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The Grandfather of Zoo Medicine

He's known as the "grandfather of zoo medicine" in the United States since he was the first to use immobilization of zoo animals by drugs rather than constraints.

Charles and Shirley

When writing this column and interviewing the person, I often find that their husband or wife is really a significant part of their life and achievements. That was very true about Charles and Shirley Sedgwick. When Shirley left the living room to get us a cup of coffee, Charles said about Shirley, "Shirley was an incredible teacher. She taught in Worcester County Jail House of Correction in Massachusetts and the prisoners respected her and wanted to be taught by her." "She also taught school and paid my way through Veterinary School." As Charles goes upstairs to bring back a book, Shirley stated, "I know Charles would never tell you this about himself; he's known as the 'grandfather of zoo medicine' in the United States since he was the first to use immobilization of zoo animals by drugs rather than constraints."

Charles and Shirley have been married for fifty years and from what I could glean from our conversation, all of the years were happy, challenging and interesting. I asked them what advice they would hand out to the younger generation today. Shirley quickly said, "Marriage is not a 50/50 partnership. Sometimes it's 90/10, 70/30, but maybe after 50 years it could average out to be 50/50." "Each partner needs to be able to give more than his/her share and at the same time be ready to receive more than his/her share."

Charles and Shirley were high school sweethearts. They went to Fremont High School in Sunnyvale. Charles, born and raised in Cupertino, reminisces about how it looked when he was growing up. His dad was the 8th grade school teacher in 1922 as well as being the principal, school bus driver, fire stoker and deputy sheriff. "My sister had asthma as a little girl, so my dad would take us both up with him to the High Sierras and set up a big camp usually in Lake Tahoe or sometimes Yosemite. Since he was a teacher, he'd bring along key cards of animals, trees and plants for us to identify. Charles went on "I was also the lone boy scout in my town and my dad was the scout leader, so I learned a lot about the wild when my dad would take me and drop me off to test my scout skills in the Santa Cruz mountains. The outdoors became an important part of my life. I saw bears, rodents, deer and all kinds of wild life." Charles remembers, "my dad was big on history. He was born on a homestead in Santa Maria. His family moved from Santa Maria to San Jose by wagon with their livestock and cattle traversing up San Juan Grade." "I have posed pictures with my dad and grandfather in their black suits standing in front of their wagons, which strikes me funny," said Charles, "since that's not what they wore when they were traveling." "On this trip to San Jose, my Grandmother moved the family by herself. Grandfather was a steam engineer, always freighting stuff from Stockton to the gold mines. Then one day he went on his way." "I wish now I had asked more about my grandfather and why he left," admitted Charles. "Now that I'm an adult, I realize there were two sides to their story."

After graduating from Fremont High School, both Charles and Shirley went to San Jose State College. They were married between their 2nd and 3rd year while attending college. Charles thought at first he would train to be a Forest Ranger, but after taking the Strong Stanford Interest Test, it showed his leaning towards physician and farmer. His conclusion - be a veterinarian. Charles graduated from Washington State University, Pullman with his DVM in 1957. At that time in the 1950's there were only 6 zoological vets in the United States and most were Zoo Directors and not really working as vets anymore. It was difficult to work on the large animals since the only way to constrain them was by tying them up. Drugs weren't available until 1964. He went into private practice treating companion animals, farm and track animals. But as his reputation grew, other vets would begin to send him "exotic pets" they felt he could better treat. In 1964, he went to the Los Angeles Zoo. At that time two experimental drugs came out that could be used to restrain zoo animals. Charles headed up a study on these drugs by moving animals from the old Los Angeles Zoo to the new facility. Los Angles Zoo became a testing place for these experimental drugs and Charles found his specialty - anesthesiology.


One of Charles' "exotic" pets
that needed his expertise. A
boat propeller dug a large hole
into this Sea Turtle. To mend
the shell, he used fiberglass and
with time the Sea Turtle was as
good as new.


 Charles and staff
 working on a
 White Rhino

Charles was the Project Veterinarian for the NASA space program for primates (Monkeys in Space Program) in 1969. Test monkeys were used in a ground control group, as well as, in space flight prior to sending a man into space. The monkeys were getting simultaneously and seriously ill. Charles and his team were able to bring them through a complicated recovery. When Apollo 11 went into space, a leak in the capsule was reported, so NASA compensated by pumping more air into the cabin. Unlike the monkeys, the astronauts only suffered a little space sickness. It was later discovered that the air tight capsules that the test monkeys were exposed to was the cause of the sickness. A glue used to mount the insulation in the capsule combined with the increasing CO2 in the air and the heat, created a poisonous gas. Because the Apollo 11 capsule was leaking and more air was pumped into the cabin, the poisonous gas was both diluted and allowed to escape.

