When I first picked up this book, subtitled “A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss, and Hope,” I was expecting stories like the one about the blind golden retriever that had never been in the water but swam out to rescue a drowning person, or the three-minute Disney-type videos on The Dodo. Instead, the author offers something more serious but surprisingly engrossing.
The book is a memoir, with each chapter centered around a different animal that furthered her growth as a veterinarian. Suzy Fincham–Gray emigrated to the U.S. from England in 2000 to take an internship at the University of Pennsylvania’s animal emergency room. Having come from a small town that she compared to the village in “All Creatures Great and Small,” it was a shock then, to move to Philadelphia and learn that not only did policemen carry guns, dogs could actually get a gun-shot wounds.
The author arrives as a young intern and learns to cope with a bewildering array of situations, including administering emergency treatments while converting measurements to the U.S. customary system. She navigates the competitive world of a hospital in an academic institution, which at times sounded like the rivalry in the first year of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Eventually leaving academia for private practice, she marries and moves to San Diego.
Fincham–Gray’s specialty is internal medicine, so the patients profiled are always very sick. She pursues their puzzling symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis with a doggedness that rivals Dr. House’s. She has more warmth and compassion, though, and each animal teaches her almost as much about the human–animal bond or the doctor–owner relationship as it does about the illness. With Fritz, the dachshund who developed pancreatitis after eating a hot dog and died a miserable death, she resolved to stand up to an owner in denial who refused euthanasia. Other times ,she grappled with how much is too much to put a sick dog through to try to save it, especially in the case of an Irish wolfhound that recovered, only to die a short time later from a different, breed-related disease.
Along the way, she carefully explains each illness and thoughtfully discusses topics I’d never heard of—the ethics of blood banks for dogs, or the high cost of keeping Britain rabies-free, for example. And I may even have a new appreciation for cats.