The Broken Doll

When Dr. Shaw finished suturing the puppy and then idly leaned down to whisper to the little girl with the tattered doll and the sad eyes, I could have killed him. It was a Saturday. We were running late again. And to work late on a full-moon Saturday when one is young and impetuous is very nearly a sin.

Here he was wasting time, I thought, when jammed into the waiting room was a veritable barnyard full of problems still clamoring to be seen: rabies and distemper vaccinations to be given, abscesses to be drained, x-rays to be developed, stools to be checked, ear mites to be cared for, surgeries to be scheduled.

And yet, I should have known better. I should have known by then that George Shaw was no ordinary man.

That full-moon Saturday as a Vet Assistant in Los Angeles was 37 years ago. At the time I had just entered my thirties and was poignantly aware that there was more to life than a shotgun marriage, a long-term mortgage, and a high-stress burnout job as a group counselor for abused & delinquent kids.

So, I quit my past.  I piled into my cramped Volkswagen along with my German Shepherd and all my worldly possessions, drove up across the border into Georgia, and turned left. That simple act of defiance in taking the road less traveled to places unknown with no plan or safety net has enriched my life exponentially ever since.

Jessica & orange VW

Not the least in a number of fortuitous experiences was the meeting of Dr. George Shaw.

In the most unlikely places we meet the most remarkable people, it is said. And many years ago I was in just such a place. Tujunga, California – a cozy little community nestled high up in the northeast corner of Los Angeles. It’s a Southern Paiute word, Tujunga is, usually translated as “mountain range.” But I didn’t know that then. I had only left Florida a few days before. The war was over and back home I had no friends I could relate to any more. So I stuffed my duffel bag into my little orange VW and grabbed the two or three hundred dollars which was all the money I had in the world and with no destination in mind, driving aimlessly by day and sleeping in my car at night, suddenly here I was in Tujunga, on Foothill Boulevard, staring at a sign which read:



I looked at that sign twice, three times. It hung nonchalantly on a post in front of a three-story house that clung to the side of a hill and which had been rather clumsily converted into a makeshift clinic. Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I went inside and asked the obvious. It was the middle initial that intrigued me, the “B”. It just didn’t seem possible, not in this tiny little alcove high up above the City of Angels. Sure enough, however, “B” was for Bernard and George Bernard Shaw, DVM, was indeed distantly related to his namesake, the famous English playwright.

At first Dr. Shaw thought I was applying for a job. Along with the Assistant’s position at three dollars an hour, he said, he would toss in the rear apartment rent-free, if I was interested.

In the confusion I unloaded my car and ended up staying eighteen months.

What I’ve stuffed into the quote box above is a “slightly fictionalized” memoir first sketched out in the 1970s, and I notice now that some of the details may be rounded off a bit to make for a tighter narrative.

Actually, my first visit to the Clinic was simply to get a rabies vaccination for Jessica. The door was locked and the sign said they were closed for lunch from 12 – 2:00 but I could see someone on the inside pacing around. I knocked and Becky opened the door.

Becky was George’s Assistant. She would soon be vacating her job to return to Seattle. She was also, like me, a would-be writer. She would later loan me her portable typewriter, which I never got a chance to return. And most notably, Becky was a jittery non-stop talker, the reason for which quickly becoming apparent.

“Do you want to shoot up?” she asked me barely 10 minutes after we met. “No one will be back for another hour yet.”

I told her I didn’t see any reason to stick a needle in yourself unless you were diabetic.

“It’s only a Vitamin B cocktail, really peps you up. We have plenty in the medicine cabinet.”

She dropped her jeans and poked a 3 ½ cc syringe full of dark blue liquid into a quivering thigh. Then she led me into an exam room where Jessica got a rabies shot and I got a blowjob.

LA’s gonna be my kind of town, I remember thinking to myself.

Eighteen months, the significance of which I was only later able to appreciate. For in my case it was true, as Kierkegaard suggested, that life is lived forwards but understood backwards. And the life I plunged headfirst into left little time for reflection.

Most days the clinic was a madhouse. Dr. Shaw didn’t bother with appointments, for one thing. Which means, naturally, that everyone would show up at the same time. On such occasions, in a last-ditch effort to speed things up, it was not unusual for George in his wrinkled white lab coat to stride out into the waiting room and treat pets as they sat in the laps of their owners. “Tetracycline for this one,” he would call out to me, “puppy shots over there.” And if he could save a client some money, he would. Instead of pawning off expensively-packaged remedies with fancy-sounding names, Dr. Shaw would gladly suggest whatever household item might do the trick just as effectively – Tylenol, perhaps, or regular old Vitamin C.

