Drew Justice

Large animal practice brings Justice to wild, new frontier

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His name sounds like the title of a 1950s TV series: "Dr. Drew Justice."

Add his profession, and you've got the title of a 1980s TV series: "Dr. Drew Justice, Frontier Vet."

And in either of those shows, the lead character could be played by Dr. Drew Justice himself, with his lanky 6-foot, 7-inch frame, chiseled good looks, ever present boy-next-door grin, and slight Southwestern drawl.

But the real Dr. Drew Justice wouldn't be interested. All he cares about are animals and the brand-new large- and exotic-animal veterinary practice he'll be starting in the Payson area come Aug. 1.

Actually, Justice is taking over one half the larger-animal half of Dr. Alan Hallman's long-established Star Valley practice.

"Dr. Hallman and I will be working totally separately," Justice says, "I will be strictly mobile, working out of my truck."

Justice's client base, he predicts, will be "Llamas, horses mostly, and some cattle work, even though there's not much cattle around anymore. But I also do all sorts of zoo- and exotic-animal work like bears and elk for the game and fish department, and perhaps I'll help out the new owners of the Payson Zoo when it reopens in about six months."

Justice would be qualified. He has treated just about every critter from baboons to bobcats in the roles of "dentist, anesthetist, surgeon, whatever they need me to be."

Although Justice is willing to work on animals of all stripes and temperaments, the good doctor does have his preferences.

"I'd rather work on the meanest stallion in the world than a wildcat," he says. "They'll tear you apart ... And I don't like to work on ostriches, unless there are excellent facilities. They tend to kick forward, and they have those big toenails that can eviscerate you. You don't want to be eviscerated.

"I'm not really scared by such animals, but I am intimidated by them. Some animals require certain types of facilities or cages or immobilization. Even a housecat, outside of the right situation, can be intimidating."

Born 31 years ago in Hobbs, N.M. ("the flattest place in the world"), Justice remained on his parents' cattle ranch until he was old enough to attend Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Four years later, he spent another four years at Colorado State University and then moved directly to Payson in 1996.

Growing up, he says, "We had a vet who was always doing something for us. I really looked up to him; he was sort of a jack-of-all-trades kind of veterinarian. But I thought, 'Oh, there's no way I'll be able to make it to vet school. You gotta be like a genius to do that!"

Hence, Justice entered college taking general business courses which continued until the day he muttered to himself, "'There's gotta be a better way than this!'"

As it turned out, getting into vet school wasn't as difficult as Justice had anticipated. Upon correctly answering a single question "Do you know what color a Hereford cow is?" (answer: red and white) "they put me on the fast track, and within two years I was in vet school," Justice recalls.

His first post-graduation job was performing relief work for a mobile veterinarian in Colorado. Four months into that gig, Justice received a telephone call from Patty Blackmore, who then worked for the Star Valley Veterinary Clinic.

"Patty said, 'Hey, you need a job?'

"I said, 'Well, I'm not looking real hard.'

"She said, 'How would you like to come to Arizona?'

"And I said, 'I don't want to move to the desert!' ... But they sent me an airplane ticket, anyway.

"When I landed in Phoenix," Justice continues, "it was about 115 degrees, and I thought, 'There's no way I'm moving here!'

"But then I drove up the hill and had just about reached the Mazatzal Casino when I said, 'Whoa! This place is amazing!'

"After one day here, I decided to make the move."

Today, Justice can think of no better place to practice his unique form of animal medicine which he loves simply because it is so unique.

"My job is different every day," he says. "There's no routine when you're dealing with animals. You can give the same horse the same drugs three times in a row, and for whatever reason, the fourth time he might react differently.

"I always have to be thinking. I always have to be on my toes. That's the most exciting part for me."

Precisely the always-ready-for-adventure attitude one would expect from Dr. Drew Justice, Frontier Vet.

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