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The Other Family Doctor

A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life, and Mortality

Author Karen Fine
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Calling all animal lovers! A heartwarming memoir about one woman's career as a vet and the unique role pets play in our lives • “Filled with compassion and wisdom, Karen Fine is a healer whose own wounds have deepened her gifts for bringing animals and their people comfort and peace.” —Sy Montgomery, bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus
 
A tribute to our furry, feathery, scaley, and wet family members, All Creatures Great and Small meets Being Mortal in this compelling memoir of one woman's dream to become a veterinarian.

Karen Fine always knew that she wanted to be a vet and wasn't going to let anything stop her: not her allergy to cats, and not the fact that in the '80s veterinary medicine was still a mostly male profession. Inspired by her grandfather, a compassionate doctor who paid house calls to all his (human) patients, Dr. Fine persevered, and brought her Oupa's principles into her own practice, which emphasizes the need to understand her patients’ stories to provide the best possible care.
 
And in The Other Family Doctor, Dr. Fine shares all these touching, joyful, heartbreaking, and life-affirming tales that make up her career as a vet. There's:

• The feral cat who becomes a creature out of a fable when he puts his trust in a young vet to heal his injured paw

• The pot-bellied pig who grows too big to fit in the car but remains a cherished part of her family

• The surprising colony of perfectly behaved ferrets

• The beloved aging pet who gives her people the gift of accompanying them on one final family vacation

• The dog who saves his owner's life in a most unexpected way
 
Woven into Dr. Fine's story are, of course, also the stories of her own pets: the birds, cats, and dogs who have taught her the most valuable lessons—how caring for the animals in our lives can teach us to better care for ourselves, especially when life seems precarious.
1

It’s a Calling

The cat had come with the house.

He was a feral black cat that John and Susan, who bought the tidy bungalow in a quiet tree-lined neighborhood, had named Miles. Many people wouldn’t have concerned themselves with a stray, especially not when doing so cost them money. But although John and Susan hadn’t expected Miles, they accepted him as their responsibility. They had him neutered and vaccinated at a nearby clinic. Miles warmed to his new humans, enjoying their attention even though he remained wild at heart, preferring to be outdoors most of the time. John and Susan allowed him into the house whenever he wanted, keeping him fed and warm. Slowly, he had become a part of their family.

But one chilly afternoon in February, John called me, his voice heavy with worry. He thought Miles might have an infected front paw. It was swollen, he explained over the phone, and Miles was limping. Suspecting an abscess, I told him it might need to be treated at a clinic. But as he and Susan were unable to catch Miles, I agreed to come to their house.

I was never happy about using a fishing net to catch a cat. I had learned the technique from another house-call veterinarian, who specialized in cats and cared for some feral cat colonies. It always felt traumatic, especially when I knew the cats I cared for didn’t understand. Still, I kept a fishing net in my car, if only to use as a last resort.

This was a last-resort kind of case.

When I arrived at their home, John and Susan led me to the back bathroom, where they’d been able to corral Miles. The poor kitty was petrified from being cooped up, and although he wouldn’t allow me near him, I was able to trap him with the net. Wild creatures do not like being confined, and I hoped to be able to release him soon.

Remembering what the other vet had taught me, I used the double-wrapping method to enfold Miles until he was snug inside the net. My patient scratched and clawed, and I felt his distress. Yet I knew I had to be vigilant not to let him out or I wouldn’t be able to catch him again. This was my one chance to help him. Finally, he settled and became still.

Biting my lip in concentration, I gently slid the long handle of the cat-net package a few feet along the linoleum floor into the kitchen, where the light was better and I had more room to work. I stood on the handle to hold the net in place. As soon as I looked closely at the paw, I could tell what was causing the limp. Occasionally a cat’s claw will grow long enough to curl around in a circle and continue growing right into the pad, causing pain and often an infection. Miles had a badly ingrown nail, which had become embedded in his paw.

