Ask the Animals: A Vet's-Eye View of Pets and the People They Love

Ask the Animals: A Vet's-Eye View of Pets and the People They Love

by Bruce R. Coston D.V.M.

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In the tradition of James Herriot, Bruce R. Coston's first book is a warm, funny, and amazingly fulfilling celebration of the wonderful world of animals as seen through the eyes of a small-town veterinarian. The patients are an eclectic and surprising cast of characters who display incredible bravery and nobility at times, and unbelievable goofiness at other times. There's the dog that resurrected itself from death. There's Daphne, the transvestite cat who taught Bruce to be a cat person. And the owners are no less engaging, ranging from the angelic to the squeamish, teaching Bruce what it really means to be an animal doctor.

Readers will gain insight into the pathos and passion, the mundane and incredible, the thigh-slapping humor and the crushing sadness of a vet's life as he seeks to mend and restore people's treasured companions. Written with great warmth, this book imparts a deeper understanding of the pets that enrich our daily lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312653439
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 12/07/2010
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 736,565
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Bruce R. Coston, D.V. M. received his doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Minnesota and has received the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences Service Award. He lives with his family in New Market, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt


I've Not Forgotten

The morning dawned clear and bright, unusual for the first day in May in southern Tennessee where steamy rain is so common. Somehow it seemed appropriate for the day to be as bright as my spirits, which were riding high in anticipation of a day for which I had worked so long. I was graduating from college. And I was going out in style! I had recently received, at the annual awards ceremony, the outstanding senior award from the biology department, a great honor from my biology professors. The speech I had written and rehearsed, which it was my honor to give as senior class president, was ready for the ceremony. My proud parents, who had attended this very college not quite two decades previously, had arrived for graduation weekend, the first time they had been on campus since I had started school four years earlier. I had managed, through grit, determination, and hard work where natural ability had not sufficed, to pull down grades good enough to earn a cum laude sash that would ornament my graduation regalia. Nothing could make this day better!

Well, that wasn't quite true, if I was honest with myself. Two pieces of business seemed unfinished for me that day. Both, in my mind, were huge, life-defining issues that I had not yet nailed down. And try as I might, they still clouded just a bit the celebration of the day.

First was the little issue of my career. For me, the goal of becoming a veterinarian had not been what it so often is for many young people: an impulsive, poorly understood, and naïve phase of passing fancy. Not at all! Sure, it started that way when I was seven or eight. I felt certain still that my career path had been ordained at birth. But I had spent a great deal of time and energy in developing that interest. I had spent a couple of years working for a veterinarian in high school. I had devoted many summers at summer camps working with horses, my first love. Knowing the difficulty of gaining admittance into veterinary school, I had committed myself to my studies in both high school and college, earning very respectable grades. I had studied for, and done well in, both the Veterinary Aptitude Test and the Graduate Record Exam, tests that would figure prominently in whether or not my application would be given serious consideration by the admissions committee. I had left no stone unturned. I've since discovered that for most of us veterinarians, the realization of our future vocation is less a decision than it is an acceptance of a calling, a calling that to pursue demands a great deal of such sacrifices.

Getting into veterinary school is extremely difficult. This is so because, with so few veterinary schools in the country, the competition for each spot in each class is keen, and schools have the luxury of being extremely discriminating about whom they admit. Many states that don't have a veterinary school enter into formal agreements with states that do to admit a certain number of their resident students. If your state does have a school, the chances of being accepted into another state's school are quite low. Nonetheless, many astute applicants hedge their bets by applying to several veterinary schools. Apparently, I was not an astute applicant. I had placed no such hedge bets and applied only to the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, my resident state school.

And now here it was graduation day in May, and despite my good grades, excellent test results, awards and accolades, I had still not received my letter of acceptance. This was a problem for me because the notion that I may not be accepted into veterinary school had never entered my mind until the week before graduation. To be clear, it was not that I was so arrogant as to assume my acceptance was assured. Far from it. I knew the difficulty. It was just that I had never allowed any negative thoughts to dampen my aspirations. But in so doing, I had also failed to plan any alternative should that acceptance letter not arrive. What does one do with a degree in biology to earn a living after college anyway? For me, my degree had always been just a necessary step in my plan. It had never been an end in itself. At least not until about the last week or so of school when each day failed to bring a letter from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. But in that last week, I noted a rising level of discomfort about my insecure future that crescendoed into sheer panic by about Thursday.

What would I do if I didn't make it into school? I had no idea, no plan. Even then I knew I would not desert my goal of being a veterinarian. I would step back, take stock, and do some specific things to make myself more competitive for my next application. Perhaps I would go on and get a master's degree. I knew that as many as a third or more of most classes had advanced degrees. I could do that too. But I had not applied to graduate school either; never thought I'd need to. Maybe I could get a temporary, one-year stint at some job to pass the time for a while.

