Title: All Dogs Go to Kevin: Everything Three Dogs Taught Me (That I Didn’t Learn in Veterinary School)

Author: Dr Jessica Vogelsang

No. of pages: 336 pages (paperback)

Year of publication: 2015

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

My rating: ★★★★★

Check it out on Goodreads: link

To the misfits, the miscreants, the misunderstood, the freaks and geeks and socially inept, and the dogs who love them.

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The memoir starts off with a recounting of Dr Vogelsang’s (let’s call her Dr V) childhood, building the foundations of her personality as an introvert and her innate connection to animals.

She faces discrimination and even bullying for being different, for being the kid who would rather sit quietly in a corner with a book at a party. 

As the story progresses, we watch as she goes through hurdles in trying to figure out what exactly she wants to do with her life, from interning at a mortuary to researching stem cells – a cutting edge technology at the time – and finally landing on the decision to apply for vet school at UC Davis. 

During the four years of vet school, she faces more challenges, and even comes close to giving up, but you’ll find yourself rooting for Dr V as she strives to achieve her dream.

She goes through the highs and lows of life, from dating and marriage to the love of her life, to experiencing deaths both in her clinic and at home. 

Beside her at every stage of life are her three precious dogs: Taffy, Emmett and Kekoa, there to comfort and support her as she picks herself back up again and again and again.

Why It’s Worth the Read

For a lighthearted book, the subjects discussed within its pages can be a little heavy for some. There’s talk of depression and death, but also words of encouragement for those who find times a little too difficult to handle.

Dr V’s writing is kept in a casual tone, which makes it a quick and easy read over coffee. You’ll find little anecdotes to tickle your heart and move you to tears. 

Let’s break down the many themes of this memoir and briefly go through each of the ones I feel are most important.

Be Yourself, Do Things Your Way, and Follow Your Passions

There’s no joy in repeated attempts to squish yourself into a mold that you know deep in your heart is not one you are meant to fill. 

Chapter 1

As previously mentioned, Dr V identifies differently from the people around her. She’s quiet, introverted and has a strong connection with animals.

During her first year at vet school, whilst waiting at the airport, a woman asks her about her studies and is shocked that it takes the same amount of years to become a medical doctor, so she asks Dr V “why don’t you become a ‘real’ doctor instead?” 

This implies that being a veterinarian isn’t a “real” doctor in the sense that “real” doctors only treat humans. Well, if you want to dig into the science, humans are mammals which technically makes us animals too. But who’s checking, right?

What’s curious is that I got this same reaction from my own uncle who laughed when I said I wanted to be a vet. What did he ask me? 

“Why don’t you become a ‘proper’ doctor instead?”

There are times when you learn to choose your battles. I couldn’t be bothered with this one.

Fitting in just comes more naturally to some people than to others. I was still working on it.

Chapter 24

Some years after the birth of her children, Dr V tries various things to be the parent that she thought was ideal by participating in school activities. Even in her adult years, she barely fits in with the rest of the parents, but she tries for the sake of her children. 

The last straw comes when her efforts to create a Valentine’s Day project with her children to bring to school ends up in a warning from the principal and her children coming home embarrassed.

She decides to say screw it and parent her own way, realizing that trying to fit in with society by trying too hard to fill shoes that don’t fit will never make her happy.

This shows that even in adulthood, it’s impossible to be fully at home with everyone around you.

You never will be enough for everyone. That’s a fact.

I need to constantly remind myself of this. The opinions of many shouldn’t concern you as long as you’re happy with those closest to you such as your loved ones, family and dear friends.

Their opinions are the ones that matter, and if they can’t love you the way you are, then well, screw it!

Practise Resilience

Now, when we were younger, most of us didn’t really know what we wanted to do with our lives. We didn’t know where we were headed, much less where we wanted to go to achieve whatever goal that was meant for us. 

I myself have had my fair share of bouncing around from interest to interest, institution to institution, not really knowing where to settle and what to settle for.

So when Dr V started out with the idea of going to medical school and, after some turn of events, ended up in vet school instead, I can totally relate (although I wasn’t so lucky to achieve that).

By the time Dr V realizes she wants to be a vet, she’s already missed the deadline for application and has to find a job to pass a year.

Previously, she did a stint at a mortuary and summer internship for biomedical engineering stem cells which was where she realized her dream after watching some vet students sew up a pig that was used for an experiment for the implantation of an artificial heart valve. 

Why the author decided to take the summer internship was because she thought the PhD research route would be best for her since she’s an introvert.

It’s funny how we come up with all these plans in our heads and we think they’re the best pathways. Often, life turns our expectations around and lands us in the one place we never expect ourselves to be.

But we have to keep pushing forward.

In our first three years of school […] no one ever sat us down and told us that we would also be dealers of hard-core emotion: handing out diagnoses bringing on stress and fear, loss and anger, joy and relief, much of it absorbed and then redirected back at us.

Chapter 6

On the first day of her rotation at the internal medicine department, Dr V fails to answer a question from their supervisor. Later, during her first few months in rotations, she loses confidence in herself when a client’s scathing remakes make her question her own expertise.   It makes her wonder whether this is the universe giving her a hint that she should quit, or is it just another challenge to pull through. 

I’ve wondered this myself when times got difficult. Am I supposed to shoulder through this or is it a sign that it’s not for me?

But I’ve found that the first hurdle is always the most difficult. Like your first day at university or at a new job.

Keep walking in there, keep your head up, do the work, and before you know it, you’re breezing through.

