Settling into a busy life in Britain… - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Settling into a busy life in Britain…

JOHN PERIAM catches up with Bruce Fogle who came to London from Canada to do some research, intending to return home when it was finished but is still working here more than 40 years later

THE afternoon sun was starting to set as I drove up to Bruce Fogle’s country house situated near the village of Ford in West Sussex where I was greeted by his two Golden Retrievers, LL Bean and Plum.

I seem to recall the name LL Bean, from my visits to Canada, as a large supplier of excellent country-related products.

Bruce was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1944 and graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1970. He had early aspirations of going into small animal practice but his then academic Dean suggested it might be better if he went into research.

“I was given the opportunity to do a research project at the Zoological Society of London. It was, as far as I was concerned, just going to be a year abroad, returning back to Ontario once the project was over!”

Whilst in London, Bruce met Brian Singleton, about to become president of the RCVS, and was offered a post to work with him for two years. At the same time Jim Archibald, Bruce’s professor of surgery, was on sabbatical in London.

“I asked Jim his views and while he said I could do no better than become Brian’s assistant, it would also be good that I make my mistakes thousands of miles from home!”

Whilst working for Brian Singleton, a young lady came into the practice with her Golden Retriever. The relationship blossomed with both her and her dog resulting in his marriage to the then well-known actress, Julia Foster (who while I was meeting Bruce was in Yorkshire working on the film of Dad’s Army).

“So here I am, over 40 years later, married to Julia with three children: Emily, an art director who lives in Dubai; Ben, a writer, journalist and broadcaster; and Tamara, an accessories and fashion designer – both of whom live in London.”

Marrying Julia meant that Bruce met many of her professional friends, giving him experiences that he would have not had had he returned to Canada. “Later when I left Brian in 1973 and set up my own practice, Julia often became my nurse when there were emergencies at night: we were a good team – still are,” said Bruce with a smile.

Marylebone is where Bruce has his current practice, The London Veterinary Clinic on York Street (www.londonvetclinic.co.uk).

“We see almost entirely local dogs and cats. There are four vets and we’re the equivalent of two full-time working vets. That gives all of us time for parenting and other interests and responsibilities.”

The vets and nurses are a great team, he says. “As well as five RVNs we have Grant Petrie, a past president of the BSAVA who is at the clinic two days a week doing second opinion internal medicine. Hugo Richardson is a Bristol graduate and shares primary care with me. We’re assisted by Veronica Aksmanovic who is a fellow Canadian. She will be returning on a more regular basis, giving me more time to devote to writing and other activities.”

An advantage for the practice staff is that it is based on a five-day working week. “In 1980 four vets in London (me being one of them) set up the Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic as a local daytime practice but at nights and weekends with fresh staff as London’s first emergency clinic. With the evolution of tertiary care clinics, Elizabeth Street is today more appropriately an out-of-hours clinic.”

The three other veterinary surgeons involved, each having his own practice, are Keith Butt, Andrew Carmichael and Michael Gordon. “They call me the baby so it’s not hard to understand that amongst the four of us we have over 200 years of clinical experience.”

Bruce explained why it works so well. “I’m sure the reason our longlasting ‘marriage’ has worked so well for so long is because at root we all have a similar approach.

“Look after your patients and their owners. That’s it. Don’t carry out diagnostics or treatments unless that’s what you’d do with your own pets. Everything else, including the financials, then falls into place.”

There has been a great change in the overall competence of young veterinary surgeons coming into practice now, he says. Even 20 years ago Bruce saw second opinions that would send a shiver up his spine, due to the fact they were so poorly managed.

“What I see today are second opinions where the medical management is superb but there’s a failure in communications. In most of these instances I’m there to reassure people that the diagnosis they are getting from their vet is sound.”

Bruce says that by the late 1970s he felt reasonably competent with his medical and surgical skills but found it difficult to understand why pet owners behaved the way they do. That’s when he convinced the BSAVA to allow him to organise an international meeting he called The Human Companion Animal Bond.

Most of the speakers were what Bruce called “ologists”: psychologists, sociologists, cultural anthropologists. He edited the proceedings called Interrelations Between People and Pets, then thought that some pet owners might also be interested in understanding more about why they behave the way they do with their pets. That resulted in his first popular book, Pets and Their People – it sold well.

Soon publishers were knocking on Bruce’s door and more followed. “A wonderful editor came to me with the perfect title for a book, The Dog’s Mind. Over 20 years later that one’s still in print and earning royalties.

“That led to an approach from Dorling Kindersley and with their firepower international book sales soared into the millions. I’ve been amazingly lucky. When we bought our place in West Sussex, Julia suggested that we called it ‘Dorling Kindersley House’!”

On his travels…

Bruce has gone on to further writing, including travel narratives. His Travels with Macy, in which he travelled in the footsteps of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, was particularly successful in the United States. Soon, Barefoot at the Lake, a memoir of one summer as a 10-year-old at the family cottage in Ontario will be published in Canada and the United States as well as here in the UK.

When I visited, Bruce had set himself a target of writing 10,000 words for another project, about life as a working urban vet 40 years ago. Watch out James Herriot!

Walking both LL Bean and Plum along West Beach near Littlehampton is one of his great delights when he visits Ford – it gives him an opportunity to think about the many projects he is involved in.

He is the co-founder and vicechairman of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People (www.hearingdogs.org. uk) and is very proud of the work this does. It celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013 and trains 140 dogs a year, providing them to deaf people who often have multiple disabilities.

He is also chairman of the international charity, HSI – Protecting Animals Worldwide (www.hsi.org). “HSI evolved out of HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States. We work with governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals to protect lab animals, livestock, street dogs and wildlife throughout the world.

“For example, in Bhutan we recently completed sterilising around 65,000 dogs. In India we convinced the government to pass legislation prohibiting the keeping of captive cetacea. In Brussels we convinced the EU to pass legislation prohibiting the import of shark fins unless they’re still attached to the shark.

“In Israel we convinced the government not only not to permit the use of animals in cosmetic testing but not to permit the import of any cosmetics where animals have been used in their testing.”

So what would this veterinary surgeon who graduated nearly 45 years ago like to see happen in the future? “Almost every single student who sees practice with me tells me he or she has chosen veterinary medicine because of a desire to improve the lives of animals. Yet something happens during their education.

“Somehow that ideal gets squashed. I don’t know why and I don’t know how but what I’d like to see happen in the future is that this original ideal is given room to blossom and that as a profession we’re at the forefront of the increasing desire the public has that animals should experience lives that are worth living, not reluctantly tagging along at the end of it.”

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