What was your inspiration behind the book?
I find the relationship between my patients and their owners very compelling. As a veterinarian, I see the wonderful bond between pets and people up close and personal. I am privy to the joys, the pleasures and the intense sadness that accompanies life with a pet. Too often, we pet lovers are misunderstood when we invest our emotions in our animal companions. We are occasionally even mocked when the loss of a beloved pet impacts us profoundly. This book is an opportunity to validate the intense feelings we have for our pets and celebrate the important place they hold in our lives.
What is your most memorable encounter with an animal that came into your office?
That’s like asking which one of your children you love the most. There are memorable encounters that happen every day. Today, my patient, Star,was diagnosed with kidney disease, and I observed the tender agony of an elderly man and woman trying to come to terms with the harsh reality of a life so much shorter than our own. Today, I experienced the triumph of finding Quincy in remission from his cancer after only the first round of chemotherapy. Today, I handed a dog, upon whom I performed emergency surgery last night to save from certain death, into the waiting arms of a very grateful owner. These were all from today – who knows what tomorrow’s most memorable encounter will be?
Of course, there are some patients that have really stood out over the years. You can read about them in the book.
Tell us about an important lesson that you’ve learned as a veterinarian.
Listen to the owners! No one knows my patients better than their owners. If they tell me something is not right, I am wise to keep looking until I find out why – even if my examination and diagnostic tests fail at first to identify an issue. On many occasions, I have been taught this lesson. I may be carefully schooled and trained, and I may have many years of experience, but I still don’t know the patient like mom and dad do.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
Finding a publisher. These stories are a part of me and my experience, so writing them down was the easy part. Finding a publisher that found them as enchanting as I did took many years. How that came about is a story in itself. Suffice it to say that I was thrilled when St. Martin’s Press, the American publisher of my veterinary and literary role model, James Herriot, showed interest.
What was the most rewarding part of writing the book?
Recording the emotional wealth of my professional passion. Being a veterinarian is hands down the best profession in the world. It is equal parts humor, warmth, intellectual challenge, celebration and meaning. And the interface between pets and people provides insights and rewards unparalleled by any other job. Ask The Animals lets me share this wealth with pet lovers.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Many have told me that this book touches a very deep place in the hearts of pet lovers. Readers have been effusive in letting me know that these simple stories resonate with them. I have heard from people on my website, people who have stepped into my office to meet me and people at book signings. I’ve received input from sites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Hearing how people have been touched has been incredibly fulfilling. Just this afternoon, a lady stopped at my table at Taco Bell to tell me my book was the best book she had read in years – music to an author’s ears!
Tell us about your pets.
I have three indoor cats and a dog. All are rescues that have found their way through my practice and into my home. The oldest is Webster, our psychotic, near-sighted gray cat. He’s 14 years old and sees trouble around every corner. Flinn is our portly gray tabby cat. He’ll be 14 later this year and can’t imagine that trouble exists. Starr is our high-strung, mixed breed dog that looks like a miniature Golden Retriever. She’ll be 13 in February. She considers it her responsibility to avoid trouble, but in doing so, generates more. Our newest addition is our 3-year-old tuxedo cat, Phelps. He IS trouble and probably knows it, but he behaves as if he’s innocent on the off chance we’ll believe him. We don’t.
Have you written any other books?
Yes. My literary agent is currently handling my next manuscript tentatively titled, The Gift of Pets. It too is a collection of more stories from my practice life. Hopefully, it will be available later this year or early next year. Join my Facebook group (Ask the Animals by Bruce Coston) or my e-mail list for the latest updates.
I am also beginning to be taken over by a novel that is writing itself in my mind. It will celebrate the unique relationship between dogs and boys. Other projects are in the works but still under wraps.
Do your pets influence your writing?
Absolutely! Ollie’s story is central in Ask The Animals. He was my first kitty, and he is the one that changed my perception of what role cats are willing to play in our lives. He transformed me from a feline skeptic to a true believer, and his loss still haunts me. It is the power of the relationships that I enjoy with my animals that reminds me why my job as a veterinarian – and now as a writer – has such significance to people.