With these scary thoughts swirling in my head during my last college test week, my ears perked up when, at the cafeteria on that Thursday, one of my classmates mentioned that his father, the principal of a school in California, was in dire need of a science teacher. It had to be dire for him to consider me, with no training at all in education, no student teaching, no licensing. Yet, strangely, these thoughts did nothing to dissuade me from considering this option. That might work, I thought. I could spend a year at the front of a classroom instead of behind a desk while I formulated my next move. So, with a good recommendation from his son, the principal and I had set up an interview in his son's dorm room for two o'clock on the afternoon of graduation day. It was an appointment I could generate little enthusiasm for, to be sure, but at least I had a backup plan and that went far in relieving some of my uneasiness heading into graduation weekend.

The other issue was more complicated. I had been so focused in college on setting the stage for my lifework that I had put off thoughts of a life partner. Not that I didn't have prospects. I just didn't allow such things to distract me from my primary goal of getting good enough grades to get into school.

But there was Cynthia! Cynthia was a young woman who had first caught my eye during my sophomore year. I remember well the first time I saw her. One of my distractions from my studies during college was singing in a male chorus, Die Meistersinger. Few things can produce such rich, interlocking harmonies as the perfectly blended voices of thirty men. During my sophomore year, as the Christmas concert approached, Die Meistersinger held a rehearsal in the venue where the concert would be staged. As rehearsal began, I noticed a beautiful girl with auburn hair, a ready smile, and dancing eyes struggling to remove from the stage an ornate harp that towered over her short frame. Surely, our director, Dr. Roberts, suggested, there was, among thirty men, a gentleman or two that would be willing to help this poor girl move her heavy harp. Little did I know at the time, that the damsel in distress was his niece, a senior at the local high school, who lived in his house.

I was one of three men that came to her aid. But I was not the first one to reach her. In fact, two other men nearly vaulted over chairs to be the first one there. Both of them, rather bumbling and overbearing, were clearly vying for her attention. I was quite amused by their obvious fawning over her as the two of them awkwardly fumbled in tandem to accomplish a one-man job. Though my assistance was not really needed, I went along anyway to watch with amusement the two of them display to her, like preening birds of paradise. I was certainly not doing the same thing, you understand. Though she was undeniably gorgeous, I gave little thought to her beyond my amusement with the exhibitions of the other guys. She was too young for me, anyway. She was just in high school, after all. I was halfway through college. It was not until later that I learned Cynthia had gone back to her uncle's house that night and announced that she was going to marry Bruce Coston and have blond, curly-haired babies.

Early the next semester, Dr. Roberts, mentioned casually while standing at the urinal next to me, that he knew of a girl that might like to get to know me. And that's when Cynthia really came up on my radar screen. The next year, we went out for the first time to a banquet at which my male quartet sang and she played her harp. This required me to once again move her harp, a job that has been mine since the first time I saw her. I had a good time during the date, but was too focused on my studies to recognize that this girl had her eye on me.

That summer, though, things took a decidedly different turn. The male chorus was scheduled to tour Russia and Romania, quite a thrill for my young American heart in 1982 during the height of the cold war. Cynthia was invited by Dr. Roberts to come along as the female vocal soloist. During that two-week trip, Cynthia and I spent all of our time together. I have many memories of the amazing things we saw in Moscow, Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Riga, and Bucharest, but my most enduring memories of that trip are the times when Cynthia and I were huddled down in our seats on the bus engaged in deep and earnest conversations or laughing uproariously at some inside joke.

She had such an amazing giggle that just seemed to bubble out of her toes, enticing in its honesty and spontaneity. And her eyes. They just seemed to look right into me. And what she saw there, surprisingly, did not deter her. In fact, those incredible eyes reflected back the most amazing trust and confidence and warmth. I loved that music was important to her. Her musical talents far outshone my own, of course. She was a skilled harpist, pianist, tympanist, and vocalist; I merely sang. But our music was a touchstone that we could share forever. Her wit was keen, edged with an uncommon combination of innocence and cynicism. Not to mention that she thought I was funny too — and what's more irresistible than that? Both of us were serious about and committed to our religious heritage and spiritual journeys, which provided us a foundation of understanding that grounds us still. I fell in love with Cynthia in Russia. Our first kiss was in Bucharest in the stairwell of the Hotel Internationale.

I remember in the plane on the way back across the Atlantic, we spoke of the future, of how we envisioned our lives would unfold. It seemed idyllic. Cynthia's major was office administration so she could support her music hobby, and that fit perfectly with my vision of one day owning and operating my own hospital. We would make music together. I would carry her harp. We would have blond, curly-haired babies.

Upon our return, I immediately headed west for the summer camp in Alberta, Canada, where I was in charge of the horsemanship program. Cynthia returned home to Georgia where she faithfully wrote me a letter several times a week. I immersed myself in the activities of camp. I loved getting Cynthia's letters, but must admit to writing no more than three or four letters back the entire summer.