I would need to trim the nail to relieve Miles’s pain and allow the infection to heal. However, I couldn’t get to the nail with Miles compressed under the netting. Complicating matters, it was a front claw, close to Miles’s sharp set of teeth. In a clinic setting, it would have taken two trained professionals using leather gloves to hold Miles so I could trim his nail safely, if it could be done at all. Otherwise, we’d have to anesthetize him. But here, hovering over Miles in the middle of the kitchen, none of those options was available to me.

I explained the problem to John and Susan and told them I didn’t know what to do. They looked at me nervously. Although it would terrify Miles to go to a clinic, it would be a good option if I could get him into a carrier. But I doubted I’d be able to do that once I unwrapped him from the netting. And I had no injectable anesthetics with me, as that was not something I used in clients’ homes. We had no good options.

As I stood there debating what to do next, this feral cat, trapped in the net, slowly extended the affected paw through the netting. The three of us watched, disbelieving, as he spread his toes. We looked at each other, mouths agape and soundless. That old thorn-in-the-lion’s-paw story was flashing before our collective eyes.

As I quickly found my nail trimmers and cut the offending nail, Miles kept his paw completely still. None of us made a sound for fear of breaking whatever spell he was under. At last, I released Miles from the net. He shook himself and headed back outside. His limp was gone.

It was impossible to look at Miles, who would surely make a full recovery with the help of some antibiotics, and at John and Susan, who cared so much about this feral cat, and not think about the ways they had agreed to take care of each other and how, because of this, they were all better off.

I’ve been a veterinarian for thirty years. For most of that time I’ve had my own house-call practice, going inside people’s homes to care for their animals, meeting my human clients and animal patients where they live. I’ve been in hundreds of residences, working at kitchen tables and living room sofas, even in bedrooms and bathrooms. Occasionally clients seem awkward as they invite me in, apologizing for clutter, dishes in a sink, or an unmade bed. “Don’t worry at all,” I respond. “No one sees my house!”

In this book, I am going to open my door and allow a view into my own home. You may see my clutter, my unmade bed, the dishes in my sink. You may witness how fully I’ve loved my own animals, and how I have struggled personally as well as professionally over the difficulties pet lovers face. And you can discover how much I have learned from my animal family members and patients about life, and love, and even death.

When people ask me when I knew I wanted to become a veterinarian, I tell them I’ve known my whole life. I have always loved animals. As a child, I drew them with crayons. I read books about them. I pretended to be a dog, a cat, or a horse and favored stuffed animals for toys. Yet one trip stands out in my memory as the moment when I knew I didn’t just want to be a vet but needed to make animals a central part of my life.

Although I grew up in Massachusetts, my parents were born and raised in South Africa, and most of my extended family lived there. Holidays were lonely times for us because they highlighted what others had that we did not. While other people had family who visited them, who showered them with presents and hugs, we had only each other. We didn’t have pets, either, as my mother said she had her hands full caring for myself and my brother. Then, however, came the opportunity to not only connect with my family but also to encounter the animals whose company I craved.

When I was a child, the fare for an international plane ticket was half price for children under twelve. My parents offered my younger brother, Michael, and me each a choice: at age eleven, we could either travel to South Africa to stay with family for the summer or we could save the money for a party to celebrate our bar or bat mitzvah when we turned thirteen. I immediately chose the trip.

I didn’t know much about what to expect in Johannesburg when I arrived there in 1978, only that I would get to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins, many of them for the first time. I imagined what they would be like, these people who looked like me and spoke with accents like my parents’. I expected to finally get to see what their lives were like and to be spoiled by my grandparents. What I did not expect was that when I finally arrived, my aunt Hilary, uncle Leigh, and cousin Joanne would invite me on their weeklong safari vacation to Kruger National Park.

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It has a land area roughly the size of Wales and within its walls live just about every kind of African animal imaginable: lions and zebras, elephants and giraffes, wildebeests and antelopes. The night before we left, I was so excited I could barely sleep. Little did I know this was one of those rare childhood moments when the excitement I felt beforehand paled in comparison to what it was like to experience the real thing.

