[UPDATE 20 APRIL 2009: Since this was first posted it has had about 300 hits from people seeking information on the Dogue de Bordeaux. I have added information on this breed, and have referred to two books which should be read by all those considering acquiring pedigreed animals. Please read what I have inserted below the Dogue de Bordeaux photograph!]
At the end of my last post I promised to write about bot, dog, now and set.
To most readers in this post-millennial age a bot is simply a nasty piece of software, an unwelcome invader of your computer designed to send out spam emails advertising bogus enhancements of the male member and suchlike, or to steal personal information. Used in this sense the word is, of course, a neologism, an abbreviated version of “robot”.
To parasitologists or veterinarians such as myself, however, a bot is a nasty fly, an invader of the nasal passages of sheep and many species of wildlife, where its larval stages live, causing – you guessed it – sneezing and a snotty nose.
Still on the subject of animals! The dog, Canis lupus familiaris, a descendant of the wolf, is a familiar animal domesticated over 10,000 years ago. It is, of course, featured extensively in my book, Pet Hates.
What is particularly interesting to me, however, is the word. Unlike canine and canid (derived from Latin and etymologically related to chien in French, for example) and hound (hund or hond in Germanic languages), it is a word original to English, an orphan, if you like, although it was picked up from Old English by other languages, as in Dogue de Bordeaux, otherwise known as the French Mastiff.
Curiously, the Spanish word, “perro, also is a mystery word of unknown origin“.
[IMPORTANT NOTE TO ALL THOSE SEEKING INFORMATION ON “DOGUE DE BORDEAUX”
Since this blog was first posted it has had over a hundred hits from those seeking information about the “Dogue de Bordeaux”. As the pseudonymous author of Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets, I have a thing or two to say about pedigrees. The Dogue de Bordeaux is apparently one of the worst, being “horribly inbred with a very short life expectancy of about six years“.
Here’s my review of Emma Milne’s book (largely on the subject of the horrors of the inbred pedigree industry) first published as a myspace blog posting:
Monday, September 10, 2007
My review of The Truth About Cats and Dogs by Emma Milne
I have decided to post my review of Emma Milne’s excellent book on my site. I have written to her to congratulate her but have had no response. Emma, are you out there?
Hooray, I’m no longer the only one!
by Emma Milne.
Relief, delight, renewed optimism… These won’t be the reactions of most readers to Emma Milne’s wonderful book but they were certainly mine.
Ten years ago, horrified by what I experienced in the profession, I drafted the first version of my own book. Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets wasn’t published until October 2006. It took that long to find a publisher courageous enough to let me speak out against the James Herriot view of the business — dare I say the Vets in Practice view? — excitement and heroics, valiant deeds, grateful owners, healthy, happy animals and job satisfaction galore…. Perhaps cowardly (perhaps wise, to judge by some of the responses that Emma’s book has received) I used a pen name. My book was well received by many in the veterinary profession (indeed, I continue to receive correspondence from depressed, disillusioned and stressed vets, grateful to discover that someone has voiced their concerns and that they are not alone) though not The Establishment but, other than in Scotland, no mainstream media, up to the point of writing this review, seemed prepared to give it any coverage. Satisfying as the feedback from vets was, I had wanted my message to reach the Great British Public: I wanted people to grow up, and take a serious look at their attitudes to animals. Was my lone voice doomed to fade away largely unheard, drowned by the racket of commercial interests, celebrity obsession and consumer culture?
You can imagine then, that when a reader of Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets alerted me to the imminent publication of The Truth About Cats and Dogs and indicated the direction it would take, far from feeling upset or suspecting plagiarism, I was elated. More so when I learnt that the author was one of those TV vets whom I had thought of as partly responsible for the public’s misguided view of the profession. I ordered the book immediately and devoured it in less than two days, relishing every sentence. Thank you, Emma!
At this point let me emphasise that my book (Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets) and Emma’s book (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) are by no means identical. The similarity of our messages is surely down to the fact that the time is ripe (overdue) for plain speaking with regard to pets and vets. Emma’s conscience clearly drove her, as mine did me, to speak out.
The Truth About Cats and Dogs is both a moving biography and a no-holds-barred account of the stresses of being a vet. Not least amongst these is having to deal, day in and day out, with the ills of pets effectively bred to suffer. Unsurprisingly then, the book is to a large extent an exposé of what I would call the pedigree pet industry, at its best ignorant, at its worst wilfully mercenary and downright cruel. Small wonder that the public forum on Emma’s website had to be taken down due to the enraged postings of those whom her book targets!
Do the apparently disparate elements of The Truth About Cats and Dogs sit well alongside each other? Very much so. The opening section details Emma’s childhood love of animals, her dream of becoming a veterinarian, her academic struggle to get there, her overwhelming joy when she was eventually accepted into veterinary school. These pages portray a compassionate, sensitive and idealistic soul, one with whom many members of the “animal-loving” public will identify. The opening, then, is both the hook and the foil for what is to follow. Effectively travelling with her, a trusted and sympathetic friend, her discoveries of what the job is really like and, particularly, of the warped world of freakish pedigrees born to suffer, will be that much more powerful and disturbing to the innocent reader! Good!
Between these two sections — the childhood biography and the horrors of the pedigree world — are the chapters I enjoyed the most: Emma’s time at veterinary school. Although I qualified nine years before her (and on another continent) every moment of her time at university rang true and evoked memories of my own years of study. It’s hard for me to know what impression these pages will make on non-vets, but I’m sure virtually every veterinary graduate will recognise the near-insane mix of academic pressure and high jinks. Her final-year experiences working on the clinics bear an almost uncanny resemblance to my own, particularly her sleepless week dealing with horses with gastro-intestinal problems!
