Half a century of care
Columbiana veterinarian continues the mission he started more than 50 years ago
By Lauren Dowdle
Photos by Catherine Cousins
His patients might say “thanks” with tail wags and wet kisses, but Dr. Charles Thornburg wouldn’t have it any other way. The veterinarian has been working at his practice, Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, for 50 years — though his career path wasn’t always so clear.
“I was early in school and playing around a little too much,” Thornburg says of his time at Auburn University. “My dad said, ‘You’re going to have to buckle down and do something that you’d like to do to make a good living.’”
Thornburg had grown up around cattle, cats and dogs out in the country and enjoyed taking care of them. His dad suggested he go into veterinary medicine, so that’s just what he did. However, he did face a few hurdles, mainly organic chemistry.
It was the one course he lacked to get into veterinary school. The night before the final, Thornburg told himself there was no way he could learn all of the materials before the test and went to bed. His roommate pulled him off of the bed into the floor and told him he was going to watch him study all night so that he could get into veterinary school. Luckily, his friend’s efforts worked, and he passed the class.
After graduation, Thornburg interned in Florida for six months. But with five generations of his family being from Columbiana, he knew that was home. So, he moved back to open a veterinary clinic. Thornburg bought a lot at the intersection of Old Hwy. 25 and Hwy. 25 for $12,000, paying just $25/month with no interest.
There were two other vets in Shelby County at the time his office opened in October 1969. But, they later went out of business, making Thornburg’s practice now the oldest in the county.
He has staff members who have worked with him for decades, as well as an associate who has been there for 15 years. With a practice that spans half a century, Thornburg has seen medicines and treatments evolve. While he says he’s seen some amazing animals through the years and has enjoyed making their lives better, his favorite part has been the interactions with people.
At the beginning of his career, some of his customers were people who had gone to school with his parents, and some were ones he graduated with. Now, he’s serving those people’s grandchildren.
“It’s been extremely rewarding,” Thornburg says.
When he isn’t in the office or spending time with his grandchildren, Thornburg can be found in the dance studio. He’s been taking ballroom dance lessons for 16 years and also dances a few nights each week.
“I’m enjoying life,” he says. “I’ve been so marvelously blessed with good health.”
That’s helped keep him going for five decades at his practice, and Thornburg isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“I’m going to keep working for the time being. It’s been a great profession,” he says. “I have a lot of knowledge, and to not use that knowledge is a waste.”