What was your inspiration behind the book?
Like many other veterinarians, it hurt to see cats not get the care they need to live comfortable lives. Cats are the most popular pet in America, but they’re still so badly misunderstood. This pervasive belief that cats are self-sufficient, that they don’t need us to care for them — it causes so much suffering that I had to address this in a book. A more proactive and preventive approach to cat health and a better understanding of behavior will make a difference in the lives of millions of cats.
In your book, you wrote that you grew up without thinking much about cats. How did you learn to appreciate/love them as companions?
I grew up on a dairy farm, and a lot of things were different about the way I cared about and for animals then. For example: We didn’t have indoor dogs, and our cats were working cats — they caught vermin. But so much has changed. As a veterinarian, I came to love cats not as working farm animals, but as companions. It was an easy transition for someone like me, since I’ve always been an animal lover.
What was the most rewarding part about writing the book?
Whenever you write a book like this, you have to revisit everything you know to make sure you’re offering the best, most current information. I am always reading my veterinary journals and my trade publications (and popular magazines like CAT FANCY, too). But I think the best part was making the rounds with my veterinary colleagues — men and women at the very top of their game. It’s a thrill to talk about cutting-edge care with these folks, and it just makes me charged up about sharing the information with my readers.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
There’s nothing really “difficult” about it for me, because I’m the kind of person who loves a challenge. The opportunity to work with so many talented people to produce a book I know is going to make a difference in a lot of lives — it’s hard to see a downside. I love what I do, and I wake up every morning wanting to help pets and the people who love them. There’s no greater profession for me than veterinary medicine.
Tell us about your current pets.
My wife, Teresa, and I are empty-nesters now in the sense that our two children are adults, but our nest isn’t all that empty. Our Almost Heaven Ranch in North Idaho is home to many animals. Our cats, dogs and horses are the ones we “own,” but every day we see the wild animals we share our ranch with, and that ranges from a bird-watcher’s dream of feathered friends to deer and elk, and we have even seen wolves. And if our own animals aren’t enough, my daughter Teresa, who’s the pet-behavior expert for Vetstreet.com, visits often, bringing our granddaughter, Reagan, and even more pets. There is no shortage of love at Almost Heaven!
What is one important lesson you’ve learned from a cat?
Watching and listening. God gave us two ears, two eyes and just one mouth for a reason, as the saying goes. Dogs and people are usually pretty obvious about when something isn’t right with them. But cats can seem mysterious, unless you are paying attention. Once you let a cat tell you in the cat’s own way, you’ll get the message. That’s something that carries over into many other kinds of interactions.
How did you get into the veterinary field?
As a farm kid, I had the opportunity early on to see the miraculous work of veterinarians. They could bring an animal back from what seemed like the brink of death – I knew very young that that was for me. I’ve never felt otherwise, not even after more than 30 years as a practicing veterinarian. There were a few years when the TV work was so much that I stopped seeing patients, but that didn’t last long. I love practicing veterinary medicine, and I work at two north Idaho veterinary hospitals whenever my schedule allows.
Can you recall a memorable encounter you’ve had with a cat?
The people in our town shake their heads sometimes at the things our family has down for our pets. There have been so many memorable encounters — some with our cats and some with my feline patients — that I couldn’t list them all. Recently, I had the town talking because I had a bucket truck come to the ranch to help me get one of our cats out of a tree. It was memorable for me, but even more memorable for our cat, who’s safe today.
What are the signs of a happy/healthy cat?
I think most people know about clear, bright eyes, shiny fur and a clean nose. But one of the things that I see as a veterinarian comes as a surprise to a lot of cat-owners: Dental health. I open a cat’s mouth in the exam room, and I’m almost never pleasantly surprised to find good oral health. That’s one of the things I stressed in the book, and it’s also one of the topics I write about a great deal in my features for Vetstreet.com.
If you could tell your readers one thing, what would it be?
Your cat needs to see your veterinarian, and not just when he’s sick. When you work with a good veterinarian, you will prevent some illness and catch other illnesses before they cause suffering (for your cat) and expense (for you). In human medicine, we’ve long known the value of preventive care. It’s the same for your cat. For your cat to live a healthy, happy long life, you need your veterinarian’s advice. Be proactive. Your cat deserves it!