While Emma highlights the number of facts that would-be veterinarians have to take on board (and hints at the number of pints consumed!) tellingly she does not once mention receiving training in human psychology. A point she makes at the outset of Part Two of her book (titled “The Truth About Being a Vet”), however, is that a large part of the job is not about dealing with animals but about dealing with people, and that some of these people are verging on the lunatic! Her attempt to convey the pressures of the job is adrenalin-dischargingly successful, and readers might be interested to compare her chapter “Under Pressure: The Stresses of Being a Vet” to mine, “A Typical Day in a Vet’s Life”. If you don’t get the point from one you will surely get it from the other!
This last sentence leads to an obvious question: how do our books, in fact, differ? My book is an A-to-Z guide to the stresses of the job, written with considerable black humour from the perspective of a disillusioned male vet with nearly twenty years’ experience and laced with anecdote. (Idealism does show through occasionally.) Emma’s book is an engaging and factual account of the experiences and opinions of a young female vet, with ten years in the demanding profession behind her, much of it in front of a camera. She is not (yet!) as cynical or disillusioned… but the warning signs are there! Like Josh Artmeier she is no longer content with helping the odd individual animal in her role as veterinarian, but wants to make a significant impact on a much wider scale. Unlike Josh she has a media profile to help her, although some of her fans may be troubled by the sometimes blunt Emma revealed in her writing. Both Emma and Josh rant about the poor design of various breeds: Emma does it in a detailed and scientific way whereas Josh just… rants! Emma’s harsh words are leavened by humorous tales of her dogs — Josh’s harsh words aren’t leavened. Emma’s description of the stresses of performing euthanasia will leave many readers in tears (as she describes herself breaking down), whereas Josh has attempted (tongue-in-cheek) to portray the protective carapace that some develop as a survival mechanism. Emma’s book contains many a call-to-arms and a useful appendix of website addresses. Josh’s book contains, if anything, a more radical call-to-arms and he has consigned the list of useful contacts to his website. Finally, here are some quotes from the two books:
- Emma: Let me tell you, James Herriot has a lot to answer for (as I suppose I do, having made Vets in Practice for seven years and playing my role in misleading another entire generation).
- Josh: The faint of heart had better stick with James Herriot… I believe that the media (the plethora of books and ‘reality’ TV programmes on vetting) have a lot to answer for.
- Emma: If I just carry on plodding along doing my daily job and keep all this to myself I will die a very troubled and unfulfilled person.
- Josh: I fail to understand what satisfaction small animal veterinarians can get from their jobs, assuming that they are at all idealistic or think about the issues…
- Emma: Bulldogs… I’m asking for some common sense from those who love the breed. I’m trying to highlight what I believe are major causes for concern as far as welfare is concerned and I am in no way in a minority.
- Josh: Bulldogs… driven to distraction by the respiratory, cardiac, dermatological and reproductive problems of this monstrously cruel breed, and by the twisted and often mercenary people associated with it.
- Emma: … we – supposedly a nation of animal lovers — have a real problem here ourselves.
- Josh: … encourage […] members of the public to […] confront the irrationality of many of their attitudes to pets and vets.
In conclusion, if you read Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets and enjoyed it you will certainly enjoy The Truth About Cats and Dogs. The facts Emma Milne supplies will reinforce the arguments Josh Artmeier makes. If you read Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets and found the black humour disconcerting, then please read The Truth About Cats and Dogs. The tone is gentler although the messages are the same.
Welcome on board, Emma! It’s great no longer to be alone, but may you never become quite as disillusioned as Josh Artmeier! Let’s hope that together we can change things for the better.
P.S. Many years ago, while I was occupying one of the numerous locum positions I have held, I met one of Emma’s Vets in Practice colleagues (who shall remain nameless). He told me at that time that the TV series was not exactly 100 % honest in the way it portrayed things. It’s so good now to have one of that crew speaking out and explicitly trying to mitigate the harm that Vets in Practice may have done!
Pet Hates: The Shocking Truth About Pets and Vets by Josh Artmeier, ISBN 1902831489, was published by Argyll Publishing, Glendaruel, Argyll, PA22 3AE, in October 2006. Website: www.myspace.com/pethates
Here’s more on the health of pedigrees.]
What does now really mean? Can you think in the instant of time defined by it? Put differently, how much time is required for a thought? Is it possible to live in the moment? Is consciousness necessarily associated with memory and anticipation? For creatures that live shorter or longer lives than us do their thoughts take correspondingly more or less time? Could there be a super-intelligent alien race somewhere out there in the universe that lives for millennia and requires years to decide whether to have a cup of tea, or one that could read and translate À la recherche du temps perdu into Pam (having first to learn both French and Pam) in a matter of minutes? (I am tempted to digress onto the subject of calculus – differentiation and integration – but I shall resist!)
Arguably, the essence of Zen (another three-letter word) is to meditate on now.
Q. Do you meditate?
A. Now and Zen.
Yes, I’m a fiend for the pun, another three-letter word, the mention of which compels me to return to dog:
Q. What’s the definition of an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac?
A. Someone who lies awake at night wondering if there’s a dog.
Sorry, couldn’t resist trotting that out!
I set you the challenge of finding a word with more meanings than set! You may well set forth, full of optimism…
Yes, all mad fun!
To conclude, how about writing poems using only three three-letter words? Here’s my entry in the competition:
I look forward to your submissions. Use the Comment/Leave a Reply function below so others may see them. (Depending on how you’re viewing this blog you might see either description.)