Carl Andrew Osborne was a pioneer in the world of medical research involving cats and dogs, and his groundbreaking work on urinary tract diseases changed the way pets are treated when they get sick.
Osborne, who is widely considered the most influential veterinarian in Minnesota history, died March 5 from complications of Parkinson’s disease, surrounded by his family and with his longtime service dog, Chloe, nearby. Osborne, who was 76, had lived with Parkinson’s for more than 20 years.
“He was one of the most influential veterinarians in the world,” said Stillwater veterinarian Ginger Garlie, who studied with Osborne at the University of Minnesota.
Osborne wrote four textbooks on veterinary medicine and was a member of the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine faculty for 53 years.
As founder of the Minnesota Urolith Center, Osborne collected and studied more than 1 million urinary tract stones from pets and wild animals from around the world. The center provides free analysis to veterinarians, saving an estimated $4 million in diagnostic fees per year. The data also are used in research.
Over the years, the center has received most of its funding from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a pet food company that has used the work of Osborne and his colleagues to craft a variety of therapeutic foods to treat and help prevent urinary disorders.
“His compassion is exactly what drove him to achieve what was once thought impossible — dissolving certain types of urinary stones through clinical nutrition,” said Karen Shenoy, a senior manager at Hill’s. “His research led to a compassionate alternative to surgical removal, whereby veterinarians can help treat a pet with diet instead of a scalpel.”
Osborne’s research has helped hundreds of thousands of animals and changed the way thousands of veterinarians do their job, according to his colleagues.
Osborne was born in Pittsburgh. He told interviewers that his love of pets started young, when he started bringing home stray dogs. At the age of 12, he found an injured sparrow in some nearby woods and nursed it back to health. He said the only career he ever considered was that of a veterinarian.
Osborne joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 1964, shortly after graduating from Purdue University. He earned more than 50 teaching and research awards over the course of his career, and was the inaugural recipient of the Robert R. Shomer Award for outstanding achievements in veterinary medical ethics in 2005.
“He was very inclusive. He used to say, ‘Art is I, but science is we,’ ” said Jody Lulich, a veterinary professor who worked with Osborne at the center.
Osborne was known for his soft heart, whether it was helping the homeless or bringing home an animal scheduled for euthanasia.
“At one point, we had four dogs, one or two cats and a rabbit,” said Amy Meyer, Osborne’s daughter. “There was never a time when we didn’t have an animal in the house — always a dog for sure. ... He saved many animals that might have been destroyed.”
Perhaps Osborne’s most famous patient was a Lhasa Apso owned by movie star Zsa Zsa Gabor. A former student brought the dog to Minnesota, where Osborne did a liver biopsy.
“It was determined that her dog was sick because it was drinking chlorinated swimming pool water,” Osborne said in an interview. “We fixed it all up.”
In 2012, his granddaughter Zoe Osborne wrote about her grandfather for a class assignment, praising his determination to keep working despite his sometimes painful struggle with Parkinson’s.
“He has Parkinson’s disease but is determined not to let Parkinson’s disease have him,” Zoe wrote. “I think if I were him I would just stay home, but he keeps doing what he loves.”
Osborne is survived by his wife of 52 years, Lynn; sons Andy and David Osborne; daughter Amy; brother David Osborne of St. Louis; sister Ruth Rodefeld of Indianapolis, and four grandchildren.
A memorial talk will be held on Saturday at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 270 W. Wheelock Parkway, St. Paul. Visitation will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Ben Pomeroy Student-Alumni Learning Center at the U’s St. Paul Campus, 1964 Fitch Av. A tribute by veterinary colleagues and friends will begin at 4 p.m.