How very nice it must be to have a job that doesn’t involve people so much as animals, whose woofs and mews boomerang through the old veterinary clinic on Gallatin Avenue, just down the way from Home Depot.
“But we are working with people,” says Dr. Summer Mobley, who was raised in Mobley Veterinary Clinic, opened by his father in 1950. On the way back to Mobley’s disheveled office we pass several exam rooms. In one a small beagle lies on his side on a stainless steel table, anesthetized and opened up for an operation, tongue lolling. “The animals are very important, but the people bring them here. The animals don’t volunteer to come in here to get their anal glands expressed. So we are dealing with people and animals. The animals are the easy part sometimes . . .
“We have people that come in, and it’s a Saturday morning, and you have the husband, the wife and the two kids, and they’re puffy-eyed and red-eyed, and you know they’ve been up all Friday night talking about, ‘It’s time for the 13-year-old Labrador to go to bed for the last time.’ But they can’t say those words, ‘Put them to sleep,’ because people associate that with a lot of guilt. You’re laden with guilt when you do that, but when you’ve been in this field, it’s not a guilty thing, it’s just, ‘Hey, this old dog’s ready to go. He’s ready to check on out of here. He’s not happy.’ People come in and say, ‘Doc, what’s wrong with him?’ Sometimes you have to be blunt and say, ‘Do I have to say it for you? Let’s put him to sleep.’ So it’s a
Summer Mobley was born in 1951. His father, Dr. Ralph Mobley, opened the doors to Mobley Veterinary Clinic the year before, and Summer passed his childhood pedaling his trike around the clinic, where his father cared for the animals and his mother worked as receptionist. As a teenager, Summer worked at the clinic before and after school and on weekends. He was never given a choice, he says, about which major to pursue in college, graduating from UT Knoxville in 1974 with a BS in Agriculture and from Auburn University in 1978 with a degree in Veterinary Medicine. In ’78 he came to practice at his father’s clinic, and he has been here since.
“It’s a good place,” says Mobley, in a deep, warm voice, fantastically Southern, genteel. He wears his gray hair long, tucked behind his ears. A baby pink button-up shirt and tie are cloaked in an exam coat the color of dishwater. “This is home . . . there are four doctors here, and we’ve all been together for 30 years at least. So, we’re four chums. We’re all over 60, and we’ve just been together so long that I’m sure the group will bust up because one of us is going to croak before long. But until then we’re just four old men hanging out.”
This comradeship is what Mobley likes best about his job, though he also seems to find purpose in helping people make tough decisions — the ones that he feels are best for his patients. That’s why it’s important for him not to mince words.
“No one wants to put a healthy dog to sleep,” says Mobley. “But we have healthy dogs that attack other dogs repeatedly. We have to put those dogs down; they’re a menace to society. People don’t realize that there are places for human beings with behavioral issues — called prison. Jail. There’s no place for dogs with behavioral issues. We see some behavioral issues, and they’re not going to be correctable in some cases, just like some people have behavioral issues that aren’t going to be correctable — and then it’s, ‘I’m sorry: you’re going to jail, buddy.’ It’s time, but nobody wants to say those words, even know they know it’s time.”
Having lost his own mother and father to diseases that robbed them of every last crumb of their dignity, Mobley feels even more convinced that aging pets deserve a peaceful passing before it’s too late.
“We never, ever put our pets to sleep when they need to be put to sleep,” says Mobley. “We always wait too long. And you still don’t want to do it, but sometimes you’ve got to have someone say, ‘Hey, let’s stop the suffering.’ I’ve lost both of my parents — my mother to Alzheimer’s and my father to dementia and strokes — so euthanasia to me is not such a terrible thing.”
At home, Mobley and his wife Mary, parents to three daughters, have an Australian Shepherd, a Border Collie, and two cats. The Border Collie sleeps on the floor next to Dr. Mobley, and the Australian Shepherd on the floor next to his wife. Every morning for the past 36 years Mobley has gotten up, dressed, and driven to his father’s clinic, now his own. He’s never thought of moving it, and he’s never thought of doing anything else.
“We put anywhere from 40 to 50 hours a week in, and we’ve been doing it all together for so long,” says Mobley. “Not only the doctors, but my office manager has been here for 25 years. I’ve got receptionists who have been here 10 and 14 years. This is long-term relationships here. We argue, we fuss, we fight, just like anyone. You get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping the animals and out of people being happy that their animal is well, but when I get right down to it it’s the camaraderie around here [that makes me happiest]. We’ve been through cancers, liver disease, broken limbs, we’ve all been through it together, pulled together. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”