Doc Joe passes torch

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  Decades of dogs.


Hundreds of horses.


Herds of cats.


Chickens, lizards, goats, cows, sheep, pet rats, deer, birds.

Doc Joe Evans has treated them all for the past 35 years as well as comforting, educating and supporting the animals’ owners in some of their most joyous moments and some of their saddest hours.


The Nederland Veterinary Hospital has been an anchor in a community that is known to have a dog in every Subaru. It has been a rewarding life, says Doc Joe, but after his last shoulder surgery, his back surgery and other health issues, he says it is time to step down, to turn the practice over to the next generation.


It is time for Doc Joe to become Joe, the guy in the suspenders and the cowboy hat, the guy riding his horse instead of fixing a horse, the guy who can sit a spell and relax in the peaceful splendor of his back yard: the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, his childhood playground.


Most people in the mountain area know Doc Joe as the local veterinarian. Generations of families have gone to him to treat their pets, their livestock. They have entrusted their beloved animals into his care, most of them not knowing where he came from, how he came to be a veterinarian, what he did as a young man that led him to own and operate one of the longest lasting businesses in town.


Adopted by Lee and Par Evans, Joe grew up in Denver where Lee was a professor at DU and owned hundreds of acres west of Nederland, in Eldora and along the road to Eldora, the property now known as the Arapaho Ranch. From 1920 to 1940, Joe’s uncle Joe opened a livery stable and a general store in Eldora.


Although he attended schools in Denver, Doc Joe’s heart was at the ranch. As a young teenager he would spend the summers at the ranch, catching, grooming, saddling the horses, taking out rides, even shoeing the horses. On weekends during the winter, he would stay at the ranch, riding into the high country above timberline, discovering lakes and old railroad beds.


While attending East High School, Joe thought he might want to become a psychiatrist, to understand the human mind.


“I started out taking classes at med school in Fort Logan and became immediately depressed. I was in the oncology department, living in the back of the veterinary hospital, trading the night watch for a place to stay. I was disenchanted with human medicine, and began to ask myself, ‘Where do I live?’ ‘What have I been doing all my life?’ and ‘How can I incorporate these facets of my life?’


“It was in front of me all the time.”

With the support of a friend who put in a good word for him, Joe was able to transfer credits to the State Veterinary School. He had graduated from high school when he was 17 and he was now 19 and on his way to doing what he expected he wanted out of life. He never thought of doing anything else.


In his senior year of vet school, during a urology discussion, Joe heard of an employment opportunity to practice in New Zealand, where there was a shortage of veterinarians. For a four-year commitment, he would get free transportation there and back. It was June of 1974.


“I had been specializing in small animals and when I arrived I discovered I would be working with one of the largest dairy practices in the Southern Hemisphere if not the world. The company produced milk powder and all kinds of milk products.”


At least 95 percent of Joe’s work involved calving and the other five percent was working with high dollar horses. During his stay, he taught small animal, dog and cat, surgery to veterinary students.


Working with the cattle, Joe found himself becoming an expert in treating milk fever, bloat, sewing up wounds, hoof rot. He loved every second of the experience. During this time, he became a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgery in New Zealand, a distinction he is proud of to this day.


In 1979, Joe heard from a veterinary school classmate who had opened a practice in Nederland, in a building at the intersection of the road to Eldora and Hwy. 119, running through town. The building had been used to build solar heat equipment and two veterinarians purchased it to start a practice.


At this time, Nederland was going through a transitional stage. After a decade of miner old-timer/hippie/transient culture clashes, a new trend was developing: young families and tech employees were finding Nederland to be a perfect place to live and commute to their jobs in Boulder. The schools were filling up, small businesses moving in, a grocery store, shopping center, bank, hardware store, the amenities of a burgeoning community. Even a newspaper.


This new population moved in and with them came their pets, their backyard horses. It turned out that the new veterinarian had actually been a pig vet and when Joe contacted him, asking him if they might need another veterinarian, the man asked Joe if he wanted to buy the practice.


The answer was yes.

Joe left New Zealand and came back to his childhood neighborhood. He found a 600-square foot building. The owner was proud to announce that the whole building had been constructed in two days.


It was an opportunity but it was a lot of work, says Joe.