On the appointed day, we piled into the family sedan, the car packed full of food and provisions, and, driving on what I thought was the wrong side of the road, headed north for several hours. As we drove, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city, Aunt Hilary explained the rules to me and four-year-old Joanne. “You can’t get out of the car,” she said. “Except when we are at the rest camp.”

“What about bathrooms?” I asked.

“You go before we leave the camp. It’s not safe to get out of the car. Sometimes it’s not even safe in the car,” she added. “I had a friend years ago whose car was trampled by an elephant. The parents had to jump into the back seat with the children. They were lucky they weren’t killed.”

This seemed impossible to me then, like a story adults told to scare children into compliance. Elephants could trample a car? What would that even look like? I was nervous but also thrilled at the idea of encountering creatures so big and powerful that they could crush our car to rubble. I longed to see them up close, to look into their eyes and see what kind of lives lived there.

Six hours felt like a very long time that day, as I constantly checked the clock to see how much longer we still had to go. We sang songs and played “I spy” until we were all sick of it. Eventually we drove through the gates of the park. Joanne and I positioned ourselves at the windows, spotting for wildlife.

“Look there!” said my uncle, pointing to a few impalas running across the road in front of us. The graceful antelopes leaped as though they were on springs. I didn’t know yet that they were as common in the park as squirrels were at home. I was transfixed by their beauty and freedom. I watched them leap away in complete awe. But this was only the beginning.

We stayed at one of the many rest camps inside the park, where warthogs ran throughout like stray dogs as we walked around the grounds. Their large heads and long tusks made us giggle, as did the way they trotted along as though they were late to a meeting. In the morning, Aunt Hilary woke us when it was still dark outside. The animals, she explained, were most active at dusk and dawn; they slept through much of the day. We rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and piled into the sedan.

As we drove through the long, straight roads of the park, the African sun painting the sky a deep orange, we were enraptured. We saw zebras, elephants, and giraffes. Hippos. Baboons. An elegant kudu, a type of antelope with large curling horns. Silly-looking wildebeests, also called gnus. Large herds of impalas, graceful and leaping. Occasionally, vultures circled overhead. It was winter in the southern hemisphere, and the limited vegetation made it easier to see the wildlife. I took pictures with my little Kodak Instamatic camera, hoping the photos would provide proof of the amazing sights I was experiencing, as well as memories I could hold on to when I eventually had to go back home.

Some animals were common, like the impalas; others were rarer, like lions. Each time we spotted one we stopped to watch. We could drive for hours without seeing another car, but when we did notice a stopped car ahead, it elicited great excitement. What had they spotted? we wondered. A pride of lions? A rhino? Hyenas? Each time, I felt like the lucky winner of an out-of-body experience, able to experience the world through the eyes of something wild.

One day a swarm of monkeys enveloped our car. They were on the roof, on the hood, on the ground. My cousin and I pointed at a mother carrying a baby monkey. “So cute!”

“Don’t open the windows!” my uncle shouted. We guessed that some people had fed the monkeys through car windows and now they were looking for food. I didn’t open my window, but I held up my hands to the glass as I met a monkey’s eyes. I wished I could touch him.

In the distance, we at last spotted what we had been hoping to see. It was a herd of elephants. They were enormous, bigger than I had imagined, like houses come to life. As soon as we saw them, Aunt Hilary, who was driving, turned the car around while keeping a respectful distance, explaining, “If they charge, I want to be able to drive forward, not in reverse.” I was impressed that she could keep her wits about her in that moment when all I could manage to do was gawk. The large figures were so improbable, they looked as though they’d been created by Dr. Seuss. I wanted to get out of the car and stand close to them, but I knew that was impossible. Although the animals had become accustomed to the cars driving around and mostly ignored them, a person outside a vehicle could easily be viewed as prey, and you never knew what dangerous animal might be lurking nearby. I also knew that although the elephants looked slow-moving, they could move fast when they wanted to. We didn’t want to anger them. This was their world, and we were the lucky visitors, compelled to obey their rules.

