Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ever By My Side: A Memoir in Eight A/c/t/s/ Pets, by Nick Trout


Broadway Books, ISBN 9780767932004, February 2011

Dr. Nick Trout is a veterinary surgeon practicing at Boston's MSPCA Angell Animal Medical Center. He's written some charming books about his experiences with patients; this is an equally charming book about his experiences with his own pets, from the first much-loved but inadequately socialized German shepherd growing up in England, to current pets shared with wife and daughters here in New England.

In addition to the family pets, we meet Trout's family, his dog-loving father, and dog-tolerating mother and sister. If the mother is somewhat more than "tolerant" of dogs, and plays an active role in choosing at least some of those dogs, she's not going to admit it. At least not for many years!

His father, though, is a real dog-lover, although many "dog people" will cringe at the lack of training the Trout family dogs receive. He's also a huge fan of James Herriot, reading the books and watching the BBC tv series religiously, and is thrilled as Nick becomes interested in a veterinary career. He comes to imagine a future with Nick as a country vet a la Herriot, and himself as Nick's practice manager, in the Yorkshire countryside. It's a vision that Nick doesn't embrace, especially once he's in veterinary school and discovers the challenge and attraction of veterinary surgery. This creates a certain amount of tension between them, and the elder Trout creates a bit more pressure with his insistence that Nick give the the two current dogs a "once over" on each visit home, long before Nick has any real veterinary knowledge, and despite the fact that the male in particular is not very tolerant of being examined.

But this is a loving, devoted family. Nick's father wants what's best for him, even when it means giving up his own dream of managing his son's country practice--and even when it means his son moves across an ocean to be a veterinary surgeon in America. Nick learns from his father's dogs, and from his father. And they maintain a close connection even when an ocean apart.

America brings him new experiences, not just in surgery, but in the form of a wife, daughters, and even the new and startling experience of cats as pets. This is a warm and loving memoir, and a different side of Nick Trout than we see in his other books.

Recommended.