“My Patients and Other Animals” by Suzy Fincham-Gray
c.2018, Spiegel & Grau
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
288 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Lions and tigers and bears, Oh, my!

You probably don’t have any of those in your house right now – at least not in their full-size versions – but the kitty and puppy lying nearby might sometimes seem as ferocious as their larger cousins. Oh, my, as you’ll see in the new book “My Patients and Other Animals” by Suzy Fincham-Gray, we’re wild for our pets!

Even at the tender age of fourteen, young Suzy Fincham knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian. That was how old she was when she began volunteering at a local animal clinic – the same Herefordshire-area clinic where later, as a veterinarian-school graduate, she’d “seen practice” and learned a thing or three about larger animals.

While that was helpful and Fincham was tempted to stay in Great Britain , she knew that her heart was with cats and dogs, not sheep and cattle. With a lump in her throat and a multi-year plan in mind, she came to America to attend Cornell University , which led her to the University of Pennsylvania ’s veterinary teaching hospital.

It was there that she came to understand that the relationship between people and their pets baffled her. Fincham hadn’t grown up with pets in her childhood household so, for better understanding and because she was lonely, she adopted a cat, then another, and a third. With her own pets in mind, it was easy to see human connections in pet-ownership, but at the same time, Fincham’s impatience caused conflict with co-workers. Looking for a better fit, job-wise, she moved to Baltimore where her family grew to include a man and a hyphen; then to San Diego , where they gained a long-awaited dog.

In her career, Fincham-Gray has met animals that left their pawprints on her heart and lessons in her head. There was Hercules, a Doberman and her first GSW. A wolfhound taught her that her instincts and sub-conscious were both good tools to rely on. A jaundiced cat taught her that limits can be moved; she learned that hasty decisions are the worst ones to make; and she discovered that it’s hard when a pet dies, no matter whose pet it is…

Seriously, I defy you not to cry.

Nah, it’s going to be impossible. If you’re someone who loves a four-footed kid, “My Patients and Other Animals” won’t let you stay dry-eyed for long.

And yet, much as you’re going to enjoy the almost-Herriot-type beginning of this animal-loving delight and as much as you’ll eat up most of it, beware that there are things here you won’t like. Author Suzy Fincham-Gray describes old-time practices that may make readers gasp. She recalls dogs in pain, cats near death, injuries, abandonment, and not all the endings are happy. Don’t cry.

The good news is that those cringe-worthy bits are balanced by thoughtful observations on the human-animal bond, dogs-dogs-dogs, “moggies,” and bit of romance. For a dog- or cat-person, even despite a few shudders, that makes “My Patients and Other Animals” a can’t-miss book. Being without it could be un-bear-able.