“All things wise and wonderful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.”
-Cecil Francis Alexander
I am one of those unusual, but very fortunate people who knew what they wanted to do at a very young age. As long as I can remember, I wanted to ride horses and I wanted to be a veterinarian.
I began taking riding lessons when I was five years old, and I have continued riding throughout most of my life. We now have four horses, and I still take lessons, jump and compete in shows. It is fun and exciting because every horse is a little different and there is always something new
to learn. I think that is part of what drew me toward the veterinary field. You can never learn everything there is to know, and there’s always a surprise.
My family has always had pets. Our pet dog, Tiger, had to be put to sleep when I was three years old. I think that is what first made me decide to become a veterinarian. I really don’t remember. I was one of those kids that gravitated toward any animal that was around. In over half my childhood pictures, there was me with a dog or cat or horse, donkey, whatever, or one of the endless number of stuffed animals that I collected. My mom always said that I would grow up to be a vet and marry a vet and we would be rich. Well, we’re not rich yet, but maybe someday we’ll hit the lottery because otherwise, the rich thing is not happening. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
So, by four years old, I already had my life all planned out, but that is not to say that my path was straight by any means. As a teenager, one of my most influential role models told me that she couldn’t see me as a veterinarian. I am still not exactly sure what that was supposed to mean, but
at that time, it seemed like it meant I wasn’t cut out for the job. It had such an impact on me that I pursued a career in engineering. Fortunately, after two computer programming classes, statistics and differential equations, I discovered for myself that I hated engineering and was REALLY not cut out for that. I couldn’t even succeed in my Utopias class which I loved. So, out of desperation, I majored in biology, and applied to vet school, and eventually discovered that I was cut out to be a vet, and it really was the career for me.
Applying to vet school was interesting. There is a general feeling amoung crusty old vets that the romantic fantasies of animal lovers are not a qualification for becoming a veterinarian. In fact, they scoffed at people who cited their love of animals, their claims that animals gravitate toward them, and particularly their inspiration by James Herriott books as qualifications for vet school. As a very perceptive person, I tried to convince them of my qualifications without remarking on any of the above (even though I totally fit the bill on all three, especially the last). I not sure that I completely convinced them, but I did get into vet school. I also have to say that as a semi-crusty, semi-old vet, I understand their skepticism, at least on the first two counts, but I have to disagree about James Herriott.
For those of you unfamiliar with James Herriott, shame on you. Also, you now have homework. Go to your Kindle account or your local library, if you are still familiar with those rare things that have pages and live on bookshelves, and get a copy of James Herriott’s All Creatures Great and Small. It is a great book. Now, the aforementioned crusty old vets could be heard to say that veterinary practice was not like James Herriott’s books. I believe those veterinarians never actually read one of his books. Maybe they read one of the short stories taken from his books or maybe they watched an episode of the TV series, maybe they just watched the previews. There is no way they could be telling the truth and have read one of his novels. At the very beginning of his first novel, James Herriott describes in detail, the unpleasantness of dealing with a crotchity old farmer, bad weather and cold water when having to help deliver a calf that was stuck. I believe that calf, and maybe the cow, ended up dying. That doesn’t seem like a very romantic image to me. Fortunately, not all his cases went in that direction, and he mixed in funny and heart-warming cases along with the frustrating and depressing ones. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t read one of his books in a long time, but it seems like his books were pretty accurate as well as being entertaining.
I actually think about James Herriott often. It helps me focus on the positive and be more light-hearted about the frustrations of the veterinary profession. After all, when he started practicing, antibiotics and vaccines were not readily available and the technologies we have today hadn’t even been imagined. Still, his intuition and his ability to come up with creative solutions to new problems are some of the most important and gratifying qualities found in veterinarians, regardless of the age. I personally feel that James Herriott should be required reading for all veterinary students, but I may never be old enough or crusty enough to convince those doctors on the admissions committee of that.