Clearwater vet looks forward to newfound freedom after retirement

Darren Ludbrook had been the small town’s go-to vet for 10 years.

Darren Ludbrook, famous for his role in the one-vet town of Clearwater, is officially retired after helping countless animals and their owners for more than 20 years. Though he is excited to start the next chapter of his life, he will fondly remember his career as a veterinarian, through thick and thin, the good and the bad.

Ludbrook was born and raised in Edmonton, Alta., and attended university in the city for three years before moving to Saskatoon, Sask. There, he attended veterinary school for four years and graduated in 1993.

Before he was able to fully lean into his career as a vet, Ludbrook did various odd jobs to earn money and gain experience. Many of these jobs involved working with animals.

“I’ve always been a vet,” he said.

His career was influenced by stories that his grandma gave to him, such as James Herriot’s book All Creatures Great and Small, which details the experiences of a veterinarian as he embarks on house calls and travels around the countryside, helping a wide variety of animals.

“It seemed like a pretty neat thing to do,” said Ludbrook. “The book’s obviously kind of romanticised things, but in those books it was not unlike a little bit of what I (did) here.”

During his time as a vet, he also helped a wide selection of animals, from household pets like cats and dogs, to livestock such as cows and horses. He’s also seen his fair share of very unique patients, including ferrets, elk and white-tailed deer.

Working in the profession for over 20 years, he still marvels at the act of bringing life into the world.

“I think the miracle of birth is still the most fulfilling thing,” he said, recalling he would perform c-sections on cows, deliver the calf and watch it stand up and walk around 15 minutes later. “It’s pretty amazing.”

One experience in particular makes him laugh even years later. When Ludbrook was in New Zealand some time ago, he was doing a c-section on a cow that had calved in a muddy pasture.

“I was helping out an associate vet in the practice and the cow was covered in mud,” he recalled. “We were covered in mud.”

They got the calf out, he added, but they thought for sure the cow wouldn’t make it, considering the conditions. But what came next, they didn’t expect.

“The farmer had watched the whole procedure,” said Ludbrook. “Then after it was all done he basically, just oblivious to everything that had been going on, said, ‘When do you think I can milk her?’”

The cow survived, but some tasks don’t end so well. Ludbrook remarks that veterinarians tend to adopt a “twisted sense of humor” to deal with the difficult parts of the occupation.

“The hardest part of the job is the death part of it,” he said. “If the best part is watching life be brought forth, the hardest part is taking animals out of the world and having to deal with things that you can’t fix or situations where you end up having to put an animal down…and dealing with the people that are dealing with their grief and stuff too. It’s a hard thing.”

Nevertheless, Ludbrook pushed through. The fact he got to help animals and people alike kept him going, and successes were a rewarding experience that helped with the frustrating parts.

“At the end of the day it’s you win some, you lose some,” he said.

This outlook stayed with him from beginning to end, from the job in Alberta to his retirement here in Clearwater.

The decision to come to Clearwater was an important one for Ludbrook, as it would allow him and his family to escape Alberta’s economy and move closer to relatives. The choice to move, however, was fairly random.

“We didn’t know much about the place,” he said. “We kind of drew a circle on a map and we figured that the park looked appealing and it was in close proximity to some places where we had family and friends.”

That decision has stuck for ten years, and he’s stood strong through it all, but, inevitably, things must change. For Ludbrook, it meant retirement and with that, new freedom. He noted he hasn’t had much free time over the years and sometimes worried he hasn’t spent enough time with family.

“It’ll be nice to be able to have that time to just enjoy life and do some things closer to home,” he said, adding that he plans to take full advantage of his newfound freedom. “I will enjoy it immensely.”

He acknowledges the profession is a good one, allowing for many different opportunities and a lot of choice. He advises up-and-coming veterinarians to keep an open view and try different things.

“There are as many possibilities as there are animals,” he said.

Kelly Ludbrook is a Grade 12 student at Clearwater Secondary School.