“Read this interesting story about a women who used to be a rodeo fan & actually ride bulls, but who know has seen the light & fights against the industry…as well as blowing the whistle on other industry short falls. I would like to shake this lady’s hand & probably give her a cuddle for the countless animals she has saved at low cost; since realizing animals hurt too etc.!”
Veterinarian Peggy Larson gets along better with animals than with most humans. “The spaying and neutering is pretty easy,” she says, cleaning up after a surgery in her Colchester-based Cat Spay/Neuter Clinic. “What’s hard is dealing with people.”
It’s not surprising that Larson takes a sometimes-dim view of her fellow humans: She’s spent decades fighting instances of animal abuse ranging from livestock mishandling to rodeo exploitation to outright neglect and cruelty. But this feisty and outspoken woman wasn’t always an animal crusader. She grew up a self-described tomboy on a North Dakotaranch, and at 16 decided on a whim to take up bareback bronco riding — a rodeo sport dominated by men. “I was crazy when I was young,” Larson says with a laugh.
“You really have a different mind-set when you grow up on a ranch,” she continues. Animals were “income-producing objects,” a commodity, and so she didn’t worry much about the spurs she dug into a bronco’s back, or the calves who were shocked repeatedly before a roping event — until she enrolled in veterinary school and found herself gobsmacked by just how much animals and humans have in common.
“It was a real revolution,” she says.
Now Larson is 77, though she looks a good decade younger. At 5-foot-4, she’s spry and petite. Today she’s wearing scrubs and comfortable Crocs sandals, and she perches atop a small step stool next to her operating table. Larson keeps up a steady stream of chatter from behind her surgical mask while she deftly preps a long-haired gray cat for surgery. Already asleep with the aid of an anesthetic, the cat is splayed belly up on the operating table.
Not that Larson is especially worried about popularity contests: She’s not afraid to ruffle feathers, particularly in her work as an advocate for animals. She rails against theAmerican Veterinary Medical Association, which she dubs a “backward institution” and accuses of worrying more about making money than animal welfare. “The AVMA is pro-rodeo, they’re pro hogs in gestation crates, they’re pro hens in batteries,” Larson says, disgusted.
While working as a USDA inspector of animal welfare and livestock disease programs in the late ’70s and early ’80s, she blew the whistle on embezzlement within the program. Larson later took a no-nonsense approach to overhauling meat inspection in Vermont during her stint as state veterinarian. The onetime bronco rider now campaigns to eliminate the sport. “There’s nothing more cowardly to me than a calf roper,” she says fiercely.
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