All too soon, our trip was coming to an end. I was trying to soak up every last bit of wildlife I could, sure that if I could just bottle up these memories, I could hold on to them for the rest of my life. I don’t remember where we were driving or what we had just seen when, without warning, we happened upon a tree with a half-eaten impala carcass slung across a high fork of branches. Its head and front legs were dangling limply toward the ground. All four of us collectively gasped.

We could only guess that a predator, likely one of the big cats, had carried it up into the tree for safekeeping until the hunter was ready to eat again. I thought my aunt and uncle would quickly drive past it, but instead they lingered.
“A delight for past, present, and prospective pet owners. And for everyone else.”
—David Steinberg, Albuquerque Journal


“Just in case you didn’t love your animal doc enough already, Karen Fine’s The Other Family Doctor will make you want to HUG your vet. This endearing memoir of what it takes to become a veterinarian and make it through the trenches of providing 24/7 care for the creatures we love best is so full of grit, determination, humor, and love.”
—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Woodrow on the Bench and Those Who Save Us

“Filled with compassion and wisdom, Karen Fine is a healer whose own wounds have deepened her gifts for bringing animals and their people comfort and peace.” 
—Sy Montgomery, New York Times bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus and How to Be a Good Creature

“A vivid exploration of what it means to heal, to connect with animals, and to find our truest calling. If you're anything like me and you've wondered at your dog's veterinary appointments who are these doctors that care for our animals through sickness and health, who hold us and them when the time comes to say goodbye to the pets we love most, this book is for you.”
—Rory Kress, author of The Doggie in the Window

“Compassionate and empathetic, The Other Family Doctor is required reading for anyone who has ever loved an animal.”
—E.B. Bartels, author of Good Grief


“Karen Fine has captured the human-animal bond in loving detail that’s sure to resonate with animal lovers everywhere. The Other Family Doctor is heartwarming and by turns hilarious, enlightening, and deeply poignant. This captivating memoir may bring forth a few tears, but ultimately, it’s an uplifting look inside the life and work of someone who cares deeply for our beloved companions. Somewhere, James Herriot is smiling.” 
—Sarah Chauncey, author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna

“This is no ordinary memoir. Dr. Fine is one of those truly gifted veterinarians that don’t just treat the pet, but also know how to take care of the human. . . . Beautifully written with great sensitivity.”
—Ingrid King, Purrs of Wisdom

“The Other Family Doctor
is a heartwarming and healing look at the myriad joys and sorrows of loving animals. With warmth, humor, and years of expertise, Fine sheds light on the daily life of a vet, and the amazing lessons her four-legged patients have taught her. If you consider your pet a family member, this book is a must-read.”
—Dr. Marty Becker, author of From Fearful to Fear Free

“A lovely book. . . . This inspirational tearjerker is highly recommended for anyone who has ever owned or loved a pet.”
—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Library Journal (starred review)

“[A] spirited homage to domesticated animals and their bond with humans. . . . Fine’s keen observations will strike a chord with animal lovers, and her upbeat style keeps the pages turning.”
—Publishers Weekly

“A lively, often moving memoir of caring for animals. . . . A warm and humane tribute to animals who enrich our lives.” 
—Kirkus Reviews
Dr. Karen Fine is a holistic veterinarian who is fascinated by the relationships between animals and their people. She is an associ­ate veterinarian at Central Animal Hospital in Leominster, Mas­sachusetts. For twenty-five years she owned and operated her own house call practice in central Massachusetts. Dr. Fine is certified in veterinary acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. A leading expert in the emerging field of vet­erinary narrative medicine, she has also authored a textbook called Narrative Medicine in Veterinary Practice. View titles by Karen Fine

About

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Calling all animal lovers! A heartwarming memoir about one woman's career as a vet and the unique role pets play in our lives • “Filled with compassion and wisdom, Karen Fine is a healer whose own wounds have deepened her gifts for bringing animals and their people comfort and peace.” —Sy Montgomery, bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus
 
A tribute to our furry, feathery, scaley, and wet family members, All Creatures Great and Small meets Being Mortal in this compelling memoir of one woman's dream to become a veterinarian.

