My Patients Like Treats: Tales from a House-Call Veterinarian

My Patients Like Treats: Tales from a House-Call Veterinarian

by Duncan MacVean DVM


$20.69 $22.99 Save 10% Current price is $20.69, Original price is $22.99. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, September 25


It’s all fun and games until somebody ends up in a cone.
Physicians used to make house calls. Today, a few veterinarians still do. Duncan MacVean, DVM, is one such vet. His patients range from cats and dogs to pigs and lizards—each of them a unique personality. Every animal and every home is different, but every owner is the same in their affection for their companions. Without warning, MacVean finds himself in odd situations: stepping into a basement full of free-flying bats or struck speechless by a pig who loves opera so much that she falls into a trance.
The hilarious and the heartbreaking come together in this collection of true tales, all gathered from his lifelong career. MacVean finds himself riding backwards atop a potbelly pig that bucks and kicks its way down the hall, knocking over a china cabinet in the process. One woman with terminal cancer earnestly wants to know where pets go when they pass away—will her beloved cat and dog join her in the afterlife? Navigating the finer elements of human and animal interaction isn’t easy. Here, MacVean provides a glimpse into his experience with such relationships, always looking for the humor and light of every situation.
With never a dull moment, his dedication to the animals of this earth and compassion for their human caretakers drives MacVean onward, from house to house, from patient to patient. This heartwarming collection of stories brings readers along for the ride, getting to know the curious creatures he treats and their perhaps sometimes even more curious humans. My Patients Like Treats is the perfect book for animal lovers or those who simply appreciate a good story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510725676
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 768,256
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Duncan MacVean, DVM has been a professor of veterinary medicine at various universities. He has also worked with captive wild animals in Southeast Asia and as a consultant for the Malaysian National Zoo. Duncan “retired” back to his hometown and has been a house-call veterinarian for the past twenty-five years. He lives near Sacramento, California.

Read an Excerpt


The Dog with No Teeth

One boiling summer day, I was driving to Rio Linda, a small town northwest of Sacramento, on an emergency call to see a dog that was reportedly hemorrhaging from the neck and rump.

The heat was rising in waves, with houses at the distant end of the road forming shimmering double images reflecting off melting pavement. It is easy to get around town as the streets are sequentially numbered and laid out in a more or less rectangular grid. However, finding a particular address can be a challenge. Many of the houses don't have numbers on their mailboxes, on the street, or on the houses. Some don't have mailboxes, and many houses are set back a ways from the road.

Rio Linda became populated in the 1930s by immigrants from midwestern and southern Dust Bowl states. Advertisements promised rich California farmland. The migrants arrived only to find that the soil was a mere two- to six-inch veneer over impenetrable hardpan, in which only weeds and a rare stunted tree could survive. Even so, these rugged latter-day pioneers erected homes and raised families, forming a colony that some called poor white trash — but actually was a proud, tenacious people struggling to provide for themselves and their families. They built their small, handcrafted homes out of what was available and put down their roots in the hardpan.

Land and housing in the area are still among the least expensive in the state, partly because of the soil, frequent flooding due to overflowing creeks, and lack of a significant tax base. Some homes are upscale; most are not. Many of the residents are would-be farmers with small acreage, housing livestock, horses, chickens, and the usual cats and dogs.

I slowed down as I came to each house that didn't have an easily visible address. My sudden slowing to a crawl as I strained to make out a faded mailbox number upset a fellow in a pickup behind me. The driver honked, but as I didn't speed up, he took out his irritation at this slowpoke by honking and spinning wheels past me, giving me the ol' finger, and yelling some profanity I didn't care to make out.

Just as I was getting a headache trying to figure out the numbers, I found the place, sitting between houses reading 1640 and 1680. Yep, 1660 it must be.

I pulled into the dirt driveway, up to a gray prime-patched Mustang on blocks and an engine hanging on a hook from a pulley in front of a doorless garage. Some chickens scratched in the driveway, clucking in satisfaction at pecking a bug or piece of corn while others squawked out back of the garage. The air was scented with a confusing mixture of sweet bird feed and sour grease. All manner of car carcasses were corralled inside the corrugated metal walls of the garage, an obvious add-on to the '30s vintage wood-frame house. A workbench lined the wood wall that was the north end of the house. Handy, well-used workman's tools were scattered over the dark, oily surface of the bench.

To my right, the front yard was surrounded by a five-foot-high chain-link fence. Some grass, mostly bare dirt. A stunted Sacramento cottonwood tree stood on the street side of the yard. It was the only shade. The cottonwood was shedding, providing white flocks of floating floss to form snowy drifts along the fence and to land like dander on all that came near.

