The bar for veterinary memoirs was set very high by the superb James Herriot, but Julian Earl is right up there with him with Cows in Trees.
Vets, it seems are born, not made, Earl knew he wanted to be a vet from an early age and I suspect had he not chosen this career he would have been an author.
Anyone who has even the vaguest connection with country life will be aware that a vet’s life is not an easy one. In the early part of Cows in Trees Earl ponders ‘why on earth would anyone be a vet?’ The first chapter is filled with stories that must resonate with every vet, that of the telephone ringing at unearth hours of the day, with ridiculous enquiries such as why is the dog still scratching even after it has been sprayed for fleas. More inconsiderate was the caller one Christmas Day from a dog owner concerned that his pet, which had been lame for six years was now worse.
Earl explains that vet’s jobs cover the basic A,B,C . A for accident, B for birth and C for collapse. He goes on the explain wryly that there is also D for danger, of which there seems to be plenty. Each of the stories within the book make even the dangerous situations seem hilarious, told with Earl’s dry wit and pithy sense of humour. Scenes are skilfully described, such as the very angry English Bull Terrior who escaped while being vaccinated. The dog was so grumpy that the owner did not dare bring it into the surgery amongst other dogs, so it was tied outside. When it managed to escape and the owner shouted that he should get back into the surgery. Earl had the option of jumping onto his car roof, an idea he quickly abandoned, fearing the dog could jump up there anyway, so he leapt over the dog and slammed the surgery door shut, smiling politely at the waiting clients as if nothing was wrong.
Another hilarious incident was the time he managed to staple his index finger to a lamb’s scrotum while he was castrating it.
A lost white cat was returned six months later by a removals company who assumed the cat they had found had got into the back of their truck while it was in the area the cat was from. When Earl examined the unusual white cat, it was discovered that in fact it was a different white cat and the missing one never did re-appear.
The reader cannot help but be fascinated by the cases Earl dealt with. I was amazed by the stories of what animals ate that they shouldn’t. Even more incredible was that they survived. There are stories of dealing with ingested babies dummies, underwear and even a music cassette. One story details a hamster who managed to swallow a needle, which lodged in its cheek, the sharp end of which penetrated down to its back leg, the equivalent of a two metre long steel spike if upscaled to a cow having done the same.
Animals it seems have tremendous survival skills. Earl details going to the scene of an accident where a lorry, transporting cattle, had tipped over, expecting to have to shoot the majority of the livestock. Out of the mangled mass of ironwork and faced with the danger of suffocation incredibly most of the animals survived.
Amongst all of the humour there are tales which make the reader realise just what a great job vets do. Some of the stories make for stomach churning reading – the dog’s skull peppered with shotgun pellets, a cat with screws in her skull, presumably from having been shot at her and the accidental injury to a dog when it was tied to the bumper of the car and forgotten about for part of the journey home after a picnic.
But amongst the poignant stories are ones of great humour and ones that will stay with the reader for a long time. Goliath, once the world’s biggest horse, standing over 19 hands, was helped by Earl when the massive Shire was down and needed help getting to his feet. Some time later, at an open day held at the farm, Goliath made his way especially to Earl’s side as if he recognised him and wanted to say thank you for his help.
I particularly loved the story of the budgie, brought to the surgery in a box by its owner. When the box was opened the budgie was missing. I can just imagine the panic that would have been felt, retracing the owner’s journey, to try to locate the bird. It was eventually found, still at home, having pecked its way out of the box.
Animals touch all of our lives and hearts and this book is filled with stories that bring that home to us. This book is a must for any animal or countryside lover. I particularly hope that there will be more from Earl as I’m sure he still has plenty of stories to tell.
Review provided by Jacqui Broderick from Lavender & White Publishing
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