Karen Fine always knew that she wanted to be a vet and wasn't going to let anything stop her: not her allergy to cats, and not the fact that in the '80s veterinary medicine was still a mostly male profession. Inspired by her grandfather, a compassionate doctor who paid house calls to all his (human) patients, Dr. Fine persevered, and brought her Oupa's principles into her own practice, which emphasizes the need to understand her patients’ stories to provide the best possible care.
 
And in The Other Family Doctor, Dr. Fine shares all these touching, joyful, heartbreaking, and life-affirming tales that make up her career as a vet. There's:

• The feral cat who becomes a creature out of a fable when he puts his trust in a young vet to heal his injured paw

• The pot-bellied pig who grows too big to fit in the car but remains a cherished part of her family

• The surprising colony of perfectly behaved ferrets

• The beloved aging pet who gives her people the gift of accompanying them on one final family vacation

• The dog who saves his owner's life in a most unexpected way
 
Woven into Dr. Fine's story are, of course, also the stories of her own pets: the birds, cats, and dogs who have taught her the most valuable lessons—how caring for the animals in our lives can teach us to better care for ourselves, especially when life seems precarious.

Excerpt

1

It’s a Calling

The cat had come with the house.

He was a feral black cat that John and Susan, who bought the tidy bungalow in a quiet tree-lined neighborhood, had named Miles. Many people wouldn’t have concerned themselves with a stray, especially not when doing so cost them money. But although John and Susan hadn’t expected Miles, they accepted him as their responsibility. They had him neutered and vaccinated at a nearby clinic. Miles warmed to his new humans, enjoying their attention even though he remained wild at heart, preferring to be outdoors most of the time. John and Susan allowed him into the house whenever he wanted, keeping him fed and warm. Slowly, he had become a part of their family.

But one chilly afternoon in February, John called me, his voice heavy with worry. He thought Miles might have an infected front paw. It was swollen, he explained over the phone, and Miles was limping. Suspecting an abscess, I told him it might need to be treated at a clinic. But as he and Susan were unable to catch Miles, I agreed to come to their house.

I was never happy about using a fishing net to catch a cat. I had learned the technique from another house-call veterinarian, who specialized in cats and cared for some feral cat colonies. It always felt traumatic, especially when I knew the cats I cared for didn’t understand. Still, I kept a fishing net in my car, if only to use as a last resort.

This was a last-resort kind of case.

When I arrived at their home, John and Susan led me to the back bathroom, where they’d been able to corral Miles. The poor kitty was petrified from being cooped up, and although he wouldn’t allow me near him, I was able to trap him with the net. Wild creatures do not like being confined, and I hoped to be able to release him soon.

Remembering what the other vet had taught me, I used the double-wrapping method to enfold Miles until he was snug inside the net. My patient scratched and clawed, and I felt his distress. Yet I knew I had to be vigilant not to let him out or I wouldn’t be able to catch him again. This was my one chance to help him. Finally, he settled and became still.

Biting my lip in concentration, I gently slid the long handle of the cat-net package a few feet along the linoleum floor into the kitchen, where the light was better and I had more room to work. I stood on the handle to hold the net in place. As soon as I looked closely at the paw, I could tell what was causing the limp. Occasionally a cat’s claw will grow long enough to curl around in a circle and continue growing right into the pad, causing pain and often an infection. Miles had a badly ingrown nail, which had become embedded in his paw.

I would need to trim the nail to relieve Miles’s pain and allow the infection to heal. However, I couldn’t get to the nail with Miles compressed under the netting. Complicating matters, it was a front claw, close to Miles’s sharp set of teeth. In a clinic setting, it would have taken two trained professionals using leather gloves to hold Miles so I could trim his nail safely, if it could be done at all. Otherwise, we’d have to anesthetize him. But here, hovering over Miles in the middle of the kitchen, none of those options was available to me.