I braced as I stepped out of the comfort of my air-conditioned car into the oven outdoors. Zipping up my smock and grabbing my medical bag out of the backseat, I stepped around the Mustang and turned toward the gate. Caution had taught me to approach slowly and wait until I was sure the way was not guarded by a "nice" dog. Sometimes I've entered a yard where the caretaker has assured me how nice the dog is that I was coming to see, only to be greeted by a snarling, slobbering mass of canine muscle looking more like a creature out of a movie like Alien. Other times, it has been the "other" dog, the one not mentioned but sharing the same premises.

Out of the front door of the slatted-frame house ran a barefoot woman in a blue and white tank top and a thin pink skirt that tightly snugged her trim body. As she quickly approached, I noticed emblazoned across her bosom an emblem denoting the event of the year in Rio Linda — the Little League parade, picnic, and festivities heralding the initiation of the season of team play.

She was in her twenties or early thirties, tall, maybe five-ten, waving her arms above her head, shaking.

"Oh, Doc, ah'm so glad y'all 's heah at last. My dawg is bleedin' somthin' terr'ble."

"It's all right, Mrs. Dennis, we'll see if we can just fix him up fine." Inhaling deeply, trying to find something personal to comment on to make connection, "By the way, I like your accent. Where are you from?"

She seemed to settle at this. She shook my hand while opening the creaking gate that could have used a little WD-40. Her pretty face visibly relaxed, dark brown eyes dancing, a wide smile lit up between her high cheekbones like a sun breaking through a storm cloud. "Well, thank ye. Ah'm from Tenn'ssee, up in the Noaweast hilly paht."

The line of her lips hardly concealed a straight row of teeth with a few gaps that winded an occasional whistle between certain words. She started telling me her account, assisted by Italian-like hand animation. Her Alaskan malamute, Randy, was in the front yard that morning when she came outside to throw some corn in the driveway for the chickens. "He's jus' sittin' thar, blood all ov'r his nick, and sittin' in his haunches in blood. I grab 'is collar and yanked 'im insahde t' th' kitchin, 'n washed his nick and rear end. He still got blood on' im, Doc. Ya gotta do somthin'."

The wooden boards of the stairs to the front porch were loose, some warped, and a few boards were missing. The white paint was faded and cracked; the curtain in the porch window to the right of the screen door was fluttering out through a break in the glass. A standing fan was whirring like a propeller beyond the curtain. Beside the fan was a couch that was sagging with age and comfort in what looked like a living room area. Through the torn screen door that was flaked with fluffy white cotton, I could see a straight hallway down to what looked like another screen door at the back of the house. Light shined on the dark wood floor. Framed pictures hung straight and orderly on dark walls.

"Bring Randy out here on the lawn where it is well lit. I should be able to see his wounds real good out here."

She ducked inside for a few seconds and then appeared on the porch, bent over, holding the malamute by his collar. She dragged him across the porch like a mop, down the stairs, and onto the grassy part of the yard. "Now y'all sit 'n mind th' doc. He's heah t' help ya."

With that, she let go, and the dog just sat there, long, thick, sleek gray coat and panting with tongue drooping out. Clean teeth, two or three years old, ears erect, steel eyes attentive.

I looked Randy over and palpated his body, feeling for swellings and wet spots. There were two streaks of blood staining the fur about halfway up the front of his neck. I couldn't detect anything out of place or abnormal on any other part of the body. Lifting him up from his sitting position, I saw a smudge of red on his rump but didn't detect any wounds there. I peeked under his belly and tail. Intact male. No injuries underneath.

"Mrs. Dennis, I'm going to get my electric razor out of the car to shave his neck and take a look at the wounds. All I've found so far is blood on his neck. Maybe the smear of blood on his rump is just blood that fell to the ground that he sat on. Do you have an electric outlet nearby that I can plug into? And can you get me a pan or bucket of tap water?"

"M'be ya kin use the lahght cord from the grahj my hubby uses t' work on his cahrs." Then she ducked inside the house for the water.

I retrieved the electric razor from my materials-and-supplies box in the trunk. I took the extension cord leading up to the frame of the Mustang, plugged it in, and took it through the gate as far as the cord let me.

She came out shortly with steaming water. I told her, "Good. Set th' bucket over thar next t' the fence." I blushed. Dern, I was beginning to sound like her. My internal dialogue flurried through my skull. No, not mocking, my mind defends, just connecting with her through identifying language, you know. Oh, crap, rebuts my heart, you just blurted it out. Be yourself, man. All right, I got caught up in the middle of the colorful language of the moment. Not so bad.

