BOOKS: Animal Hospital

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1996:

Animal Hospital
by Stephen Sawicki
Chicago Review Press (814 North
Franklin Street, Chicago, IL 60610)
1996, 234 pages, $22 hardcover.

Veteran investigative reporter
Stephen Sawicki apparently became interested
in the Massachusetts SPCA’s Angell Memorial
Animal Hospital while authoring Teach Me To
Kill, his best-selling account of the Pam Smart
case, in which a New Hampshire schoolmarm
allegedly seduced a 16-year-old into murdering
her husband––after she put his beloved dog
in the basement, so that the dog wouldn’t have
to witness the killing. Smart, now doing life
in prison, was among Angell Memorial’s
many famous and infamous clients, along
with Elvis Presley and Stephen King.

Spending a year haunting the
MSPCA corridors, Sawicki has produced both
a page-turner for animal-lovers and fans of
hospital drama, and a thorough, sympathetic
but not uncritical documentary on the history
and operations of the world’s oldest and
largest full-service animal hospital.
Because his focus is on the hospital,
not the MSPCA itself, Sawicki spends little
time on other MSPCA programs, but provides
important context illuminating the perennial
controversy about the central place Angell
Memorial has in MSPCA fundraising, the
prices it charges for treatment, the salaries it
pays, and the choice it made long ago to
emphasize multifaceted advanced veterinary
care over either low-cost neutering and vaccination,
which it also does, or teaching and
research, which it has always done and continues
to do, but does less since the Tufts School
of Veterinary Medicine branched off in 1980.
Sawicki’s most memorable chapters
introduce the people who personify Angell
Memorial at the various levels, from the front
desk right up to the presidential suite. He’s at
his best in addressing the paradoxical personalities
of people like Thomas Perkins, the notso-kindly
owner of King, one of the most
heroic German shepherds on record, and
recently retired pathologist Jim Carpenter, an
ardent hunter who was long at odds with official
MSPCA policy. These cases exemplify
the conflict between ideals and actuality present
in all humane work, the central ethical
issue of which always involves when and how
much to compromise principle in order to
make a practical difference for suffering animals
here and now.
Some at the MSPCA may take
exception to the less flattering aspects of
Sawicki’s portrait. Critics of the MSPCA may
accuse him of whitewashing their longstanding
grievances. Readers of any perspective, however,
should gain significant new insight into
one of the humane movement’s most complex
and influential institutions.

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