The Making of a Woman Vet by Sally Haddock DVM and Kathy Matthews (Simon & Schuster: $16.95)
Bright, breezy, cheery, funny, zany, devil-may-care, insouciant, bubbly, bizarre, lively, airy, lovely, speedy (like a ride in a convertible with the top down); these are some of the ways to describe this delightful book. What a wonderful surprise it is to discover these things about "The Making of a Woman Vet."
One might think that this would be an earnest tale of self-help: A plucky woman claws her way through veterinarian school, learning to stick pigs and make something of herself. Or, much worse, a solemn chronicle of injustice to animals (somehow, being an animal lover has become almost patriotic these days, something like marching for peace, or taking a stand against drunk drivers or communism). Not that animals aren't as marvelous, in their own ways, as motherhood and highway safety, but the fun is gone. Animals have become a repository of political reverence; something to venerate rather than throw a stick for.
Madcap Party Animal
So what a bracing pleasure it is to meet Sally Haddock, who loves to tell stories for the sheer kick of telling stories; who likes dogs and cats and horses and pigs, without getting all soggy about it. Sally is, well, she's just aces; a madcap party animal who dances all night and studies all day, who doesn't know the meaning of sleep, who sky-dives in her spare time and never mentions the fact that she's a woman until Page 95.
She doesn't have time for feminism or sermons on the sanctity of animal life. She's too busy telling us about dust-ups in the waiting room where sick and irritable pets, accompanied by anxious human escorts, fight to a draw. "I've known some sweet and gentle mastiffs," Haddock reports laconically, then goes on to tell the story of a "truly terrifying melee" where "the owner of the mastiff was bitten in the leg by his own dog. Nearly the entire calf muscle was removed by the mastiff's jaws. The man was a diabetic and this caused complications. Ultimately, his leg had to be amputated. . . ."
And following this gruesome anecdote comes the pleasantly offbeat memory of Bunny Celeste, a rabbit brought in by a woman who took Celeste's suffering so much to heart that she asked for B. Celeste to be put to sleep. Dr. Haddock saved her in secret, only to receive a note from Celeste's owner saying that now she was completely reconciled to her grief. So what was Dr. Haddock to do with this perfectly chipper rabbit--who like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, when they ran off to that island, lived healthily beyond its own funeral?
Anatomy of a Cheater
After this wacko introduction, you're happy to follow Sally Haddock into her long flashback of veterinary school. What great stories! We find a handsome cheater who sleeps with a female professor to find out the answers to exams; we meet another irate professor who goes to sleep in the dead-animal refrigerator, all bundled up--this to thwart that pesky cheater in the anatomy course: "An open carcass of an animal would be put before you with questions pinned to various parts of its anatomy. . . ." Someone had been reading those questions beforehand, so the instructor "took a blanket into the corner and settled in for the night. How peculiar he must have felt, lying alone in that cold, tiled room, surrounded by stainless-steel dissection tables, waiting for a furtive visitor. . . ."
And how, Kathy! By this time you realize you've lucked into a marvelous little book. Because Dr. Haddock is just so sunny about things. Who would have thought, for instance, that it was possible to be cheerful about sheep surgery? "One of the big debates in the animal world is over sheep versus chickens: Which is dumber. I myself have never gotten involved in the analysis, as I hate to take sides on emotional issues. . . ." Then, naturally, she goes on to tell us about operating on a ram with a saddle block: "Our patient chose that moment to work on his cha-cha and before we knew it, his intestines were falling out and banging into the bars of his pen. Lorraine tried to convince him to hold still while I desperately tried to stuff organs back into his belly. Our professor, meanwhile, was watching us with a twinkle in his eye. . . ."
A twinkle in his eye? Have mercy! But that's the great thing about this book: There are unforgettable vignettes of Haddock performing her first solo spay, while sweat drips into her eyes and the fiendish kids of the vet she's apprenticed to hang out and take Polaroid pictures. Or an account of pig-sticking for the county health folks that really is too gross for a morning newspaper. Or an absolutely fascinating narrative of a visit to Plum Island, a kind of animal leper colony off the coast of New York where student vets can study animal diseases that don't exist in the continental United States. This is wonderful stuff, wonderful because there are things here you've never read, told by a human being you can't help but like.
A Real Love of Life
What finally emerges, indirectly, is a look at a completely different way of life: great learning without "refinement." A real love of life that leads this spirited lady on trips all over the country, flying through the air, and finally, after she's out of school, to a roach-infested apartment in Manhattan, where she works at the country's finest animal hospital and finds personal happiness by falling in love with a darling guy who has his own restaurant and works (perhaps) even harder than she does.
You put down this book with admiration and a certain amount of yearning. Not for sky diving, or thrusting intestines back into a sheep, or sharing a New York floor with hoards of giant cockroaches, but to have the stamina to do it and find the fun in it: That's where the envy comes in here. Buy this one, if you can find it. Give it to every "ladylike" girl you know.