I watched my tongue and said, "Bring Randy over, so I can shave him."

She dragged him as before over to the edge of the lawn near the gate. It took a while to shave through the thick coat enough to get to the skin and see the extent of the wounds.

I thought to myself how, if I were Randy, I'd want to be indoors by the fan, not out here in the valley heat. Whew — in my smock that felt by then as thick as a malamute's coat, I was dripping sweat and beginning to pant myself. The cottonwood shade fell just short of us.

There were two fresh puncture wounds at mid-ventral neck, one on each side of the trachea. They were oozing a little blood, but not bad. They had missed the jugulars. One of the holes was a jagged laceration and might require one or two sutures. I thought they should heal all right after washing, disinfecting, and giving an antibiotic injection. "Ma'am, these are punctures, and ..."

She caught her breath, inhaling while blurting out, "How could thar be punctuals? They look like holes. How'd that happen? Who did that?"

"No, ma'am," I interrupted, "they are holes. Probably bite wounds. The holes are from being punctured by teeth about as far apart as a good-sized dog. Not deep enough as a cat or raccoon. Probably a dog."

"But, that cain't be. They's no othah dawg could git in ta th' yahrd. I make good sure o' that one."

Earlier, through the screen into the backyard, I had seen what I thought was a dog. I asked, "Do you have another dog?"

"Well, yes, but he couldna done it." Shaking her head, knowing where my question was leading.

"Is it the dog I saw in the backyard? It looked like a pit bull."

"He is. Do y'wanna see 'im? He's a love, as gentle as kin be. Bull and Randy play all th' time."

She disappeared into the house while I went back to the car for some scrub disinfectant, syringes of local anesthetic and antibiotic, and a laceration repair kit.

I arrived back at Randy just as the Mrs. appeared back in the yard, leading a squat, muscle-solid Bull. Bull's wide body approached, wagging his surprisingly thin tail and slobbering the back of my outstretched hand. Yep, a pit bull — and intact. "Do they play roughhouse sometimes?"

"Oh, yes, theys acts as if thar goin t' tar each other apart. Theys roll 'round on the ground shakin' each othah."

"My guess is that Bull bit Randy while playing rough."

"No, sir, ain't no way he coulda dun it." Her jaw now set defensively.

Raising my eyebrows, I said, "But look, he is strong, low to the ground, and could easily grab Randy at throat level and break the skin, even with a playful bite. He has strong jaw muscles."

"But, Doc, he's over fahve yar old. He goin' on eight. He coulna done it. No way, no how."

"Why would five years make any difference? He is still strong, and he looks healthy to me."

"Yep, he's healthy. I raised 'im m'self! B'fore we moved heah from Campt'n two yars ago." As if that answered my question. She stood there, hands on hips. "Are ya goin' stitch 'im up?"

I knelt down, turned to Randy, and started scrubbing his neck with disinfectant. "But I still want to know why Bull could not have bitten Randy."

With a look at me as if I was dumber than a nail, she answered, "'Cuz he ain't got no teef!"

"What do you mean, no teeth?"

Still looking at me as a nail, she replied, "No dawg in Campt'n has any teef aftah theyen fahve yars old."

Stubbornly, "And why would five years make any difference?"

"Ev'r'one knows they chews on rocks 'n gravel 'n' they ain't no more teef left by time they git t' fahve."

Well, I thought, the proof is in the pudding they say, or in the mouth in this case. I stood up and walked over to Bull, gave him a reassuring pat, really reassuring myself his disposition was all right. He looked relaxed and friendly enough. I bent over, pushing down on his lower jaw with my left hand and, with the fingers of my right hand, pushing the edges of the lips inward between my fingers and the crown of the teeth behind the canines. I pressed my fingertips upward on the roof of the mouth to stimulate the jaw opening reflex. With figurative fingers in my mind crossed, I said, "Say ahhh!"

Whew: Bull opened wide in a brilliant yawn. Pit bulls in my experience often are stubborn and lock their jaws, and I can't get my fingers inside the mouth enough to evoke the reflex.

As if looking a gift horse in the mouth, I peered in. Tilting my head aside and splaying the gaping mouth in full view, I announced with victorious flair as if amplified through a bullhorn, "It looks like a mighty fine set of teeth to me, Mrs. Dennis."

With consternation awash all over her face as she looked on, she said, "Well, I'll be goldern. He's got teef."

"Yeah, his teeth are worn down a little but still sharp enough to break skin with the strength of a pit bull's jaw. His upper canines are just about as far apart as the two punctures on Randy's neck."

