James Finnegan, left, and Jim O-Shea stand in their office on Friday.

NEW BERLIN _ James Finnegan and Jim O'Shea are closing down their Chensego Veterinary Practice after 18 years of caring for the area's cows.

In another week, O'Shea, 56, will be getting ready to move onto his sailboat and examine the East Coast from the water. And Finnegan, 57, said, ``I'll be fiddling around, fishing and gardening.''

Finnegan, an Illinois native, moved to the area in 1976 to work for another veterinarian. He bought the practice in 1985 and decided to go ``exclusively with dairy. I just like cows.''

In 1990, he was joined by O'Shea, who'd moved to Norwich when his wife went to work for Procter & Gamble, and the two hit it off immediately. They were doing what they'd always wanted to, tending to the area's dairy herds.

``You have to love it, and we have loved it,'' O'Shea said.

They liked the farmers they came to know and they were up to the challenges they faced, even when called out at night.

But one or the other has been on call 24-hours-a-day for 18 years, and time has taken a toll, O'Shea said.

``It does begin to get harder, and that makes a difference,'' he said.

``I always wanted to do this and I wouldn't change a thing,'' Finnegan said. ``But it takes a toll on you physically when you're wrestling with an 1,800-pound cow. Half the farmers are as old as I am, so sometimes it's two old men out there doing this.''

Both vets said the area's farmers are doing a much better job these days caring for their herds than farmers a generation ago.

``They know more and they can take care of small problems by themselves,'' O'Shea said.

One big improvement is tunnel ventilation, the widespread installation of large fans at one side of local barns to provide a steady breeze.

``It makes it difficult for flies to be there and that makes the cows much more comfortable,'' O'Shea said.

``And a comfortable cow produces more milk,'' Finnegan said.

Asked how he came to be a veterinarian, Finnegan said, ``I wanted to be a doctor, but one day my mother pointed out that I'd have to deal with a lot of people.''

This is not his strong suit, he said, so the idea of bovine patients took hold and he never looked back.

Their clients, area farmers in Otsego and Chenango counties, have known for months that Finnegan and O'Shea are retiring this week. Many have made arrangements with other practices, Finnegan said.

``What's happening here is what's happening in a lot of ways to the farmers: they're losing choices," he said. "There are fewer equipment dealers, veterinarians and all the rest of it.''

Finnegan said he likes this area of the state, but if he were a young veterinarian just coming out of school and deep in debt, he might not land here.

``This is a good place, but you have to scratch under the surface to see that,'' he said.

Sue Hawes said she has enjoyed working with both men and with Janice Bice, an office assistant. Hawes said she will soon go to work for Bassett Healthcare, and Bice said she is still looking for job.

Finnegan and O'Shea said they feel sad about breaking up the business, but they know the time has come.

``I don't want to be tied to the phone anymore,'' said Finnegan. ``Here, we don't even have cell-phone coverage, so I was tied to a land line.''

O'Shea wants to get even farther away and said he won't really start to relax until he is at the helm of his boat.

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