Monday, November 17, 2008

Animal Books

Animal books are my guilty pleasure.

Not in the sense of the online definition of “something one considers pleasurable despite it being mainly received negatively or looked down on by a majority of society” but more in the sense that I enjoy reading (most) of them so much that it triggers a sense of guilty (yes, catholic education).

“All My Patients are Under the Bed – memoirs of a cat doctor” is a special book. It’s more than a glimpse into the practice of a veterinarian, for which a contemporary look is best achieved by reading “Tell Me Where it Hurts” by Dr Nick Trout, and more of an historical glimpse at how much veterinarian medicine changed in the last century.

Dr Louis Camuti started practicing in 1921 and as he explains, at that time horses were by far the main fare of the veterinarian. Cars would of course, radically alter the picture in the following years. At first some vets wouldn’t even stoop so low as to treat a domestic cat or dog! After the II World War the urban dweller’s relationship with animals (and vets) changed even further, especially in New York City – women took to the workplace and pets were the only ones home in many households. Since cats are notorious bad patients anyway, Dr Camuti slowly became an itinerant doctor – starting his workday at about 4 pm and ending it no sooner than 2 or 3 am, what with NY parking and traffic being what it is.

The book makes for compulsive reading, filled with humorous encounters with cats and their owners of which Camuti states “some are more normal than others”.

I should state right now that I am a closet cat lover – closeted because, I have two dogs, one of which positively hates kitties. This online test tells me I’m a cat person – but really the only thing these tests do, is tell you whether you are an introvert or extrovert and then, operate on the (false, to my mind) assumption that cat = calm, quiet and dog=loud, boisterous. As if cats and dogs didn’t show a range of personalities. At least two introverted girls you might have heard of enjoyed the company of large, not very polite dogs: Emily Bronte and her mastiff, Keeper and Emily Dickinson and her Newfoundland, Carlo. Their relationship with dogs and those of Woolf, Barrett Browning and Wharton are analyzed in Maureen Adams “Shaggy Muses”.

For more on personality and dog breeds, check out Stanley Coren’s “Why We Love the Dogs We Do – how to find the dog that matches your personality”. It features the stories of Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, Emily Bronte, Nixon, James Stewart, Byron and others along with their canine companions. It includes a personality test and is just so fun I keep going back to it – it is my best-thumbed dog book and it even features a chapter on “Cat People”, although a not very kind one – it portrays cat lovers as aloof, unemotional and cold.

Of “Woman’s Best Friend – Women writers on the dogs in their lives” and “Cat Women – Female writers and their feline friends” I think I enjoyed Cat Women better – but part of it is just the curiosity of knowing how the other half lives, because they are both filled with great stories.


jenclair said...

I hope you have read James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small about his experiences as a Yorkshire vet. Wonderful animal stories!

bookworm said...

jeclair - actually I haven't...yet. But I remember seeing the British TV series based on the book when I was little - and I didn't like it because there seemed to be mud silly...
On the other hand I loved the series based on "My family and other animals", and read the book recently.
Funny how tv "memories" can influence reading choices