"Yar mahghty rahght, Doc, theyr's teef." Pausing, relaxing her jaw, "I guess he coulda done it aft'r all." Turning to Bull, "Ya caint play rough like that no more, y' heah?"

The lady then expressed concern that sometimes Bull gets out of the yard and might cause trouble down the neighborhood, now that he has teeth that is. Her thought was how he could have hurt that sweet chow bitch that he was hooked to when she was in heat last year.

I continued, "And are lots of the dogs in Camden also coprophagous?" "Cop o' what?"

"Do they sometimes eat their own or other dog's crap?"

"Yep, theya showly do. I doan wanna go looking in theyar mouths!"

I was smiling inside, thinking about what it must be like in the part of the world she grew up in, with dogs running around with dentures ground down to the gums. Lots of young dogs chew on rocks, especially if bored. But in some of the hill areas in the Appalachians, the soil is mineral-deficient, I recalled reading somewhere. And in some of those remote areas, people feed pets whatever scraps there are, and the pets just have to do with whatever they can find. It seemed to me that eating, or at least chewing on, rocks and feces seems like a useful way of attempting to supplement the diet, for those dogs anyway.

I proceeded with injecting the local anesthetic and the antibiotic. While the painkiller was taking effect, I told her how the dogs' being males and still having testicles could contribute to their aggressiveness. I urged her to consider getting both dogs neutered. "Once they are fixed, they may be calmer and less likely to inflict serious injury to each other. And they might be more inclined to stick around the house and not wander off when the air fills with a whiff of a bitch in heat or where they could trouble other dogs or people in the neighborhood." I didn't bother to add that it also would eliminate the possibility of testicular cancer.

She stared, narrowing her eyelids. "Ya mean gittin' them casted?"

"Uh, castrated. Yes, surgically removing their testicles. It doesn't hurt them since they are under full anesthesia, and recovery is quite smooth."

"Oh, no, my husband says he's not gonna let anyone do that to 'em."

"Why not?" knowing full well the likely answer.

"He says, 'No one's gonna cut my balls out an' they ain't gonna do it t' m' dawgs neithah.'"

I laughed. That's a common identification men make with their pets. I didn't respond, knowing I would be wasting my time trying to reverse those hormone-driven convictions.

I went ahead and trimmed the jagged edge of the laceration on Randy and placed a single skin suture. I showed that wonderfully worthy woman how, in ten days, to get scissors and cut the stitch on one side of the knot and, holding the knot, to pull the suture straight up, away from the skin, to remove it. That way, I wouldn't have to make another house call simply to remove the suture.

She disappeared into the house to get cash to pay me while I finished cleaning up and hauled my bag and instruments back to the car.

We were saying our good-byes when her husband arrived, pulling up beside my car. He drove an old blue Ford pickup with dents and scratches, a workingman's truck. He revved the engine before killing the ignition. Almost jumping out of the truck, he came over to the gate, holding out his hand. I shook his strong grip. His calloused fingers that had hard-earned grime under the nails wrapped around my hand. There was a deer-like creature tattooed on his forearm. He had a one-day growth of dark beard, stood about two inches shorter than his wife, and wore a faded green T-shirt with the name of some band I'd not heard of with pictures of a banjo player and fiddler around the name. His pants were soiled blue jeans, his shoes scuffed black. His smile was as wide as his wife's, sans two upper middle incisors. "Hi, m' name's Jimbo. Ah see you stitched up m' dawg," glancing over to the shaved neck.


Excerpted from "My Patients Like Treats"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Duncan W. MacVean.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

I Dogs and Cats Reign 1

1 The Dog with No Teeth 3

2 Pussycat, Pussycat 13

3 Them 20

4 Mr. Grey 30

5 He's Never Done That Before 35

6 Hey, You Forgot Something 49

7 The Maze 52

8 A Dusting Off 61

9 Gunshots in the South 64

10 Houses on the River 83

II Bats, Rats, and Lizards, Oh My 93

11 Mr. Black 95

12 Ratty Yes, Batty No 110

13 Freddy and Friends 120

14 Monster at the End of the Hall 128

15 Three Little Pigs 144

III Transitions 163

16 The Wailing 165

17 Atlantis 172

18 Cindy in Heaven 176

19 Olympic Rings 185

20 The Passage Home 190

21 Bad Dog-Good Dog 204

IV Healing Arts 211

22 Stork Angels 213

23 What's Wrong, Doc? 218

Acknowledgments 223

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

My Patients Like Treats: Tales from a House-Call Veterinarian 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Tictoc1 More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and so...enjoyed it. It is well written, educational, and laughable with a great deal of empathy for both Patients and their best friends! My only wish is for it to be longer:)