Note: This is part four in a series regarding past and present details about the Sacramento Zoo.
On a daily basis, visitors of the zoo pass by a large sign, which reads: Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital. But not everyone is aware of who Murray is and why the hospital was named after him.
First of all, Murray was very connected with the zoo, as he served as its first regular veterinarian for more than two decades.
And he is also widely recognized as the “father of zoological medicine.”
His life began in 1928 in Glendale, Wash., where he resided for nearly his first two years of life before moving with his family to his father Harry C. Fowler’s old hometown of Huntington, Utah.
Two months later, in July 1930, the family moved to Salt Lake City, where Harry obtained his pharmaceutical license and began the first of his many years working at a drugstore in that city.
The Fowler family, who was actively involved in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moved once again in the summer of 1933, when they acquired about a 65-acre farm between Draper and Sandy, Utah.
Because Harry worked his job as a pharmacist in Salt Lake City, he was gone a considerable amount of time during each week. Therefore, Murray and his brother, Norman, were the family’s farmhands.
Murray, who began riding horses when he was 5 years old, had an interest and a work responsibility with all kinds of farm animals, including sheep, pigs and cattle.
After graduating from Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah in 1946, Murray became eligible for the draft.
Soon afterward, Murray joined the Navy and attended a nurses’ school in San Diego. He remained in that city as a “dry land sailor” for the following two years.
Utilizing the GI Bill, Murray then attended Utah State Agricultural College (today’s Utah State University), where he ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry.
Because of his love for animals, Murray decided to become a veterinarian, and thus attended Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), where he graduated in 1955 as a doctor of veterinary medicine.
After working for three years as a veterinarian, who mainly worked on racehorses in the San Fernando Valley, Murray became a member of the animal surgery staff at the University of California, Davis.
In regard to how he began working at the zoo in Sacramento, Murray said, “I went (to Davis) as an equine surgeon and all during that time, I took all kinds of animals into the (university’s) clinic. Our dean, (William Pritchard), in about 1965 or something like that, told the faculty that he wanted to have a wildlife person on the faculty, and he advertised and he had no takers for two years. If that kind of position arose now, there would be hundreds of applications for that position. There was nobody in the world that was trained. One day, when I was in his presence, he was bemoaning the fact that nobody was applying, and I said, ‘Well, why don’t you let me do it?’ And he tossed the ball and that’s when I started doing work at the zoo.”
Murray proceeded to discuss his early memories of the zoo.
“Bill Steinmetz, who was a local practitioner, had been doing the (veterinarian) work at the zoo on an on-call-type basis,” Murray said. “And so, I started a couple days a week going to the zoo, taking students with me. And then I developed a program in what is called, and is still called, zoological medicine. At that time, Hank Spencer was the director of the zoo and we hit it off pretty well and it just all grew from there.”
Murray, who was once the only person in the world who had a university position and worked with wild animals, became the zoo’s first regular veterinarian in 1967.
It was also during the later 1960s when Murray visited every major zoo in the United States to communicate with other zoo veterinarians.
During another time, Murray took a sabbatical leave from the university to spend a year in the San Diego Zoo.
He has also traveled the world teaching, lecturing and caring for wild animals.
Murray, who was president of the Sacramento Zoological Society in 1978 and 1979, and again in 1991, was also asked to serve on the board of the Morris Animal Foundation.
In discussing this organization, Murray said, “It was a foundation established (in 1948) by a fellow by the name of (Dr. Mark L.) Morris and he was a veterinarian who was actually in the East. He established this foundation to do research on essentially domestic animals – dogs and cats primarily. But it expanded to horses and ultimately to wild animals, and so that organization sponsored the first edition of (the book), ‘Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine.’ We’re getting ready to publish our eighth edition of that publication. It first came out in 1978. The (book included writings) by all U.S. authors. In that particular (book), I was probably responsible for writing two-thirds of it. We covered all the animals and that book was published first by (the) W. B. Saunders (Co.) and then by Elsevier (Health Sciences). That book, in the seventh edition, went from being ‘Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine’ (to) ‘Fowler’s Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine.’”
Around the same time, Murray had a book about the restraint and handling of wild and domestic animals published. And altogether, he is the editor, co-editor or author of 25 books.
In commenting about his work as an author, Murray said, “As a teacher, I perceived a need for information. My name of the game was sharing and teaching.”
Murray’s name was memorialized at the zoo in a grand way with the opening of the aforementioned Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital in 2006. The name was recommended to the city a year earlier by Mary Healy, the zoo’s current director.
While discussing this hospital, Murray said, “The most important thing, as far as I was concerned, is now the highest quality of medical service could be given to the animals at the zoo.”
Although Murray expressed that his work was not always as joyful and exciting as one might have perceived it, as he performed a lot of labor such as heavy lifting, long hours of kneeling and performing surgeries in the rain, he cherishes his experiences as a whole.
“I like the animals, I like the people who are caring for the animals and it has been a great career,” Murray said. “I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning, because I liked it so much.”