Veterinarian highlights connection between us, animals

Robert Smith

Dr. Jan Johnston-Tharp, who grew up in the small town of Grainola, is one of the Osage County Historical Society’s five Heroes and Legends honorees for 2020.

Johnston-Tharp is known for her abiding and tender concern for animals of all varieties, and her solicitous manner in dealing with the humans who bring her patients to her door.

There’s also her sense of humor. She explained that her first thought, when she was told of her selection for the Heroes and Legends honor was, “I am not sure I have done anything to be called a hero, and I sure am not old enough to be a legend.”

“But I sure am tickled pink to be here,” she planned to tell the dinner audience if she had received the Heroes and Legends designation in person. There is usually a dinner in the spring to call attention to the people who have been chosen.

Johnston-Tharp, 57, cited God, hard work, a deep passion for animals and an even deeper compassion for people as the foundational elements of the success she has achieved. She explains that she was apparently born with her passion for animals, and that she learned the importance of hard work during her childhood on a wheat farm and cattle ranch.

“Laziness was not an option,” Johnston-Tharp said. “If you had a job, you worked until it was done. There were no set hours. There was start and finish. And you appreciated what you accomplished. Meals were good and you slept good at night. I also had the love of a wonderful family.”

She also commented that she has developed, over time and through experience, a compassion for her fellow humans.

“So in veterinary medicine, I have youngsters all the time tell me they want to be a vet because they love animals and they don’t particularly like people,” Johnston-Tharp said. “And my response to that is that every animal that shows up at my clinic has a person attached. And it’s true. Except that one time the possum showed up at the front door. And of course I gave it a shot of penicillin and sent it on its way.

“But every person that reaches out to me does it because they have a question or a problem,” she continued. “Even if it is not something I can work on, even if it’s not something we can work in the schedule, we need to give them an option. Give them some direction. Don’t just leave them stranded. I try very hard to follow those standards.”

Johnston-Tharp also recalled the one incident, more than any other, that motivated her to develop a desire to be a veterinarian.

“I was probably like 5 or so,” she said. “Dad had a cow trying to calve. He called the vet out. And I remember they laid her upside down, tied off with ropes, cut into her belly and pulled that calf out. I was so amazed. That calf was alive and the cow rolled up and went to licking that baby. I was hooked. And I always looked forward to cattle-working time. Although, I have to admit I didn’t like it when the calves would bawl or they would bleed from the dehorning.”

In 2014, Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond published a children’s book called “Charlie the Ranch Dog — Charlie Goes to the Doctor,” which features Dr. Jan and her clinic. Additionally, 2020 marked 24 years for Johnston-Tharp as the veterinarian for the Cavalcade Rodeo, a classic Pawhuska event.