When school started in the fall, I was pleased to discover that Cynthia would be the pianist for both Die Meistersinger and the Southernaires Quartet in which I was the baritone. This meant that we would be on tour at least two or three weekends of every month — more time to spend together. As the fall semester progressed, however, and I once again dove into the all-consuming work of continuing my academic pursuits toward veterinary school, an alarming realization began to dawn on me. I began to see in Cynthia's eyes a reality that was becoming more clear for her each day. Cynthia loved me, and she loved me for the long term. This should have come as no surprise for me. I loved her too. But the weight of knowing that she might really be the one generated in me an alarming sense of finality that is common to the male psyche.

And, though I am not proud of it now, I did what many a red-blooded American college man does when he realizes that a beautiful girl has long-term plans for him. I fled. Just a few weeks into the year, I broke up with Cynthia while sitting on the brick wall in the promenade late one Friday evening. I remember with regret the feeling as her hand went limp and cold in mine as the intent of my conversation struck her. I remember the set of the jaw and the fierce control of her features as we parted that night. The effect of my self-centered fears on her tender heart remains one of the deepest regrets of my life to this day. The scars of that night still haunt and still bite. It wasn't because I didn't love her; I did. And if I could explain on behalf of all men the fear that thoughts of forever somehow evoke in our hearts, it would still not excuse the pain I brought her that night; nor would it erase the memories of a broken heart.

Still, with our commitments to Die Meistersinger and Southernaires Quartet, we spent a great deal of time together during my senior year in college. Though we weren't officially dating, our friendship and understanding of each other deepened. We still often engaged in deep and personal conversations of great significance to both of us. We shared fun times and inside jokes. Throughout the remainder of the year my heart still skipped a few beats when I would hear her laugh in just that certain way or see the unmistakable message in her transparent eyes. Somehow, despite the trauma I had inflicted upon her, she still allowed me close enough to maintain an emotional intimacy that unnerved me. In an effort to keep her at arm's length, I started dating Lucy; whose laugh annoyed everyone in the quartet (including me) so much that they were relieved when I would take her to the back of the van and keep her mouth otherwise occupied. But truly, my heart just wasn't in it, and it lasted only a few weeks. Cynthia and I remained such close friends throughout my senior year that most of the men at school who wanted to ask her out assumed she was taken and didn't. This, frankly, suited me just fine.

So entering into graduation weekend there remained this tension of unfinished business with Cynthia. Immediately after graduation weekend, my plan was to spend two weeks in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota with Tim, one of my best friends. From there, I was headed back to Alberta, Canada, and another summer in the horse barn at camp. Cynthia's plan was to move to Atlanta and find work there. Graduation weekend was shaping up to be our final good-bye. The angst this generated in my heart took me off guard.

The graduation ceremony was truly a high point in my life. As the president of the class, I marched into the auditorium first and turned to face my classmates as they marched down the aisle. As each of my friends came past, my mind relived the good times we had shared in school. It was a bit awkward as Lucy came by in her nursing regalia, though we did manage a smile and a mutual good luck wish. But as Cynthia came down the aisle, I was transfixed. I watched her the whole way, mouth alive with her four-lane smile as she acknowledged her family and connected with friends. Then our eyes met and held, hers with such resolute conviction of feeling, mine with emotions that I still couldn't sort out. And then she was past me, possibly forever out of reach. I gave a perfunctory speech with little to distinguish it. And then we graduates were out on the lawn, throwing our caps, extending and receiving congratulations, and saying our goodbyes.

Afterward, still flush with accomplishment, I made my way to the dorm to change for a meal with my family and a few friends. As I passed the front desk, I noticed some envelopes in my mailbox. I dialed in my combination and pulled out three envelopes, sorting through them as I walked to my room. Two were junk mail, of course. But the third was rather thick and bore the logo of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in the return address corner. I stopped in my tracks, sucking in an apprehensive gulp of air. I was too afraid to open it immediately, setting it instead on the dresser in my room where, like an unexploded grenade, it occupied a huge place in my consciousness as I changed. Finally, I stuck it unopened in my pocket and went to meet my family at the restaurant.

After we ate, those around the table began handing me cards and gifts for graduation. I opened them one by one and extended my thanks to each person. But my mind kept coming back to the envelope burning a hole in my pocket. After all the cards were opened, I pulled it from my pocket.

"I have one more graduation card that came in the mail just today," I said. "This one is from the University of Minnesota."


Excerpted from "Ask the Animals"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Bruce R. Coston.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Within the Fragile Circle,
I've Not Forgotten,
Myself the More,
Ralston and Squirt,
The End and the Beginning,
A Shot in the Dark,
My First Time,
Daphne the Transvestite,
A Cheep Shot,
Too Little Sugar,
Chinchilla Surprise,
Out to Lunch,
The Heavy Wooden Door,
The Firstborn,
The Gift,
Not for the Faint of Heart,
And Along Came Another,
Nine Minus One,
Farewell to Cy,
Ollie and the Ball Valve,
An Angel Among Us,
Ollie's Final Fight,
What's in a Name?,
Infectious Holly,
The Old Bait and Switch,
Slipped Disk,
Holly's Foot,
Dr. Prudence,
The Proposal,
A Rocky Start,

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