Nor was any animal ever refused treatment, not even the hit-‘n-run victims found on the side of the road and brought in by a Good Samaritan. Such charity cases would be patched up and nursed back to health and then boarded at George’s expense for whatever length of time it took for a new owner to be found.

Then, too, some of Dr. Shaw’s immense popularity was due to the fact that, in Tujunga, his was the only clinic open on Saturdays. On the sixth day screaming bunches of the sick and the wounded would descend on us like the plague. Which tended to play havoc with my weekends. Back then work was only a paycheck and a paycheck was my ticket to LA, to Long Beach, to Hollywood – to a life of play and self-indulgence. I was running from something in those days, and the mere thought of being tethered to regular hours set my teeth on edge.

My freshmen year of college I was pre-med. But I flunked chemistry twice because on the first day of class I was too afraid to light my Bunsen Burner. And yet now in a practical setting I was discovering a talent, and a joy, working with animals.

George helped matters simply by being a former “country” Vet from Oregon. Farmers don’t load sick livestock into cars for a trip into town. And they like to perform their own deliveries and vaccinations and minor surgical procedures. So George was quite accustomed to passing out medications and teaching his clients how to do things for themselves.

First I learned to give shots, then to spay and neuter. (I successfully spayed my girlfriend’s cat all by myself, although George was in another room, within earshot, in case I needed help.) Eventually I was given an examination room and when we were busy I was allowed to see routine patients on my own.

baby critter

Which was very nearly our downfall when I got charged with practicing medicine without a license!

Neither of us were aware of the specifics of the law at the time, but California allowed an Assistant like myself to perform surgery or do any kind of medical procedure as long as a licensed veterinarian was on the premises. But sometimes George was late for work or out sick and I would open the Clinic, give shots, worm puppies, express impacted scent glands, etc. At such times I was always very conscious of my limitations and of course would never put a dog or cat at risk.

Lawyers negotiated, and all charges were dropped.

Thus, I was chafing at the bit late that Saturday afternoon when Dr. Shaw kindly leaned down to whisper to the little girl with the tattered doll and the sad eyes.

“Hey,” Dr. Shaw said, after finishing with her puppy, “I think we’re going to have to fix your other little friend up too. Looks like she scraped her knee.”

tattered doll

I watched in silence as Dr. Shaw gently placed the doll on the stainless steel table. Part of the stuffing was spilling out of a hole in one of the doll’s legs. Without a second thought, and as rushed and pressed for time as he was, George calmly threaded a needle and proceeded to suture that doll back together again.

Neither the little girl nor her mother said a word. The three of us just stood and stared at George’s fingers as he worked on that doll, fingers that were rough-looking, that bore the characteristic nicks and calluses of a man who all day works with chemicals and syringes, with cats that scratch and dogs that bite, fingers that one minute are examining ringworm, or mange, or gangrene, and the next minute are shoulder-deep in a mare’s womb, tenderly probing for an unborn foal.

It was the look on that little girl’s face when Dr. Shaw handed back her patched up doll that I remember most from my eighteen months in California. That shining face, those bright eyes, and a gratuitous act of kindness on a busy Saturday afternoon.

My eyes still glisten when I conjure up that image these many years later. Even a stunted fool like myself couldn’t help but grow a cubit or two when smacked in the face with a moment like that from a man like George Bernard Shaw, DVM.

Imagine my shock when recently, now that we are in the google-generation, I discovered the following headlines:


Van Nuys | Valley Focus

July 25, 1996|JOSE CARDENAS


VALLEY FOCUS | Lake View Terrace

May 07, 1998|ERIC RIMBERT


VALLEY ROUNDUP | Lake View Terrace

January 09, 1999|SUE FOX

No, more than shock. A part of me was, still is, devastated.  It defies common sense to think that George would ever neglect, abuse, or mistreat an animal – and I simply refuse to believe it.

It was obvious even back then that other Vets did not like George – primarily because he was affordable, would treat animals for free if you couldn’t pay, and therefore very popular in the community. (Neuter, $15; spay, $22) It was a disgruntled neighboring Vet, after all, who incognito one Saturday when George was not there yet brought in a dog for a rabies shot to set me up, and I am convinced something similar happened to George.

Although I cannot find out why, the initial problem stems from George’s license having been revoked in 1992 by the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation and the California State Board of Veterinary Medicine.

