Beloved Terlingua vet retires

Veterinarian Samuel Bottenfield of Rio Vet Services in Terlingua tended to patient Tonka, who had a cactus thorn stuck in his paw. Bottenfield retired July 1 after over 12 years of service to the region.

Terlingua’s sole veterinary care provider retired July 1. Veterinarian Samuel Bottenfield, known locally as Doc Sam, has been the only public facing medical provider for pets in South County since he began his practice in the Ghost Town in 2008.

That’s when Bottenfield and wife Danilea moved to Terlingua with the intention of retiring after a 20-plus year veterinary career in Zapata.

“We came here in the early 2000s on a motorcycle trip to Colorado, kind of looking for a place to retire,” Bottenfield said.

Good motorcycle riding was a big draw, and the couple soon lucked into a deal on a piece of Ghost Town property. They moved in thinking they might dabble in eco-tourism, and eventually opened an AirBnB, but Bottenfield didn’t anticipate the dire need for veterinary care.

There were lots of unneutered dogs around, so he decided to open a practice to spay and neuter the population. The need for general medical care became hard to ignore, so he started offering basic and routine services - nothing fancy, and no X-rays. That’s how Rio Vet Services was born, open every Wednesday and Saturday.

Residents could finally tend to minor injuries, teeth cleanings, and vaccinations locally. Plus, the prices couldn’t be beat.

Bottenfield kept overhead low, and appointments often only cost $10-25.

“Let’s face it,” he said, “our community out here is not what you would call affluent.”

He credits Alpine Humane Society for helping with spay and neuter costs, and an occasional generous donation from locals.

Dogs have long held a special role in Terlingua, providing companionship in one of Texas’s most remote outposts. It was a uniquely Terlingua comfort to know that in a place where routine medical care was nonexistent for people, at least one could take care of one’s pet.

Bottenfield’s busy telephone line was a testament to how much locals cared about their pets. Not a day went by without at least a phone call, if not an outright emergency visit, to his office. Bottenfield played a vital role in easing the worries of pet owners.

“It’s a service to this community that would not otherwise be performed,” he quietly reflected.

Bottenfield wanted to retire in 2020, but because of the pandemic, he was able to keep his license up to date for one more year without making a long trip out of town to do so.

With rising costs of medical care and a desire to finally relax and travel, Bottenfield made the curtain call for Rio Vet Services in July.

Although the need for veterinary care in Terlingua remains, Bottenfield thinks it would be difficult for someone to set up a practice due to the high cost of living and remoteness.

He hopes to finally take a long vacation, but promises to remain at large in Terlingua.

“I’m an easy touch,” he assured.

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