Chuck Shaw is a vanishing breed--an old-style veterinarian with a quarter of a century of experience who runs a "mixed practice" in rural New Hampshire, treating everything from house cats to milk cows. Week after demanding week, he and his associate, horse expert Roger Osinchuk, make house calls and farm calls, and spend sleepless nights on call, to see to the well-being of patients whose only common denominator is an inability to speak. But the practice is booming, and Chuck decides to take on a third ...
Chuck Shaw is a vanishing breed--an old-style veterinarian with a quarter of a century of experience who runs a "mixed practice" in rural New Hampshire, treating everything from house cats to milk cows. Week after demanding week, he and his associate, horse expert Roger Osinchuk, make house calls and farm calls, and spend sleepless nights on call, to see to the well-being of patients whose only common denominator is an inability to speak. But the practice is booming, and Chuck decides to take on a third associate, Erika Bruner, fresh out of veterinary school.
Whynott follows these three practitioners into the world of contemporary veterinary medicine, as a witness to memorable encounters and daily dilemmas. He watches as they play gynecologist to cows and horses, obstetrician to calves and colts, podiatrist to creatures whose feet are life and death to them. He captures the struggle to learn a difficult craft on the job, describes the confluence of skill and intuition that is the essence of diagnosis, and depicts the ongoing effort to balance the needs and desires of animals and owners without compromising his creed. A Country Practice is a vivid portrait of the rapidly changing face of an ancient profession.
In this frank, engaging look at life as a country vet, Whynott (Following the Bloom) shows that it takes more than good training and a love of animals to make a mixed-animal practice successful. He shadows two seasoned associates in rural New Hampshire as they tend to the health of local dairy herds, treat skittish horses and minister to all manner of pet needs, from routine spayings to emergency amputations. Faced with an increasingly daunting workload, Chuck Shaw and Roger Osinchuck decide to hire Erika Bruner, who's fresh out of veterinary school. Though Whynott gives ample pages to each practitioner, Erika's experience in particular highlights how the profession is changing. "My friends in vet school have no idea why I like this," she says, referring to her hours spent ankle-deep in manure and "arm-deep in [cows]." "But there's something rugged about it that's appealing." But eventually she finds taking farm calls and clinic hours on her own too stressful and opts to join a more limited practice, where it's "more about the animals and less about herd health." Though one can easily sympathize, Roger's concern that bright but ambivalent students like Erika are taking vet school slots away from "some dumb farm boy [who] wanted to be a vet his whole life" raises provocative questions about the future of the rural mixed-animal practice. Agent, Ike Williams. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Obliquely affecting, nuts-and-bolts portrait of a country veterinarian and his evolving practice. Whynott (A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time, 1999, etc.) writes with a chiming sweetness that serves as a fine counterpoint to the vigors and travails of his subject, Charles Shaw. Located in rural New Hampshire, Shaw has a mixed-animal practice, rare in this age of specialization. As drawn here, he's the kind of man who will not pull the plug on a creature until all is said and done. Cats, dogs, and dairy cows are his bread and butter, but he also attends sheep, llamas, birds, pigs, donkeys, ferrets, and guinea pigs, which all fall under his notion of veterinary care. Shaw is no saint-he gets cranky when a call comes in at a 3 a.m. for the lamest of reasons-but he makes himself available at all hours (and brutal hours they are), whether it's for an obstetric need, a bovine manicure, or an insemination. Whynott applies the same skill in portraiture to Shaw's associate Roger Osinchuk, a horse doctor, and to a woman hired to share the everyday practice. Erika Bruner makes a fine foil to Shaw: she's a crazy-haired punk out of Tufts who has the wits to tap into her partner's sensibility, the exquisite touch that gives him entree into the condition of his charge. Conflict between Bruner and Shaw eventually results in her leaving the practice-"I wanted something that Chuck calls hand-holding and that I call mentoring, and Chuck was unable to give it," she says-but there is little doubt that both benefited from their time together. For all the changes affecting rural veterinary practice, so sharply drawn here by Whynott, these people still make house calls and deign to answer the phone late at night.Lucky New Hampshire animal owners. Should prompt warm appreciation for the dedicated practitioners of a job that ruins any social life and generates levels of stress that are not highlighted in veterinary school catalogues. Agent: Ike Williams/Kneerim & Williams
Douglas Whynott is the author of Following the Bloom, Giant Bluefin, and A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time. He lives near Hanover, New Hampshire, and directs the M.F.A. writing program at Emerson College in Boston.