I explained the problem to John and Susan and told them I didn’t know what to do. They looked at me nervously. Although it would terrify Miles to go to a clinic, it would be a good option if I could get him into a carrier. But I doubted I’d be able to do that once I unwrapped him from the netting. And I had no injectable anesthetics with me, as that was not something I used in clients’ homes. We had no good options.

As I stood there debating what to do next, this feral cat, trapped in the net, slowly extended the affected paw through the netting. The three of us watched, disbelieving, as he spread his toes. We looked at each other, mouths agape and soundless. That old thorn-in-the-lion’s-paw story was flashing before our collective eyes.

As I quickly found my nail trimmers and cut the offending nail, Miles kept his paw completely still. None of us made a sound for fear of breaking whatever spell he was under. At last, I released Miles from the net. He shook himself and headed back outside. His limp was gone.

It was impossible to look at Miles, who would surely make a full recovery with the help of some antibiotics, and at John and Susan, who cared so much about this feral cat, and not think about the ways they had agreed to take care of each other and how, because of this, they were all better off.

I’ve been a veterinarian for thirty years. For most of that time I’ve had my own house-call practice, going inside people’s homes to care for their animals, meeting my human clients and animal patients where they live. I’ve been in hundreds of residences, working at kitchen tables and living room sofas, even in bedrooms and bathrooms. Occasionally clients seem awkward as they invite me in, apologizing for clutter, dishes in a sink, or an unmade bed. “Don’t worry at all,” I respond. “No one sees my house!”

In this book, I am going to open my door and allow a view into my own home. You may see my clutter, my unmade bed, the dishes in my sink. You may witness how fully I’ve loved my own animals, and how I have struggled personally as well as professionally over the difficulties pet lovers face. And you can discover how much I have learned from my animal family members and patients about life, and love, and even death.

When people ask me when I knew I wanted to become a veterinarian, I tell them I’ve known my whole life. I have always loved animals. As a child, I drew them with crayons. I read books about them. I pretended to be a dog, a cat, or a horse and favored stuffed animals for toys. Yet one trip stands out in my memory as the moment when I knew I didn’t just want to be a vet but needed to make animals a central part of my life.

Although I grew up in Massachusetts, my parents were born and raised in South Africa, and most of my extended family lived there. Holidays were lonely times for us because they highlighted what others had that we did not. While other people had family who visited them, who showered them with presents and hugs, we had only each other. We didn’t have pets, either, as my mother said she had her hands full caring for myself and my brother. Then, however, came the opportunity to not only connect with my family but also to encounter the animals whose company I craved.

When I was a child, the fare for an international plane ticket was half price for children under twelve. My parents offered my younger brother, Michael, and me each a choice: at age eleven, we could either travel to South Africa to stay with family for the summer or we could save the money for a party to celebrate our bar or bat mitzvah when we turned thirteen. I immediately chose the trip.

I didn’t know much about what to expect in Johannesburg when I arrived there in 1978, only that I would get to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins, many of them for the first time. I imagined what they would be like, these people who looked like me and spoke with accents like my parents’. I expected to finally get to see what their lives were like and to be spoiled by my grandparents. What I did not expect was that when I finally arrived, my aunt Hilary, uncle Leigh, and cousin Joanne would invite me on their weeklong safari vacation to Kruger National Park.

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It has a land area roughly the size of Wales and within its walls live just about every kind of African animal imaginable: lions and zebras, elephants and giraffes, wildebeests and antelopes. The night before we left, I was so excited I could barely sleep. Little did I know this was one of those rare childhood moments when the excitement I felt beforehand paled in comparison to what it was like to experience the real thing.

