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James Herriot (Alfred Wight), author of All Creatures Great & Small, and Dr. Miller corresponded frequently before the world's most famous veterinary author passed away. They were great mutual fans of one another and when he learned that Dr. Miller was writing his own practice memoirs, he offered to write the following introduction:
By James Herriot - Some ten years ago I was sitting in a solitary state in my kitchen in Yorkshire, drinking my morning cup of tea and allowing the world to creep up on me. At the same time I was opening my mail and was totally unprepared for a letter from America which began, "Dear Sir, You are a scoundrel. You have plagiarized my entire life." I almost spilled my tea, and as I read on I found I was being accused of a wide variety of misrepresentations. "The setting of your book was not the Yorkshire dales and moors, it was the mountains and valleys of southwestern Montana. And when you describe how you had to climb through the ceiling to escape from a kicking cow, that was on the Parini place, just a few miles from here. I remember it too well." I had begun to remember, and it was not until the writer exploded "Anyway, your wife's name is not Helen, it's Dorothy!" that I realized I was having my leg pulled.
The nice man who wrote was an eminent American veterinarian named Harry Furgeson, and it was his humorous way of expressing a fact that is so very true_ that the things that happened to me have happened to fellow veterinarians all over the world.
This has been the source of many happy meetings with my colleagues in other countries. We have swapped experiences, listened to the successes and failures that are part of veterinary life, and shared congratulations and commiserations. Most of all, we have laughed together, Animals are unpredictable things, and when they are sick, anything can happen. And whereas a physician's human patients are usually trying to cooperate with him, ours are invariably trying to thwart us at every turn. This state of affairs gives rise to situations that can be embarrassing, humiliating, dangerous, and occasionally terrifying. However these things, though traumatic at the time, are often funny in retrospect, and it was this aspect of my professional life that motivated me to start writing in the first place. Veterinary practice, of course, has its sad side. Animals are totally vulnerable: they are dependent on us, and it is unforgivable to let them down. I think it is this fact that engenders the deep pull that they have on our emotions.
Not many veterinarians have taken up the pen to record their varied and interesting lives. Usually they are too busy, or they are just incapable of putting it down on paper. Some of them have been kind enough to say that they envied my ability to do this. Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that I envied the gifted R.M.M. [Robert M. Miller's cartoonist initials] when I first opened a book of his cartoons. In fact, I read it in a kind of ecstasy. I just could not believe that these hundreds of brilliant drawings, going right to the heart of our work, could possibly be produced by a man who had to cope with the twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week life I knew so well. With what I can only call a uniquely perceptive genius, he touches on every slant and facet of our profession, and I literally rolled about tin my chair, punctuating the belly laughs with gasps of "Oh yes, that happened to me!" And sometimes, wiping my eyes, I had to admit that even after my forty years at the game, his intuitive skills could still conjure up some aspect that had escaped me. The whole vast spectrum of the veterinary scene is revealed, apparently effortlessly, by a few quick flicks of the pen. The grumpy farmer, the lethal patient, the papered pets with their wacky, unreasonable owners - they are all there, real, vivid, leaping alive from the pages.
My response to that first book was not only emotional, it was visceral. These things touched me so deeply. They not only made me laugh, they filled me with warm reassurance that there was somebody far away who had been thought it all and had not let the things go by, but had lifted them from his life and preserved them for others to see. It's a funny thing, but much a is love my professional colleagues, the things I like to hear at our get-togethers are not about the impressive and daunting triumphs, but about their embarrassing moments, their awkward predicaments. These are the things that prove we are al fallible, and they comfort me.
When I first took up the manuscript of Most of My Patients Are Animals I wondered - could this man possibly weave his spells in another medium? Within a few pages I realized he was twice blessed, and I began to revel in his stories with the same joy I had felt with e the cartoon books. Bob Miller writes beautifully, and I was borne along on waves of clean, uncluttered prose, laughing helplessly most of the time. There were other bonuses, too. In this book I learned something of his personal life, and I found that he dealt with the serious and sometimes tragic incidents with the same sure touch he revealed in the humorous ones. My long-held conviction that Dr. Miller is a genius is confirmed by this book for all time.
The mixture is incomparably rich. Birds and bulls, horses sheep and cats. Dogs, cows, monkeys, mules, foxes, bears and lions. I cannot name them all, but Bob Miller has treated them, and as I read, I reacted with the same incredulous delight as before. The man can do just the same with words as he does with the pictures, and through it all runs the strong thread of his love for his marvelous profession. He can write chillingly, too. He has made me afraid of chimps, and I have never had anything to do with those creatures!
Most of My Patients Are Animals is a lovely panorama of the veterinary scene, but it is not only for our profession, it is for the whole animal-loving world. This picture of a fine man doing his job with dedication, compassion, and good humor will find a response in the heart of every caring person.
- If you are a Herriot fan, then you'll also love "Most of My Patients Are Animals" [ click to order]
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