“I was given a box of 3″ by 5″ cards which were all of the clients,” says Joe. The building had one room with the x-ray equipment, the exam table and the surgery space packed in together. The business was in its beginning stage. Joe remembers his first clients were the Wilsons, from Sugarloaf, where he went to treat their horse. Driving from house to house, barn to barn, took up much of his time at first.


Nederland was moving up in the world, but it was still mostly a poor population. People had their four-legged best friends but they often did not have the money to pay for health and injury issues.


“The word got out that I would trade for treatment. Eggs, meat, ski lift tickets and I got popular pretty quick,” says Joe. Nederland, at the time, had a population of about 900, pretty small but enough to keep the business going.


Vet calls included mostly trauma medicine: dogs hit by cars, dogs hit by gunshot, dogs with a face full of porcupine quills that had to be cut and pulled out. Porcupines have not been an issue for a couple decades now, says Joe. Much of his present business involves health maintenance, especially for the older canine population afflicted by arthritis and joint pain.
Preventative care thrived and Joe says his business doubled yearly. The horse community boomed. Joe accepted a Toyota in trade for leg surgery when a vet down below told a man he couldn’t treat the dog unless the man had money to pay for it. The 1979 Toyota was a step up from the 1964 Scout.


The Nederland Veterinary Hospital took on the motto: “We don’t turn anyone away because of money.”

One day Joe came to the office and found a young woman with an emaciated puppy at the doorstep. She had no money but he treated the dog and she went on her way. About two years later, he received a check for $300 from the woman, thanking him for helping out when times were tough.


Joe rarely paid for a meal. He traded with the business owners in town. Repair work for rabies shots. Oil change for stitches.


In the 80s, it was time to expand, to add more space.


“Maybe I did that too rapidly. I found I needed to bring in more income so I had to supplement the services and opened No Frills Fitness.


No Frills offered Tai Kwan Do classes and aerobics and was a successful venture for years. But then the animal cages and the x-ray machines encroached on the gym space and more space was needed.


The animal hospital employed three people and utilized the CU mentor program, in which students would put three month rotations. Horse veterinarian Andy Lott joined the staff.


In the 90s Joe struggled with addiction problems and as he came out the other side, he initiated the first AA program in Nederland, which is still going strong.


Every few years, Joe would hire another veterinarian to take on some of the load. He also began his venture into becoming a commercial pilot and has been teaching and volunteering mercy flights, helping people who need to get somewhere but can’t afford the ticket.


Joe says he started to grow up in 2005 and his moving parts began to wear out. The animal hospital had evolved from a trauma center to a maintenance and wellness center and most of his clientele could afford to pay for the treatments.


Over the years, he has hired up to 40 vet techs, some of whom have gone on to veterinary school or have become pilots.


One of his first techs was Barbara Hardt, owner of the Mountain-Ear, who had moved here from California when she was 13 years old.


“She had a horse named Hollywood who had a face injury and while I was working she asked if she could help. She wasn’t afraid of anything so she ended up working for me for 10 years.”


After Joe’s shoulder replacement, he began to consider slowing down. He went from 10 surgeries a day to two, and began considering retirement. He says he is proud of the fact that he now has clients that are in the fourth generation since he began. He is treating their great grandchildren’s animals.


Over the years, Joe says that he has always been accountable to his clients. You have to be when you see them in the grocery store, at the post office or in a restaurant. Buying a loaf of bread always took at least 45 minutes.


“It is time for me to go and socialize,” says Joe. “It will be interesting to move into a population that doesn’t really know me. Now I can be Joe instead of Doc Joe. Now I won’t be discussing animals at a party.”


The Nederland Veterinary Hospital continues to thrive and grow as it enters a phase of high technology and the latest equipment, much of it having to do with in-house diagnostics. Joe says he is happy to step aside right now, knowing he is leaving a top-notch practice with a top-notch staff.

A while back he traded a neutering surgery for a house boat on Lake Powell and thinks he’ll probably visit there for a while. He’s going to ride his horse into the high country as often as he can and hang out with his five mastiffs who keep him company and take up lots of room.


On Halloween, Oct. 31, Roy’s Last Shot is hosting a retirement party for Joe, a gift for all his years of service. There will be a buffet from 4-10 p.m. People are encouraged to wear costumes, bring the kids and wish Joe well in the next phase of his life.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.