Charles and Shirley moved quite a bit during their life together and "not necessarily each job provided an increase in salary," stated Charles and that's another reason to appreciate Shirley so much.""She had been brought up as a Navy child, so moving wasn't foreign to her and she accepted it willingly." It couldn't have been easy for them either since they had already begun starting their family. Charles and Shirley have three sons, Mike living in Carmel Valley, David in Pittsburgh, PA and Paul in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. "Each move, whether easy or difficult, " according to Charles, "guided us along the path where we were supposed to be."

In 1971, Charles had the opportunity to lead a tour to Africa for people to learn about animals. Shirley was able to go along and according to Charles, "If the people sponsoring this trip could not work out the finances to afford Shirley to come along, I refused to go." In 1972, Charles was asked to accompany a rescue group to Alaska to rescue a "Blue Bear" cub."The Blue Bear is a color phase of the American Black Bear. The two common phases, black and brown, occur throughout most of the wooded parts of temperate North America. Two rare color phases are found in extremely limited areas - the blue phase has a range that is only a pin prick on a world map, that is the Yakutat and Glacier Bay area and the other rare phase the white phase, is found in a bit larger area primarily the islands of Princess Royal and Gribbell Islands off the Pacific Coast of British Columbia.." (taken from "Blue Bear Glacier Bear by Clyde A. Hill, ZooNooz, San Diego Zoo, January 1973.) The Blue Bear they were trying to capture was about 200 pounds and was knocking over garbage cans and breaking into the galley to get food at the United States Coast Guard Loran Station at Ocean Cape, Yakutat. They were concerned that someone would try to shoot the bear and and didn't want to make a trophy out of this rare bear. The local Indians regarded the Blue Bear or any bear as sacred, so everyone wanted this bear saved. Charles thought it would be easy to put it under, but the bear was very clever and he kept avoiding the anesthetic dart. Finally when the team was ready to go back to San Diego, they did one more stake out when they were informed the Bear had been seen again. Charles was hidden in the tool shed hoping to get a clear shot with his anesthetic dart, which after a close call of the Bear rushing towards him and then taking a turn slowly slid down the tree. The descent was so gradual that the bear received not the sightest bump when it reached the base of the tree. Because it was so dark, no one was quite sure if they really got the Blue Bear or maybe some other grizzley. But when they approached, Charles turned on his flashlight, "By golly we've got the Blue Bear." The team was able to bring him back to safety to San Diego Zoo. The Blue Bear grew up to be about 600 lbs at San Diego. (Most of these details came from the same story from ZooNooz by Clyde Hill, who initiated this trip to save the Blue Bear from a phone call by Jim Jensen of Yatutat, Alaska.)

 The beautiful
 "Blue Bear" has
 silver coat that
 distinguishes it
 from his brown
 and black bear

Charles hiding in shed
ready with anesthetic
dart rifle


Charles administering
just the right amount
of anesthesia for size
of bear

When you talk to Shirley and Charles, it seems like they've always been here, but really only moved to Aromas a year ago. According to Charles, Aromas reminds him so much of Cupertino when he was growing up and he feels right at home. Shirley has joined the Aromas Hills Artisans and makes beautiful was important to be part of the local community and contribute their skills and talents where they might be needed. They have a lovely house with books on animals, veterinary science throughout the living room and an upstairs study. Photographs of special animals to Charles graces his study walls. Old anesthesiology equipment line up on top of a cabinet showing the history of his specialty.

One of Charles projects was Bullet, a non releasable Bald Eagle with one wing shot off. His Technician Diane trained him to get onto her fist. Diane and her husband set up a program at that time for bald Eagles since they were endangered. Eagles didn't nest in Massachusetts and having this Bald Eagle became a real draw to teach different groups about the Bald Eagle. This presentation was in demand. Shirley got permission to bring in this educational program into the jail, in which she was teaching at that time. Diane and her husband boxed up the Eagle, along with Shirley was admitted to go through the inmate's yard to get to the Cafeteria, when all of a sudden, the inmates's entrance opened and out came 300 prisoners. According to Shirley it felt like a large orange ameba floating towards them. Diane and her husband were trying to get the attention of the guards to make sure they knew they were there, when Shirley said quietly to a finely chiseled body builder towering over her, " Miguel, you don't get to come to this presentation because you've been ditching class." His face dropped and that broke the tension --the whole yard of prisoners burst out laughing. It only took a tiny, very respected Teacher to diffuse what may have been a very uncomfortable situation. The presentation went on without a hitch and Shirley let Miguel attend anyway.
Bullet, although not releasable because of his damaged wing was able to mate and reproduce in captivity and helped to establish a program that installed eagle nests in Maine, Massachusetts, New York State and in New England.

While I was chatting to Charles and Shirley, Shirley mentioned that she studied hula since she was ten. "Oh, and by the way," said Shirley, "did I tell you I was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed in 1941?" Oh my, that's another story! END

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