Dr. Ross A. Hendry has lots of stories to tell, mostly about other people. The Wauchula veterinarian has 71 years of old-Florida experience under his belt buckle, and a lot of that is captured in two paperbacks he published called "Across the Fence, Stories of a Florida Country Veterinarian," 2006 and 2007 editions.
In the books, Hendry recounts the antics of local cowboys like "Mousy" Mayer, who could "run along the top of the cowpens like a squirrel," and Hendry's Uncle "King Kong," who would come pick him up as a little boy and "light up my life for a day or a day and a half."
He captures the details of life on a ranch, like the meals ranch hands used to be served by the cattle families. At Mabry Carleton's ranch it was biscuits and "tea so sweet it was like syrup." At Ben Hill Griffin's ranch, the plates were piled high with rice with tomato gravy, thick-sliced bacon and black-eyed peas.
The books also are chock full of vet stories — horses that heal from leg injuries against all odds, rattlesnake bites, alligator attacks and hugs from little girls whose 4-H bunnies were saved by drastic measures.
"There's a million stories in here," Hendry said, pointing to his head. "I printed 500 of (the books) and gave them to family and friends," he added. He said he wanted to show what life was like growing up and living a ranching lifestyle. "We were just really blessed. There is not a price you can put on that kind of upbringing."
Hendry was born in Wauchula and his family owned a ranch. But his father's health was not good, and eventually part of the ranch was sold, ending Hendry's boyhood dream of becoming a cowboy.
"I figured the closest thing to being with the cowboys would be to be a vet," said Hendry.
Hendry graduated from Auburn School of Veterinary Medicine in Arcadia in 1967 and has been caring for animals big and small for 45 years. He now focuses on dogs, cats and other small pets, which are much less physically demanding than horses and cows.
Hendry even remembers the day he decided he needed to slow down. He was working on a ranch in Okeechobee with friend, colleague and personal transcriptionist Winnie Duncan. The two were in their 60s doing a pharmaceutical research study when two Charolais bulls jumped a fence and knocked them over.
"We could have been killed," Hendry recalled. "We both sat up and said, 'Maybe it's time for us to quit.' We did right after that."
He also spent 20 years doing dairy consulting for Larson Dairy in Okeechobee. "I mostly diagnosed and taught people how to solve problems," said Hendry.
Now this gregarious veterinarian has a full schedule with his practice, Pet Care Center, in Wauchula, which he founded in 2000. He works five days a week at the clinic and also runs a low-cost mobile vaccination clinic across Florida.
Even at 71, Hendry smiled when he said he doesn't have an exit strategy.
As he wrote in the epilogue of his second book, "I am not as sure-footed and agile was I used to be," but "life just doesn't get any better than this."