened; dogs that were deathly ill in the hospital with a virus and kept on fluids – the ones he saved but then the pile of names he couldn’t save.
“The ones we didn’t save are the ones that hurt,” Murphy said, “and having to tell people that.”
Every week, Murphy said, he was seeing new puppies and kittens. And every week, he was euthanizing old dogs and cats or saying goodbye to a favorite horse on a farm.
As he closes this chapter of his life, Murphy said he has been thankful and appreciative the community has been to him over the 46 years.
“A huge thank you for allowing me to be a partner in the care of their pets’ health and for them to trust me to be that person,” Murphy said.
He hopes those folks find a veterinarian and a new practice.
“We’ve had a wonderful run and I’m happy for the years that I served,” he added.
Murphy said he’s been able to lead the life laid out in the James Herriot books All Creatures Great and Small, which covers the life of a veterinarian and romanticized the profession.
“I’ve been blessed. Truly blessed,” he said.