On the appointed day, we piled into the family sedan, the car packed full of food and provisions, and, driving on what I thought was the wrong side of the road, headed north for several hours. As we drove, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city, Aunt Hilary explained the rules to me and four-year-old Joanne. “You can’t get out of the car,” she said. “Except when we are at the rest camp.”

“What about bathrooms?” I asked.

“You go before we leave the camp. It’s not safe to get out of the car. Sometimes it’s not even safe in the car,” she added. “I had a friend years ago whose car was trampled by an elephant. The parents had to jump into the back seat with the children. They were lucky they weren’t killed.”

This seemed impossible to me then, like a story adults told to scare children into compliance. Elephants could trample a car? What would that even look like? I was nervous but also thrilled at the idea of encountering creatures so big and powerful that they could crush our car to rubble. I longed to see them up close, to look into their eyes and see what kind of lives lived there.

Six hours felt like a very long time that day, as I constantly checked the clock to see how much longer we still had to go. We sang songs and played “I spy” until we were all sick of it. Eventually we drove through the gates of the park. Joanne and I positioned ourselves at the windows, spotting for wildlife.

“Look there!” said my uncle, pointing to a few impalas running across the road in front of us. The graceful antelopes leaped as though they were on springs. I didn’t know yet that they were as common in the park as squirrels were at home. I was transfixed by their beauty and freedom. I watched them leap away in complete awe. But this was only the beginning.

We stayed at one of the many rest camps inside the park, where warthogs ran throughout like stray dogs as we walked around the grounds. Their large heads and long tusks made us giggle, as did the way they trotted along as though they were late to a meeting. In the morning, Aunt Hilary woke us when it was still dark outside. The animals, she explained, were most active at dusk and dawn; they slept through much of the day. We rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and piled into the sedan.

As we drove through the long, straight roads of the park, the African sun painting the sky a deep orange, we were enraptured. We saw zebras, elephants, and giraffes. Hippos. Baboons. An elegant kudu, a type of antelope with large curling horns. Silly-looking wildebeests, also called gnus. Large herds of impalas, graceful and leaping. Occasionally, vultures circled overhead. It was winter in the southern hemisphere, and the limited vegetation made it easier to see the wildlife. I took pictures with my little Kodak Instamatic camera, hoping the photos would provide proof of the amazing sights I was experiencing, as well as memories I could hold on to when I eventually had to go back home.

Some animals were common, like the impalas; others were rarer, like lions. Each time we spotted one we stopped to watch. We could drive for hours without seeing another car, but when we did notice a stopped car ahead, it elicited great excitement. What had they spotted? we wondered. A pride of lions? A rhino? Hyenas? Each time, I felt like the lucky winner of an out-of-body experience, able to experience the world through the eyes of something wild.

One day a swarm of monkeys enveloped our car. They were on the roof, on the hood, on the ground. My cousin and I pointed at a mother carrying a baby monkey. “So cute!”

“Don’t open the windows!” my uncle shouted. We guessed that some people had fed the monkeys through car windows and now they were looking for food. I didn’t open my window, but I held up my hands to the glass as I met a monkey’s eyes. I wished I could touch him.

In the distance, we at last spotted what we had been hoping to see. It was a herd of elephants. They were enormous, bigger than I had imagined, like houses come to life. As soon as we saw them, Aunt Hilary, who was driving, turned the car around while keeping a respectful distance, explaining, “If they charge, I want to be able to drive forward, not in reverse.” I was impressed that she could keep her wits about her in that moment when all I could manage to do was gawk. The large figures were so improbable, they looked as though they’d been created by Dr. Seuss. I wanted to get out of the car and stand close to them, but I knew that was impossible. Although the animals had become accustomed to the cars driving around and mostly ignored them, a person outside a vehicle could easily be viewed as prey, and you never knew what dangerous animal might be lurking nearby. I also knew that although the elephants looked slow-moving, they could move fast when they wanted to. We didn’t want to anger them. This was their world, and we were the lucky visitors, compelled to obey their rules.