Since then, the sequence of events seems to be as follows:


  • A Lake View Terrace man was sentenced Wednesday to 1,000 hours of community service after pleading no contest to animal neglect and practicing veterinary medicine without a license, authorities said.
  • George Bernard Shaw, 66, was sentenced by Van Nuys Municipal Court Commissioner Mitchell Block after Shaw entered his plea to two counts of animal neglect and one count of unlicensed veterinary practice, said Mike Qualls, a spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office.
  • Shaw’s additional three years of probation includes bans on practicing as a veterinarian and treating any animal, said Don Cocek, the deputy city attorney who handled the case.
  • The charges stemmed from investigations by the city Department of Animal Regulation and the state Board of Veterinary Medicine of Shaw, whose license had been revoked in 1992, Qualls said.
  • A state investigator took a healthy dog to see Shaw, who said the animal had an enlarged and possibly infected prostate, Qualls said. The city Department of Animal Regulation also became aware of Shaw’s illegal veterinary practice last year during its own investigation into a case of alleged animal abuse at a Sun Valley residence, Qualls said.
  • In January, Cocek said, a city Department of Sanitation worker expressed concern after picking up several dead animals–seven dogs, three cats, a goat and a sheep–from Shaw’s house between Aug. 30, 1995, and Jan. 26 of this year.
  • After obtaining a search warrant, animal regulation officers found records indicating that Shaw had treated some animals at the Sun Valley location, including two Doberman pups that had severe mange and had to be euthanized, he said.


  • A Lake View Terrace man was named in a criminal complaint alleging that he forged a veterinary medical license and resumed an illegal practice, a Los Angeles city attorney said.
  • George B. Shaw, 68, was the subject of an investigation by the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Shaw was charged with practicing veterinary medicine without a license, forging a license, operating a kennel without a license, harboring unlicensed dogs, failing to have proof of rabies vaccinations and keeping animals too close to his neighbors, City Atty. Jim Hahn said.
  • On April 10, state investigators served a search warrant at Shaw’s home and seized veterinary medicines, syringes, surgical instruments, X-ray equipment, a medical bag and an examination table.
  • Investigators also found invoices from an Omaha, Neb.-based vaccine company that provided the city attorney with a copy of a forged license to practice veterinary medicine that the company said it received from Shaw, Hahn said.
  • Shaw became the subject of an investigation after the Department of Consumer Affairs received a complaint from a licensed veterinarian that Shaw had resumed his illegal practice, Hahn said.
  • If convicted of practicing veterinary medicine without a license, Shaw could face up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. On each of the other charges, he could face six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, according to the city attorney.


  • An ex-veterinarian who was ordered to do 1,000 hours of community service in 1996 for animal neglect and practicing veterinary medicine without a license surrendered Friday to begin serving a one-year jail term for continuing his illegal practice, City Atty. James Hahn said.
  • George Bernard Shaw, 68, was sentenced Nov. 4 in Van Nuys Municipal Court after pleading no contest to one count each of practicing without a license and fraudulently using a license to obtain prescription drugs.
  • Shaw admitted to violating his probation from the 1996 conviction, when he was ordered not to practice veterinary medicine for three years, according to the city attorney’s office.
  • The state Department of Consumer Affairs began investigating Shaw last year after receiving a complaint from a licensed veterinarian saying Shaw had resumed his illegal practice.

Each of these charges as I read them constitute a procedural rather than a moral lapse.

Granted, I know nothing about why his license to practice medicine was revoked in the first place.

But to me George will always be remembered as the busy Veterinarian who kindly took the time to mend a broken doll and bring a smile to the little girl with sad eyes.

[PS – I am visiting Southern California next month & perhaps I will try to look George up to find out exactly what happened.]

16 Replies to “The Broken Doll”

  1. Dr shaw lost his license because he didn’t charge enough money, and it pissed off “licensed veterinarians” (like adler) so they set him up to lose his license. The jail sentence was also a set-up, the reason he had the x-ray machine, etc. At his house was because when they closed his practice, he had nowhere else to keep it and was unable to sell it. As for his “resuming his ‘illegal practice'”, he tried not to treat animals, but people showed up at his home, often lining up and waiting for hours. Dr shaw was a truly wonderful person, and a compassionate, caring, veterinarian, a real healer. What they did to him was just plain mean and not right.


  2. Thanks, Kathie, for your comments. I of course agree that George was a marvelous person back when I worked for him. Is he still alive? Do you know anything about his current whereabouts?


  3. Dr George Bernard Shaw DVM your kind story is so appreciated. He passed away a t 78 yrs- died from advanced Colorectal cancer.
    He had been married 4 times. I am from the second marriage, remember when he got his license in 1966- I used to work in the clinic when I was a little kid- and remember the ranch calls at 2 am in the rain to deliver calves that were having trouble- holding open a cows stomach- she was on her back between 2 bales of hay- while he performed a rumenotomy. He loved life, animals , people and his work.


