A look back at Lacombe’s lions and veterinarians

In 1970 the federal government issued a permit for importation of a nucleus breeding herd of pigs from England


In 1970 the federal government issued a permit for importation of a nucleus breeding herd of pigs from England, a herd numbering some 400 head of immature boars and gilts. After weeks of rigorous health tests the herd was declared disease free and boarded a jumbo jet for Calgary. There it was met by a fleet of thoroughly sanitized trucks and transported to their final destination where new facilities specially constructed by the importer awaited. Here they remained in quarantine for 12 months under continuous observation by a veterinarian jointly approved by the British and the Canadian animal health authorities. That period passed without incident and the veterinarian was reassigned to the Lacombe Experimental farm to address a particularly virulent outbreak of calf-hood scours. His name was Dr. John Bradley (DVM).

Bradley soon became part of the community. He very quickly resolved the problem of calf-hood scours, not by clever medications but by devising a herd management program that curbed the spread of this highly infectious disease. He was also on hand to diagnose and eliminate a disease virtually unknown in this area – swine erysipelas introduced via an importation of Minnesota #1 pigs from the University of Minnesota. And he took charge of the health program for the Research Station’s entire livestock population. Nor was his expertise confined to farm animals. When our son brought home a falcon with a broken wing, a casualty of the telephone lines that once were featured on every rural road and highway, Bradley x-rayed the wing, fashioned splints and monitored the healing process. When his wife joined him with her pet kitten he purchased a residence one block directly east of the James S. McCormick Junior High School.

Now that kitten was no ordinary feline. Friends of the Bradleys had acquired a pair of infant lion cubs which they were permitted to keep provided they engaged a licensed veterinarian to provide oversight of health and nutrition. Bradley agreed to be that veterinarian. The novelty soon wore thin for the friends but by that time Bradley’s wife had been captivated. She persuaded him to let her adopt her favourite of the cubs. And it grew, as the young have a habit of doing. Passers-by were soon being treated to the vision of a maned lion surveying them from the picture window of the Bradley residence. A chicken wire fence was erected but town folk thought that insufficient to deter a hungry lion from sampling the young and tender scholars as they romped by at recess time. Not that this pampered lion ever knew what hunger was. It had never hesitated to help itself from the breakfast nook or the dining room table and now, as Bradley ruefully remarked one day, its owners had been forced to defer to it and eat their meals in the bedroom with the door shut.

Our recollections of that lion remain particularly vivid thanks to a picture of our daughter Nancy sitting in an armchair with the lion curled up on her lap. She was about six-years-old at the time and not about to go anywhere for the lion weighed as much as she did.

Eventually the community put its foot down. The lion had to go. If its owner wouldn’t part with it she could go too. And so they departed, first to a properly enclosed rural property near Eckville and then to Hollywood where the lion and its handler became a novelty act on the silver screen. Bradley also left Lacombe, having been reassigned to the newly developed Animal Diseases Research Institute at Lethbridge. Here he became involved with research on prion diseases of livestock, the class of diseases that gained worldwide notoriety with BSE, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

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