All too soon, our trip was coming to an end. I was trying to soak up every last bit of wildlife I could, sure that if I could just bottle up these memories, I could hold on to them for the rest of my life. I don’t remember where we were driving or what we had just seen when, without warning, we happened upon a tree with a half-eaten impala carcass slung across a high fork of branches. Its head and front legs were dangling limply toward the ground. All four of us collectively gasped.

We could only guess that a predator, likely one of the big cats, had carried it up into the tree for safekeeping until the hunter was ready to eat again. I thought my aunt and uncle would quickly drive past it, but instead they lingered.

Praise

“A delight for past, present, and prospective pet owners. And for everyone else.”
—David Steinberg, Albuquerque Journal


“Just in case you didn’t love your animal doc enough already, Karen Fine’s The Other Family Doctor will make you want to HUG your vet. This endearing memoir of what it takes to become a veterinarian and make it through the trenches of providing 24/7 care for the creatures we love best is so full of grit, determination, humor, and love.”
—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Woodrow on the Bench and Those Who Save Us

“Filled with compassion and wisdom, Karen Fine is a healer whose own wounds have deepened her gifts for bringing animals and their people comfort and peace.” 
—Sy Montgomery, New York Times bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus and How to Be a Good Creature

“A vivid exploration of what it means to heal, to connect with animals, and to find our truest calling. If you're anything like me and you've wondered at your dog's veterinary appointments who are these doctors that care for our animals through sickness and health, who hold us and them when the time comes to say goodbye to the pets we love most, this book is for you.”
—Rory Kress, author of The Doggie in the Window

“Compassionate and empathetic, The Other Family Doctor is required reading for anyone who has ever loved an animal.”
—E.B. Bartels, author of Good Grief


“Karen Fine has captured the human-animal bond in loving detail that’s sure to resonate with animal lovers everywhere. The Other Family Doctor is heartwarming and by turns hilarious, enlightening, and deeply poignant. This captivating memoir may bring forth a few tears, but ultimately, it’s an uplifting look inside the life and work of someone who cares deeply for our beloved companions. Somewhere, James Herriot is smiling.” 
—Sarah Chauncey, author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna

“This is no ordinary memoir. Dr. Fine is one of those truly gifted veterinarians that don’t just treat the pet, but also know how to take care of the human. . . . Beautifully written with great sensitivity.”
—Ingrid King, Purrs of Wisdom

“The Other Family Doctor
is a heartwarming and healing look at the myriad joys and sorrows of loving animals. With warmth, humor, and years of expertise, Fine sheds light on the daily life of a vet, and the amazing lessons her four-legged patients have taught her. If you consider your pet a family member, this book is a must-read.”
—Dr. Marty Becker, author of From Fearful to Fear Free

“A lovely book. . . . This inspirational tearjerker is highly recommended for anyone who has ever owned or loved a pet.”
—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Library Journal (starred review)

“[A] spirited homage to domesticated animals and their bond with humans. . . . Fine’s keen observations will strike a chord with animal lovers, and her upbeat style keeps the pages turning.”
—Publishers Weekly

“A lively, often moving memoir of caring for animals. . . . A warm and humane tribute to animals who enrich our lives.” 
—Kirkus Reviews

Author

Dr. Karen Fine is a holistic veterinarian who is fascinated by the relationships between animals and their people. She is an associ­ate veterinarian at Central Animal Hospital in Leominster, Mas­sachusetts. For twenty-five years she owned and operated her own house call practice in central Massachusetts. Dr. Fine is certified in veterinary acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. A leading expert in the emerging field of vet­erinary narrative medicine, she has also authored a textbook called Narrative Medicine in Veterinary Practice. View titles by Karen Fine

Videos from the 2024 First-Year Experience® Conference are now available

We’re pleased to share videos from the 2024 First-Year Experience® Conference. Whether you weren’t able to join us at the conference or would simply like to hear the talks again, please take a moment to view the clips below.   Penguin Random House Author Breakfast Monday, February 19th, 7:15 – 8:45 am PST This event

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