"The majority of veterinary clinics limit their treatment to cats and dogs," Douglas Whynott, author of several natural-history books, writes in "A Country Practice"; many...

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“The majority of veterinary clinics limit their treatment to cats and dogs,” Douglas Whynott, author of several natural-history books, writes in “A Country Practice”; many others serve only cows or horses. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, true mixed practices, which care for large and small animals, commercial and domestic species, number only 1,262. Of these, just one-fourth follows a two-vet, owner-and-associate model.

When he began writing about New Hampshire veterinarian Chuck Shaw and his assistant, Roger Osinchuk, Whynott quickly learned that small mixed practices are vanishing primarily due to the brutal schedule.

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The two men handle all office appointments and farm calls, oversee boarding animals, respond to emergencies, and in addition, trade nights and weekends on call.

“Young vets were increasingly less willing” to embrace this demanding routine, and current trends are for no weekend or overnight service at all, referring such cases to emergency clinics.



“A Country Practice: Scenes from the Veterinary Life”


by Douglas Whynott

North Point Press, 304 pp., $24



“I’m sort of stubbornly independent,” Shaw remarks. But having a partner helped put an end to 80- to 100-hour weeks, so when Osinchuk lobbies for a third vet, Shaw decides to see if he can hire someone suitable.

Whynott’s book becomes not only a chronicle of an old-fashioned country practice but an account of Dr. Erika Bruner’s first year on the job straight out of veterinary school.

Finding a vet willing to join a mixed practice proves difficult, and since new graduates go directly into practice without internship, Shaw and Osinchuk are investing time, money and mentoring in their new colleague.

Readers interested in animals and their care will find it fascinating to follow Shaw, the bovine specialist; Osinchuk, the equine specialist; and Bruner, the everything’s-new-to-me specialist, through their separate and shared duties.

Cases include HBCs (animals hit by cars), a turkey who gets a steel pin for a broken leg, llamas that need their feet trimmed, horse breeding, cow palpating (to determine if they are pregnant or ready to breed) and euthanasia.

Since Shaw has a no-healthy-animal-will-be-euthanized policy, the facility is often overrun with strays looking for homes. One such cantankerous troublemaker is Hobbs, an overweight cat who bites.

Clearly, times have changed since James Herriot made veterinary work into best-selling books, but the vets in Whynott’s delightful account are from the same dedicated, skilled tradition.