    1. I am saddened by the news but so very thankful that you took the time to tell me. Yes, I was on ranch calls with him too, and it was just a downright joy to watch his care & concern & professionalism when dealing with the sick & the injured. He was a unique person who these nearly 40 years later is still a special part of me. You were his second wife?


      1. No. I am the oldest of four children from his second marriage. His third ex is in Grants Pass. they had 2 boys. the first ex is in Arizona- they had a girl and a boy. The fourth ex – they had one gorl and a step daughter- they were in Lancaster- which was his last home. nOne full brother of mine is in LA area and one brother from third marriage is also in LA. I grew up and stayed in Oregon.
        We were very fortunate that we got to see him the year before he died. Two of my brothers brought him up to visit. He stayed with us a couple of days, went to the races at Tillamook- saw the cheese factory and got to spend time with my daughter- one of his grand daughters. He was working on a book and my mother – his second wife- was helping with it a bit. Although my parents divorced, they could still get along and I always loved my father- used to want to be a vet when i was a kid. I’m glad he had a friend like you. thanks.


    2. When I knew George he was married to Cheryl and they had just had a son, Brian. I didn’t know he was writing a book and would be curious about it. His mother – Mildred, I think her name was – wrote poetry and I, being somewhat of a writer myself, was always after her to organize her poems and get them published. (She used to write them out in longhand and stuff them in drawers at the clinic.) I even typed some up for her. She was in her 80s at the time. Her husband was in his late 80s and sometimes would wander away from home. George once told me that his father was known for having “invented” the postcard. Thanks again for keeping me updated.


  4. Thanks for this story. I’d like to meet you & share more stories. I live in his old house in Lakeview Terrace with my wife and three children. The x-ray machine is still here.


    1. Thanks, George. I was out there several months ago and went by the last address I had from the Internet, which I think was Sheldon Street in Sun Valley. No one home. Being semi-retired I mostly these days just travel around the country and take pictures, and I am leaving for another slow trip West in a few weeks. Will email you if I get back in your area. Thanks again.

      PS – I used to develop his x-rays downstairs in a bathroom which had a red light in it. You had to let the film soak in various solution tanks which were set up on the back of the toilet and it was always a good smoke break (back when I had the habit) for me!


      1. Dr. Shaw saved more animals of mine than I can count and he tried to save a few that were beyond hope. My husband,Greg, passed away in 07. We were good friends of George and his wife, Pam. Had alot of horse fun with them over in Shadow Hills. There was not a better vet or human being anywhere. If anyone knows where Pam Shaw is, I would love to connect. I’m saddened that George has passed. It is an honor to have known him and his family and all his critters.


        1. He was married to Cheryl when I knew Dr. Shaw, and they lived in Shadow Hills. We would go horseback riding back up in the hills behind his place. And yes, George was a very special and incredibly nice person. I hope you find Pam.


          1. Thank you for such a quick response. Maybe Pam will get wind of this.


            1. Both a son and a daughter of George’s have left comments above. I don’t think I have an email address for them, but if by chance I do I’m sure they won’t mind if I send it to you. Good luck 🙂


  5. What a wonderfully great story, so full of imagery and life. What a guy. I knew (and worked for, too) selfless vets like Dr George Bernard Shaw. Jealousy is a potent enemy and likely the cause of his troubles from what’s been said here.
    You did a beautiful job on writing those formative years of your life and a man whose work was clearly admired by his patients and their humans. Very touching read. Thanks, John.


    1. Thanks, Barbara. When I first posted this blog it never occurred to me that someone who actually knew George might read this. I keep forgetting that we live in the Internet Age.


  6. Dr Shaw was OUR vet. The only vet we trusted. When our 12 year old Afghan mix stopped eating, another vet wanted to perform 1200 dollars in tests. “Do you have something supportive and less costly we can do?” The other vet said, “Well, I can euthanize him.” Didn’t sound supportive to me.

    Dr Shaw had a different approach. “What does he like to eat as a treat?” My sheepish reply was “Vanilla Cookies.” Dr Shaw said that although cookies were not good for him, they are better than nothing, give him cookies, and start fading in his dog food. Our Hound fattened back up, and gave us another glorious year to be with him. Dr. Shaw was amazing with our Neopolitan Mastiff, who was like a bouncy 200 lbs neanderthal puppy. Eyelid surgery at an affordable price.

    My wife and I miss Dr Shaw, and have for some time. He was unfairly bullied and vilified, and his tormentors should be punished in spades.


    1. That sounds like George, prescribing vanilla cookies! 🙂

      He was a special person. And yes, the other local vets were definitely out to get him. Dr. Shaw was relatively cheap, compassionate, open on Saturdays (others were not), would treat an animal even if you couldn’t pay, etc.

      Thanks for your comment…


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