Sunday, March 29, 2015

Book Review: Tales from the Tail End (veterinarian, memoir, woman, England)

Tales from the Tail End: Adventures of a Vet in Practice, by Emma Milne (Summersdale, 2012, 250 pages, $13.95)

Are you one of the millions of fans of James Herriot*, that ultimate British animal storyteller? Are you someone who just can’t read enough veterinarian memoirs? Then you will race through Tales from the Tail End by Emma Milne, like I did.


To become a famous singer or to be awarded a PhD, for example, you need to be good or at least unique. You need to find a niche that nobody else is currently filling – a subsubject that nobody else is studying, a new approach to solving an old problem, something different. Plenty of wonderful veterinarian memoirists exist, from the British James Herriot to the British-born-but-now-living-in-Massachusetts Nick Trout** - but not too many of them are women.

Enter Tales from the Tail End and Emma Milne.

How To Be a Vet

In England, one becomes a veterinarian after only five years of university (in the US, after four years of college, followed by four years of vet school). In Milne’s final year at vet school she was filmed for a TV show (but didn’t make the final cut) but for the next seven years, she appeared in a reality series, “Vets in Practice.” Tales takes us from one hilarious client team to another (a vet actually has two clients for every patient: the animal is the patient and the human is the client), through births and deaths, to surgeries to rescue swallowed socks and toys, to pregnancy checks and broken bones, yet all of them mesmerize us and some even make us laugh out loud.

Yes, Entertaining

Milne is a real person, just like you and me. She is normal – doesn’t like cold English winters on the moors so staying a large animal vet didn’t appeal to her after just a few years. She is a divorcee. She lives with a menagerie of cats and dogs, including one who loves to watch dart games at the local pub and even enters the pub alone.

Milne is a teacher and her biggest lesson for her readers with dogs is to warn us not to let them play with sticks, especially not ‘Fetch with Sticks.’ To hone her lesson further, she relates the tale of a dog who became impaled on a stick he was fetching but most of the tales are terribly terribly funny. Milne actually ended up doing a lot of writing and speaking, even for the Beeb, the BBC. She is also quite active in the rescue movement and is diametrically opposed to tail docking and the current state of purebred dog breeding.

Very British

When you go to the movies, does it take a while to understand what the English or Australians or Scots are saying? Many popular dog training and behavior books are penned by British authors as are many vet memoirs. You can usually skip over an English word you are not sure of or guess at the meaning but Tales has much more of the British vernacular than I have ever come across. For example, I erred in understanding a few phrases until the next paragraph, such as “As is so often the case, . . . the dog decided that his owners being away was the perfect time to pop his clogs and land someone else well and truly up the creek without a paddle.” (In our vernacular, the dog kicked the bucket and I guessed wrong!)

In a Word – Funny!

Have you ever wondered why there are more veterinarian-memoirs than writer-memoirs or dentist-memoirs? Are vets funnier people or do their clients find themselves in more interesting situations? Read Tales to find out!

*All Things Wise and Wonderful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, The Lord God Made Them All, etc.
**Tell Me Where It Hurts, Love is the Best Medicine, etc.

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