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Pennsauken veterinarian survived mean streets of Southwest Philadelphia

With his muscles, tattoos, and dreadlocks, Marvin A. Baynes Jr. is an imposing figure. At Southwest Philadelphia's State Burners Motorcycle Club, he's known as Moose. But I am among the many who call him "Doctor."

With his muscles, tattoos, and dreadlocks, Marvin A. Baynes Jr. is an imposing figure.

At Southwest Philadelphia's State Burners Motorcycle Club, he's known as Moose. But I am among the many who call him "Doctor."

Baynes, 41, who lives in Pennsauken, is the owner and operator of South Jersey Mobile Veterinary Services.

Covering 20,000 miles a year, he travels from home to home in an area extending from Mount Holly to Williamstown, caring for people's pets with a calm voice and gentle manner.

We first learned of him from my sister-in-law when she mentioned she had a vet who made house calls.

Taking our dogs, Justice and Angus, to the vet always was something of a trauma for them, so when it came time for another visit, we called Baynes instead.

We were quickly won over by the way he dealt with the animals. Later, he would comfort us when we had to put Justice to sleep in June 2011.

Over time, I learned Baynes' story.

He grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, a neighborhood often overlooked except when something bad happened.

As a boy, he knew he and his family stood out.

"My home was the only home on the street with a mother and a father," said Baynes, the youngest of three and the only son. "I was petrified to do some of the things my friends were doing because I had to answer to my dad.

"I really credit my dad being a constant influence in my life, for keeping me straight," said Baynes, whose 13-year-old son is named Marvin, after his father.

Marvin Sr., who had worked as a mechanic for the Philadelphia police, died in 2005. He also was an early member of the State Burners, as much a community service organization as a bikers' club.

Baynes has been hanging out at the club since he was a child. "My father was Big Moose and I was Little Moose," he said.

Charles Henson, 70, a.k.a. "Cowboy," president of the club on the 5100 block of Woodland Avenue, goes way back with the Baynes family.

"I've known him since he was a little boy," Henson said. "I rode with his daddy and now I ride with him."

He said Baynes was "very into family" and trying to help others.

"He's been pressuring me to take on a couple kids, like a Big Brother," Henson said.

When he was 5, Baynes already had a plan for his future - to play for the Eagles and work as a veterinarian in the offseason. How he came to want to be an animal doctor he does not know.

"It was always there," said Baynes, whose first pet was a box turtle named Speedy and who as a boy brought home stray dogs.

"I learned pretty early on that I was not that gifted in sports, so I figured I better crack the textbooks."

When it came time for high school, his mother, Loretta, told him about W.B Saul High School in Roxborough, the Philadelphia district's school for agricultural sciences.

Leaving Southwest Philadelphia for high school opened Baynes' eyes to other things. "I didn't realize how bad the area was, I guess, until I hit high school and started getting out of the neighborhood and seeing what the rest of the city looked like," he said.

From there, it was off to the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, where he earned a bachelor's degree in pre-veterinary animal science in 1993. Back home in Philadelphia, he worked as a disease-intervention counselor for the city Health Department for a few years before getting into Tuskegee University's School of Veterinary Medicine, where he earned his doctorate in 2000.

He worked for various animal hospitals in South Jersey before launching his mobile service in 2005.

At that time, he was at Cedarbrook Animal Hospital in Sicklerville, where he continued to work part-time while getting his practice started.

"The people who work here love him," said Norm Haber, who was Baynes' boss at Cedarbrook.

"He's very calm. Nothing bothered him," Haber said.

"He's the kind of person who spends his Christmas delivering food to the food bank," he said.

Haber said if a family could not afford surgery and the only other option was euthanasia, Baynes would "just jump right in and do it."

Baynes' deep Christian faith is evident in his words and actions - he rides his bike into Camden from time to time to hand out religious tracts - but he says he no longer belongs to a church.

It is out on the road, on his Honda Goldwing GL-1800, where he finds tranquillity. He recalled how riding through the West Virginia mountains on a club trip to Louisville, Ky., was "the closest to God I have ever been."

He often returns to the old neighborhood to hang out at the club or distribute toys he has bought or that have been donated by others to families in need at Christmas.

Baynes says he hopes young people will see him as proof that growing up in Southwest Philadelphia does not have to lead to a dead end.

One day recently, Baynes and his assistant, Stephanie George, went to the home of Mike and Alice McKeown in Sicklerville for a house call.

Mike McKeown said he saw Baynes' rolling clinic in their development recently and asked for a card. The couple's 17-year-old dog, Jasmine, was ailing and he was afraid she needed to be put to sleep, which he preferred to be done at home.

When Baynes arrived, he found Jasmine fairly active for a dog her age, walking without difficulty. But the schnauzer mix had a growth on her neck that had become infected and was seeping, Alice McKeown said. Jasmine was eating, but thin.

After examining the dog on the couch, Baynes said she was not a candidate for surgery because of her age and a heart murmur but could be treated with antibiotics.

A grateful Alice McKeown agreed and the vet took Jasmine out to the van, where he trimmed fur from around the growth, saying to her softly, "We're going to clean you up, sister."

After cleaning the wound and injecting Jasmine with an antibiotic, Baynes returned her to her happy owners.

"The goal is to improve her quality of life and make her comfortable until the time comes, when she is comfortable no more," Baynes said later.

Mike McKeown said his family was impressed with how Baynes took care of their pet.

Baynes acknowledges his customers aren't always expecting to see a vet who's more biker guy than Dr. Doolittle.

"I'm aware I've got some rough edges visually," he said. "I used to go out of my way to not look so threatening."

His tattoos include a tree of life on his right arm, a cross on his back, and a memorial to his father on his chest.

But he sometimes got questioning looks anyway.

"So I decided to be myself, to wear my hair the way I want to, to dress the way I want to, and get the tattoos I want to get," he said.

The animals don't care. And as for them, Baynes says what he fears most is the cat that needs to be handled and "tries to fillet you."

"The animals are easy; it's the people who are hard to deal with sometimes," he said.