Long-time veterinarian hangs his hat

Photo submitted by Chris Hunter
Dr. Lange and Chris Hunter, his vet tech, work on Gretta, an injured golden eagle. Dr. Lange has been practicing veterinary care for 53 years.

By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun

Kern Valley pet owners are no different from pet owners elsewhere. They want good quality medical care for their furry friends from a veterinarian they trust.

And, that is what Detlev Lange has been providing residents and animals for the past 53 years. But at the end of this year, the 79-year-old veterinarian will close the doors to his Kern Valley Veterinary Clinic.
Doc Lange is retiring.

Lange said he put a lot of thought into his decision, citing personal health issues and family situations as the reason. Still, it has been a difficult decision.

“I’ve had a lot of adventures,” Lange said.

Born in Austria. Lange came to America in 1950, a trip he remembers to this day. “We went through New York harbor, and Lady Liberty was standing there, waving her hand. I still remember it.”

It was while attending UC Davis that he met his future wife, Ann Charlton. Because Ann was from the Kern Valley, the couple decided to move to the valley in 1967, one year after he graduated.

Because there was no veterinarian in the valley at that time, Lange decided to set one up.

“We had $25 in our checking account and I had an otoscope and alligator forceps,” he said. “At first, I worked out of my pick-up truck and I pulled a lot of fox tails out of dogs.”

Lange eventually set up a trailer in South Lake, but his practice was quickly expanding. In 1975, after securing a bank loan, he built his state-of-the-art facility, where he has been caring for large and small animals for the past five decades, performing routine exams and complicated surgeries on a countless number of dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and even wild animals.

As the only veterinarian in the Kern Valley, Lange’s practice often took him outside of the area, to Ridgecrest, Caliente, and California City to treat his four-legged clients. Lange said he and Ann traveled to Ridgecrest twice a year to deworm and vaccinate horses, treating up to 70 horses in one day.
Lange’s office hours weren’t typical, just long. His office was open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and half day on Saturday. Even when his office was closed, he was available when needed 24-hours a day and seven days a week.

Chris Hunter went to work for Dr. Lange in 1976 and worked as his vet tech until 2016. She said that she didn’t actually apply for the job, she brought an injured cat into his veterinary clinic for care, and she left with a job offer.

“Dr. Lange is an incredible veterinarian,” Hunter said. “He has devoted his entire life to saving animals of all kinds and sizes. For many years, Dr. Lange was always available and he took care of emergencies daytime, week night, anytime he was needed, even on holidays along with his wife Ann and myself when needed. His retirement is long overdue. He is one of the last old-time veterinarians that has the knowledge of the old and has kept up with the new world of veterinary medicine.”

Hunter recalls that during the spring and summer months, the office was busy handling rattlesnake bites; and in the fall, shortly after the time change, there was an increase in the number of cases where animals were hit by a car.

Along with a steadily increasing clientele, local law enforcement brought in injured animals.

“One of the DFG (Dept. of Fish and Game) officers brought in a fawn that got caught in a fence,” Lange said, adding that the deer’s legs had deep lacerations which required daily bandage changes. “We took him home to treat him. Once healed, we took him out to the Smith Ranch and released him.”

Lange admits that one of his first cases as a new veterinarian had him wondering if he chose the right field.

“I got a call about a horse that got into a fight with another horse and the horse ran into a pipe that went in at his chest and came out his flank.” Lange said he remembers thinking, ‘I didn’t train for this’.”

But Lange utilized his ‘horse-sense’ and was able to treat the injured horse.

“Back then, we weren’t able to refer people and their animals to a specialist, so we had to make the best of what we had and be creative.” he said.

In his 53 years in practice, Lange said he has witnessed many advancements in veterinary care.

“When I was in school, the EKG machine was sitting in a box in the closet. Now, it’s almost illegal if you don’t have an EKG in your office. So much has changed for the better in animal care, with pharmaceuticals and specialists. We now have excellent diagnostic equipment, MRI’s and CT scans. It’s wonderful.”

As a small-town vet, Lange had to be prepared for anything that came his way. One such case was Gretta, the Golden Eagle.

“She was brought in with a gunshot to her wing,” Lange recalled. “It was a bad injury. Her wing joint was blown out, there was nothing salvageable, so we had to amputate her wing.” Because the large bird would never be able to return to the wild, she was taken to CALM in Bakersfield and was one of the first raptors to be displayed at the living museum.

Lange worked on other types of wildlife, mostly eagles, hawks, and owls, but there were other injured birds brought to him, including Blue Herons.
The long nights at the office were all for the sake and care of the animals. He admits that his main concern has always been for the welfare of the animal. “You may not agree with me, but I’m thinking about what is best for your animal,” he said.

As a vet who worked on numerous animals, Lange admits that he has a few scars from his years in practice. And most of them inflicted by cats.
“I’ve been bit by two dogs and 837 cats,” he said with a grin.
Well, there was this one horse.

“I went to work on a stallion, but he viewed me as a threat. He kicked at me with both hind legs and one foot landed on my chest and the other I heard whiz past my ear,” he said. “He knocked the air out of me, but I’m glad he didn’t connect with my head.”

Looking back, Lange said it has been a wonderful life experience and gratifying career with his patients and clients, something he said he would not have accomplished without the help from his wife, Ann.
“I could not have done it without Ann,” he said. “She was my right-hand person for all those years.”

Over the past few years, Lange has experienced what he calls minor setbacks with personal medical issues. But he kept moving forward.
“Sometimes it has been a little difficult, but as John Wayne said, “You gonna lay there and bleed to death or are you gonna cowboy up?”

Tragically, the Lange’s lost their home to the Erskine Fire. At the time the fire broke out, they were in the high country at Manter Meadow.

“We could see the smoke when it first started,” Lange said. “Two days later our son, John, walked in and told us that our house was gone, along with everything in it. We had all of our horses and dog with us, along with a tent and duffel bag, but we lost everything else.”

Lange said with help and generosity of the Kern Valley, they got through that time of loss and rebuilt their home.

Lange is telling his clients about his pending retirement. He is also aware of the void that he will be leaving when he closes the doors to his veterinarian clinic on Dec. 31. He is trying to find someone to buy his practice, but said he won’t sell to just anyone. The person has to be the right fit for the Kern Valley and for his 2,000-plus client base.

“I started this practice with $25 and it took a lot of hard work and a lot of good people,” Lange said.