After you survive the experience, there’s nothing more to be frightened of.

Chapter 6

Remember That Everyone is Fighting Their Own Battles

We vets can be pretty hard on clients sometimes, telling them what problem needs fixing while neglecting to give them a realistic way to get there. But what’s the point of being a know-it-all if the end result is a guilt-ridden client and pet who doesn’t get any better? 

Chapter 13

When dealing with a particular client and her overweight Beagle named Bacon, Dr V shows us what it essentially means to be a healthcare professional.

You’re not only caring for the pet itself, but also its owner, so that the owner can give their best to their pet.

The Beagle’s owner walks in with her rowdy children and, as they are up and about trying to tear the place down, Dr V informs her of her dog’s weight status and the consequences of being overweight. 

Now, the owner insists that she is trying her best to get Bacon to lose weight, but to no avail. But here comes the client history. Her family got Bacon when her mother passed, and Bacon has been a source of major comfort for her father.

Her father has dementia and therefore keeps feeding Bacon with treats. The client knows the implications of an overweight dog (i.e. joint issues), but with her hands full with her unruly children, she has no time to give much thought to Bacon’s weight. She has tried telling her father to stop feeding Bacon treats, but he keeps forgetting. 

While the more seasoned Dr Joff, Dr V’s senior, treats the case based on just upfront information, Dr V decides to give up her lunch break to get to the root of the problem, and help the client figure out a situation which turns out to be successful. 

[…] We are all but warm lumps of flesh and mucus that manage to superficially appear to follow the laws of physics, but in truth just replicate, disintegrate, or implode with a disturbing lack of predictability.

Chapter 13

As a student in healthcare, this case is highly significant to me and a great reminder to always put patient care first. No two patients are the same, they are also humans with their own lives, just like us.

We can’t expect them to follow our instructions and advice just because we think we know better than them; every patient has their own history and current issues that may prevent them from following our advice. 

Our job is to find the cause of these obstructions and help in any way we can.

We should also take care not to let the demands of the profession leave us a jaded, unfeeling rock that lacks the most fundamental of emotion: empathy.

Depression and Getting Help

There are times you need to be alone and times you must desperately need not to be, when you need someone there, not to do anything but simply be present. 

Chapter 25

Dr V talks about depression post-pregnancy – referred to as postpartum depression – which is a topic that I believe should be talked about more often. You will never understand what it feels like unless you’ve gone through it. Pregnancy is already a very gruelling process, followed by labour and delivery of the child, and it can be a terrifying experience for new mothers. 

When she talks about ending up in a numb state of mind where you have literally suffered so much to the point where you’re just past caring anymore, I felt like I could relate to that.

Depression is still stigmatized in our society, a situation that needs to change and soon.

Here, when you hear of people seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist, there’s always a negative connotation to it – “you’re crazy” or “just get over it” or “just go out and meet new people and everything will be alright.” 

It doesn’t work that way. 

For those who feel like they’re suffering from any form of depression, please seek help just as Dr V did. She tried to keep it together until she could no longer handle it, and once she sought help from a specialist, everything became a whole lot brighter. 

Being forced to prioritise where I spent only limited stress currency made me better at focussing on true concerns and able to let go of things I couldn’t control.

Chapter 16

Another thing that we should all keep in mind is to let things take their course. In life, there are so many things that we can’t control however much we try to.

If anything, I’ve learned that it just drains your energy when trying to get everything in order when nothing wants to get in order.

So let it be. Let it happen. And this is when I start to remember the words to The Beatles’ Let It Be.

I never knew that such a simple statement could bring a huge impact to how I run my life. Truth be told, it’s taken away some of the stress – not having to worry about the little things that I can’t change.

Dealing with Death

Everyone of us experiences death in one way or another at some point in our lives. Some of us have had to face it early, losing a parent, guardian or sibling at a tender age; some are challenged by it in later years, either in the form of an ill spouse, or one’s own declining health.

And then sometimes it’s our own pets that we have to say goodbye to.

I’ve lost four rabbits and two German Shepherds in my years of living with animals, with the most recent passing in December of 2019, several days before Christmas.

Needless to say it was a pretty awful holiday for me. The worst part of it was that I wasn’t home at the time, so I got a text informing me about it from my parents while at work. It took all my strength just to make it through those eight hours before making my way home to cry massive, ugly tears. 

That German Shepherd had been with me for almost eight years now, but he had been struggling through a nasty skin infection that puzzled our local vets.

I find myself missing him of course; every time I came home, he would bark and bark and bark as soon as he heard the car pulling up the driveway.

But sometimes you just have to remind yourself that life goes on, and your pets are in a better place. His name was Tigger, after my favourite Winnie the Pooh character. 

We teach our dogs to “stay”, but they never do.

Chapter 18

When you decide to keep a pet, you have to always remember that they will go before you do. Most of the time. It hurts to know this, but we still allow them to enter our lives and steal our hearts.

Why? I guess because the years of love and affection they shower you with are worth the pain of death. 

Dr V had three dogs before the end of the book, and every one of them left this world with a piece of her heart. In spite of having to deal with death at her clinic, no amount of knowledge or preparation can ever make you ready for the death of a beloved companion – be it animal or human. 

The Verdict

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Anyone and everyone should read it. It’s probably going to be on the list of books that I’m never going to sell because I’ll be coming back to it for some much-needed encouragement and wisdom. 

And stories of cute dogs and cats, of course. 

[…] our flaws do not make us less, but ever more worthy of being loved just the way we are.


Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels.

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