You can teach a veterinarian all the professional skills in the world, an internationally renowned practitioner/educator once told me, but you can’t always instill in him or her the best people skills.
After reading this chatty, introspective memoir, I certainly would hope a Dr. Nick Trout clone would be “By My Dog’s Side” in a time of need. Trout gets it and it comes across beautifully as he details his childhood days in England and the spirited, sometimes icy family dynamics surrounding their dogs, Patch, a German shepherd; Whiskey, a “lion-hearted” golden retriever; and Bess, a rescue Labrador retriever mix “with a “dash of hound and a smidgeon of terrier.”
Each, of course, is fraught with challenges — like a near-death experience with parvovirus by Whiskey — all of which offer learning experience for young Nick, who aspires to become a veterinary surgeon. He remains on course and eventually graduates from the University of Cambridge veterinary school. Later, he travels to the United States, where today he serves as a staff surgeon at the prestigious Angell Memorial Center in Massachusetts.
In “Ever By My Side,” Trout is refreshingly up close and personal throughout, from his youthful days to a couple of decades later as a husband, father, respected surgeon and pet owner.
Here are a few of his candid observations:
“More than any other breed of dog I encounter in my work, German shepherds seem inclined to gravitate to one particular individual in their pack. This relationship is special and they develop a unique chemistry.”
“The more emotionally invested you become in a case (and he does in several in this sparkling read), the more problematic it is destined to become.”
“For some of us, living with a pet can be a bit like finding religion; once you’ve been converted, it’s hard to imagine life without them.”
“One of my biggest failings as a veterinarian who shares his life with cats and dogs at home is a desensitization to their everyday health-care issues. . . . You can get so caught up in the big stuff at work, you become inattentive to the little stuff at home.”
“Our pets are the kids who never leave home, and that is absolutely fine by us because these kids don’t ask for the keys to the car, don’t turn up drunk at 2 in the morning, and don’t complain if you turn their bedroom into a home gym. Their presence in times of upheaval and transition acts as a touchstone, a reminder of normalcy, of comfort, and the certainty of a love that can get you through.”
While accented with wide-angle snapshots of cases, Trout is at his best with engaging family stories, ranging from his challenging interactions with Reginald C. Cat, already a family member of his wife Kathy and step daughter Whitney, to the recognition that the couple’s young daughter Emily has cystic fibrosis.
The latter proves an extraordinary wakeup call and stark contrast with a recent case where he saved a burned animal’s life and leaves Trout questioning how the public values pet and human life.
Packed with memorable characters and inspiring lessons that breathe vivid life into each story, “Ever By My Side” captures the heart and soul behind the professional face of one special veterinarian.