The Current

'I know how they're thinking': Bruce Fogle on his decades-long career as a vet

Canadian Bruce Fogle chronicles his time tending to the pets of famous Britons in new book Call the Vet: My Life as a Young Vet in 1970s London.

Canadian chronicles his move to London and time tending British pets in new book

Bruce Fogle, a Canadian who moved to London, U.K. to work as a vet in the 1970s. (Submitted by Bruce Fogle)

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When Bruce Fogle entered the field of veterinary medicine as a student in the 1960s, its treatment of animals was quite a bit different than it is today. 

"There were experiments like Harry Harlow's experiments where he took newborn monkeys from their mothers and denied them contact and monitored what happened to them," he told The Current's host Matt Galloway. 

"That happened to be the culture where I started to study veterinary medicine."

While attending the Ontario Veterinary School at the University of Guelph, Fogle learned how to perform surgery on dogs, which had been received from animal shelters. He recalls practising laparotomy surgery, where the abdomen is cut open and examined.

"We'd play with that dog for two weeks while it healed. And the next week we'd operate on a sheep, once the dog had healed. And all of us would play with our dogs — we'd do another operation on the same dog."

Fogle said that if they were thinking of the welfare of the animals, they didn't mention it to each other.

He said it was only after university that he began to perceive the emotions of animals in a new light, and understood the qualities they share with humans. He calls it his "Eureka moment," and said it raised "a whole Pandora's box of questions about our attitude towards the living world around us." 

"Today, I'll get up on my soapbox and I'll question. But when I was a student, I can't say it really entered my mind."

Fogle moved to the U.K. in the '70s, where he practised at a clinic in London.

He chronicles these experiences in his new book, Call the Vet: My Life as a Young Vet in 1970s London. Fogle is also the author of several books on petcare.

In London, Fogle ran into "the great and the good" of British society, tending to the pets of Paul McCartney, Elizabeth Taylor and others. He met his own wife, actress Julia Foster, caring for her sick dog in 1971. 

Piccadilly Circus in 1976, around the time Fogle moved to London. (Getty Images)

People and their pets

Fogle said his work was shaped not only by the pets he tended to, but the people behind them. He described pet-owners as people who "get some added value out of living with other species."

"We're surrounded by the better half of society, and that is people who have made a financial and emotional investment in other animals," he said.

He'd often witness their anguish in making the decision to put a pet down. 

"The heartache is, if anything, more for the people who surround that animal than for the animal itself," said Fogle. "Because by the time you make that type of decision, certainly in your professional mind, you know, that the best option for that dog — that will alleviate pain and discomfort — is for its life to end."

Dedicating his life to pets granted him a keen perception of animals, and what they truly mean to human beings, he said.

"After 50 years plus, I've got an inkling of how dogs and cats in particular think and respond. So I know them. I know how they're thinking. I know how to approach them. And I still find that very, very rewarding." 

Written by Keena Alwahaidi. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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