A few months ago I was asked to provide an endorsement for Suzy Fincham-Gray’s book called My Patients and Other Animals: A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss, and Hope. After reading a few pages I gladly sad “Yes,” and I waited patiently for the book to be published. It’s now available and I was thrilled when Dr. Fincham-Gray said she had the time to answer a few questions about her wonderful career as a veterinarian for individuals of many different species of animals for whom she had to make life-saving decisions including terribly difficult choices about end-of-life care. In her inspirational book about loving, healing, and losing different animals, we read about “Grayling, an Irish wolfhound in need of critical treatment. We learn about the fulfillment of caring for a chronically ill pet from the story of Zeke, a silver-brown tabby cat who likes to eat just a little too much; and we fall in love with Monty and Emma, Fincham-Gray’s own adopted cat and dog, who change her life in joyful and unexpected ways.” This gem of a book is filled with science, but the animals remain front and center.
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
My interview with Dr. Fincham-Gray went as follows.
Why did you write My Patients and Other Animals?
When I first sat down to write, I had no intention of using my life and career as subject matter. However, I found myself returning again and again to the stories of the patients I’ve treated and the animals I’ve loved. It is these dogs and cats, who refused to be silent, that compelled me to write this book. Once I began, I realized the bigger narrative about the relationships we share with the animals in our lives. I also wanted to write about the unique struggles and joys that accompany my career as a veterinarian and small animal internal medicine specialist.
How does it follow from your tireless work as a veterinarian and why did you decide to pursue that as a career?
My writing and my work as a veterinarian have become inextricably linked. By writing about my experiences as a veterinarian I have come to understand my career more deeply, and writing has changed me as a doctor. Writing has forced me to take a more objective and deeper look at the role I play in the lives of my patients and their families. And I am able to explore, through the written word, the cases and decisions I have found most challenging.
At the age of twelve I decided to become a veterinarian. It’s interesting that the reasons I chose this career thirty years ago are not the same as the ones that keep me practicing today. Initially, it was a love of science that propelled me towards veterinary medicine, but now it is the relationships I form with my patients and their families that mean the most to me.
What are your major messages?
Seventeen years ago I made an oath upon graduation from vet school, that my constant endeavor will be to ensure the welfare of animals committed to my care. And this is my guiding principle when treating my patients and caring for my own animals. This is a message I hope readers come to appreciate and consider in reference to the relationships they share with the animals in their lives. I think we often struggle with making the decision that is best for the animal, and not the decision that is best for ourselves. As medicine progresses and domestic animals are living longer than ever before I want us all to be aware and understand the dilemmas we are faced with when making choices for the animals we love.
I also hope that readers will comprehend the work veterinarians do in a new way from reading my work.
Who is your intended audience?
The natural audience would include anyone who has loved an animal. Although I write from the perspective of a small animal (i.e. dogs and cats) internal medicine specialist I think the themes of loving and caring for another animal that cannot verbalize their own wishes are universal across the species.
Do you have hope that the future will be a much better time for other animals?
Absolutely! We are continually evolving our understanding of other species, which I hope will ultimately be to the benefit of all animals on earth. As we learn more about animal sentience, which puts in question previously held dogma, I hope we can use this knowledge to change the way we interact with, and provide for, all animals.
What are some of your current and future projects?
While writing My Patients and Other Animals I discovered several themes that I am planning to explore in my future writing projects. In particular, I am fascinated by how our decision making for the non-human animals we love might inform similar decisions for our human loved ones, particularly when end of life care is considered. The recent popularity of overseas pet adoption is another subject I would like to explore more deeply; from the diseases that can be seen in different areas of the world to the social and economic impact of global pet adoption, there are many topics that I’d like to research, understand and write about.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?
I hope that My Patients and Other Animals encourages discussion and increased awareness of the unique dilemmas we face as an animal-loving community.
Thank you, Suzy, for a most candid and beautifully written book. I hope it enjoys a global audience and I highly recommend it to anyone who shares their homes and hearts with other animals, including students of veterinary medicine and practicing veterinarians. Each time I pick it up I’m overwhelmed with her commitment to each and every individual with whom she has contact. Dr. Fincham-Gray’s nonstop life taking care of all sorts of nonhuman animals in need is a deeply inspirational and personal journey and a model for all, one that is filled with joy, sorrow, tears, love, loss, and hope. It really is a gem.