From antelopes to zebras, vet gives the OK before they can cross the border

WELLESLEY ISLAND — Dr. Jeffrey J. Huse, 59, inspects all creatures, great and small, as a veterinarian at the Alexandria Bay Port of Entry.

“You wouldn’t believe the stuff he has to check here,” said Shawn P. Lewis, a Canadian trucker waiting for Dr. Huse to approve the load of cattle he was taking south on Thursday morning.

Dr. Huse works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspecting animals coming over the border from Canada and assists Canadian officials, including veterinary inspector Dr. James L. Byrne, when animals go from the U.S. to Canada.

“Yep, we got a fancy stamp,” he said.

On Thursday, he inspected loads of dairy cattle and slaughter cattle and a passel of racing pigeons headed north to Brighton, Ontario, for 300- and 380-mile races. Pigs, zebras, wildebeest, antelopes, show horses and day-old chicks also come through the port of entry, with varying degrees of frequency.

Dale W. Zehr, 54, Carthage, said he brings specially trained racing pigeons across the border at least once a week during the spring. The pigeons are capable of navigating their way back to their homes over great distances and are tracked using GPS devices.

An outbreak of bird flu in southwestern Ontario has border officials on their toes. Several farms have been quarantined and 44,000 birds died or were destroyed at a commercial turkey operation near Woodstock, Ontario, according to the Toronto Sun.

“That’s basically why we’re here,” Dr. Huse said. “Any time there’s a disease outbreak, it affects international trade.”

Fortunately for Mr. Zehr, pigeons don’t get the virus, according to Dr. Huse.

Dr. Huse graduated from Cornell University, Ithaca, in 1980 with a degree in veterinary medicine.

He began working for New York state in 1984 and retired in December. He lives in Albany and works on call at the port of entry while the USDA looks to hire a veterinarian for the position.

He has a mustache and a low-key demeanor, moving through his tasks with a combination of bureaucratic casualness and medical efficiency.

Running shoes on his feet, he quickly pushed a blue ladder around the parking lot of the port of entry, swiftly climbing it to inspect a load of cattle headed for a Pennsylvania slaughterhouse.

He checks to see that the cattle, which most likely will end up as beef for the fast-food industry, are healthy and ambulatory, at least for the moment.

“Our sole purpose for being here is to ensure the animals being imported are healthy and will not bring disease into the U.S.,” Dr. Huse said.

When Dr. Huse was in school, a television series called “All Creatures Great and Small” was popular. The series, inspired by British veterinarian Alf Wight, writing as James Herriot, inspired many people during that time to become interested in veterinary medicine, according to Dr. Huse.

It was an inclination toward the sciences and his experience growing up on his parents’ beef farm that led Dr. Huse to his career, one he said he has enjoyed.

He started out as a biology major, which included a requirement to take a foreign language, before switching to animal science.

“I’m not too good at foreign languages,” Dr. Huse said.

On Thursday, two cows from a shipment of dairy cattle headed into Canada did not have the right paperwork.

The U.S. farmer who owned the cattle had to retrieve them from the USDA’s barn.

The French-Canadian truck driver transporting the cattle was trying to negotiate the arrangement but spoke very little English, causing a small problem for Dr. Huse.

“We have some language difficulty sometimes,” he said.