Community bids farewell to Dr. Black; welcomes Dr. Simko

A photo of Dr. J. Darrell Black shows the retired veterinarian cuddled up with a cat on a recent trip to Nepal.

In a whirlwind of activity, Dr. J. Darrell Black ended his career in much the same way that he conducted himself through most of it – constantly moving and always finding a way to help animals, in any way possible.

As members of the community gathered on Nov. 11 at the San Andreas Town Hall to celebrate Black’s retirement and Dr. Ramona Simko’s takeover of the practice, stories of admiration and respect were shared about Black’s love of animals and his incredible ability to connect with them.

Black spoke with attendees around a table decorated with mementos from his career: business cards, an appointment book, certificates, stuffed animals, name tags and pictures. On the far right side of the table, newer pictures adorned the tabletop with pictures from Black’s most recent adventure in Nepal. He hiked Mount Everest with a group of nine friends before volunteering at the KAT (Kathmandu Animal Treatment) Center. While there, he performed surgeries that the one doctor on staff was unable to perform.

As he spoke with and hugged attendees, Black spread copies of a new paper in the most prominent position on the table that read “K.A.T., Kathmandu, Nepal. The facility is in dire need of funds. DONATIONS ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED / katcenter.org.” In large handwritten print at the bottom of the page was Black’s plea of, “PLEASE HELP.”

Chris Swann, one of Black’s friends who traveled with him, shared stories of dogs following them from city to city, and Black sleeping with stray cats curled around him at night.

“Every place we went, I’d turn around and there would be four or five dogs or cats or whatever, all immersed with him – he’s kind of giving them a little bit of his cookie or whatever he was eating at the moment, every day, from the time we got there, until the day we split up three weeks later,” Swann said. “Not in a pesky way, but in a ‘OK, we’re part of the pack’ kind-of-way. They would run ahead and wait for us.”

Swann recounted as they traveled how Black would diagnose dogs on the street and identify what could help them – all treatable ailments.

The other person of honor at the ceremony was Simko, who has purchased and taken over Black’s practice.

Joe Hruban and Debbie Baker traveled from Davis for the reception. They shared that they first met Simko through an ad in the local newspaper for a mobile vet practice. They responded to her ad and she vaccinated their dogs for years, in their living room.

“We were disappointed when we found out she was moving,” Hruban said. Hruban is also a real estate broker and specializes in veterinary practices, and was familiar with Black as well.

“It’s a lovely community. We’re having a lot of fun and we have an awesome staff. Its good work; we really enjoy it,” Simko said about the takeover of the practice and experience in San Andreas so far.

Simko confirmed that she intends to bring another veterinarian on staff, but it’s going to take a year. In addition, she plans on updating equipment in the office.

“There’s a certain standard of care that’s hard to achieve in rural practice, that we have to update some technology, in particular, in order to get young grads to want to work there. We’re kind of working towards that goal of being able to attract young scientists to come work. We can also get someone who is semi-retired, who wants to do surgeries for us. That would be awesome.” Simko said.

Black addressed the audience after speeches given by attendees.

“This is going to be really short. First, I want to thank any veterans in the audience for your service. The reason this is going to be short, is that if I start talking, I’m going to cry,” Black said. “Thank you, it’s been an honor. I’ll have to say that I’ve been here a long time, and things have definitely changed, and they’ve changed for the better. But, I truly love what I do. If I had my druthers, I would do it for nothing, because I love it.”

“Dr. Black is an institution,” said Marti Crane, board member and executive director of the Volunteer Center of Calaveras County as she summed up the veterinarian’s lifelong contribution to the community.

Those interested in donating to the KAT Center can visit katcenter.org.

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