Book review: ‘The Other Family Doctor’

Cover of the book, ‘The Other Family Doctor’
A devoted animal lover pursues her dream of becoming a house-call veterinarian.
By Sally Rosenthal

The Other Family Doctor: A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life, and Mortality by Karen Fine. Anchor Books, 2023. Hardcover, 302 pages, $28.

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Some people drift through life looking for the perfect job while others seem destined from an early age for a profession. Veterinarian Karen Fine, author of The Other Family Doctor: A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life, and Mortality, definitely falls into the latter category.

A lifelong animal lover, Karen set her heart on becoming a veterinarian from a young age. Her love for a physician grandfather, who made house calls on his human patients, planted the seed of one day being able to provide that same level of personal care for her animal clients.

In this engaging memoir, the author takes readers on her journey through vet school and subsequent career as a house-call veterinarian, coupled with hours in a small animal clinic. While she finds joy in being able to offer home visits for animals and their humans who find getting to a vet’s office difficult, Karen does not shy away from some very real professional concerns.

When she trained as a vet decades ago, female students were in the minority and often faced discrimination. After graduation, she — like her fellow vets — faced years of paying off educational debt; the amount was often equivalent to that of medical students even though vets’ salaries were considerably lower than their medical colleagues. Despite these concerns, however, Karen found satisfaction in providing quality compassionate care for patients ranging from dogs and cats to a family of ferrets.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is how Karen combines traditional Western treatment with alternative and holistic treatments, such as Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Her open-mindedness and compassion for the animals helped her offer the most effective treatment. Nowhere was this more evident than in the touching last few years of her own beloved dog dealing with a rare cancer diagnosis.

In recent months, I have come across a flurry of veterinarian memoirs, but Karen Fine’s The Other Family Doctor stands out for its wisdom and warmth. Highly recommended.

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