BOOKS: Ask the Animals: A vet’s-eye view of pets and the people they love

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2011:

Ask the Animals:  A vet’s-eye view  of pets and the people they love
by Bruce R. Coston,  DVM
Thomas Dunne Books (175 Fifth Ave.,  New York,
NY 10010),  2010.  274 pages,  paperback.  $14.99.

I like books that start with a bark and don’t stop yapping until I’m done.  Ask the Animals isn’t one of them.  Having spent the past 20 years volunteering in animal shelters,  including shelter clinics,  I have an idea how brisk and lively a vet’s office can be–but I read nearly 50 pages of Ask the Animals before Coston moved past his personal life to introduce an animal who was not his own. This was a dog named Tess who was referred to his teaching hospital for a further evaluation of a complex medical problem.

The animal cases that Coston describes are interesting. For instance,  a woman who was boiling eggs called him in the mistaken belief that there was a living chick in one of the eggs.

Parts of the book recall the frequent frustration of animal advocates with the slow evolution of veterinary perspectives. Coston–who graduated from the University of Minnesota veterinary school in 1987–was initially adamantly opposed to castrating male dogs. He refused to have his dog neutered even though the dog wandered and inappropriately marked territory.
He does now see that male dogs and cats have no untoward effects from castration.

Later,  after Coston took a position in upstate New York,  he and his wife moved into an apartment house whose manager prohibited dogs.  The Costons therefore took a free-to-good-home kitten from a person whom Coston describes as a “careless breeder.”  I preach the spay/neuter mantra as a long-term shelter volunteer.  I expect others in animal care–especially vets–to do the same.  Coston did not.

The back cover of Ask the Animals bills the book as having been written “in the tradition of James Herriot.”  I’m sorry but I simply cannot agree.               –Debra J. White

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