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Animal Behavior

The Dramatic Life and Survival of an Inner-City Veterinarian

The book, The Vet at Noah's Ark, celebrates the human-animal bond.

Key points

  • If you thought you knew a lot about the lives of veterinarians, this book will surprise you.
  • Doug Mader takes readers along, sitting shotgun, through the daily grind of veterinary life in the inner city.
  • Being a veterinarian is not just about animals; it is about people, animals, and the love and bond they share.
Source: Apollo Publishers With Permission
Source: Apollo Publishers With Permission

When I began reading Dr. Doug Mader's book The Vet at Noah's Ark: Stories of Survival from an Inner-City Animal Hospital (with a foreword by Dr. Kevin T. Fitzgerald, the veterinarian on Animal Planet’s Emergency Vets and E-Vet Interns), everything else I was doing was rapidly pushed aside. The book's description and accolades say it all: "From renowned veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader comes a stirring account of his fight to protect his animal patients and human staff amid the dangerous realities of inner-city life and the Los Angeles riots—and a celebration of the remarkable human-animal bond."1

Veterinarians have eclectic and highly demanding jobs in the best of situations, and how he and his incredibly dedicated staff survived the unending challenges they faced in inner-city Los Angeles from nonhumans and humans alike defies imagination.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write The Vet at Noah's Ark?

Doug Mader: I’ve always been an avid reader since I was a small child. Medical books, or any book about medicine, fact or fiction, were my favorite. My goal, starting at a very young age, was to be a medical doctor, specifically, a surgeon. When I was 15 I moved away from home and attended farrier school so I could learn a trade and be able to pay for college. After I graduated I started working with an amazing horse veterinarian. He gave me a copy of James Herriot’s book All Creatures Great and Small. I read it, re-read it, and fell in love with it—not only the story but the profession and the actual writing. From that point, I knew two things: First, I was going to be a horse doctor, and second, I was going to write a book like James Herriot someday.

Source: Chris Gilette With Permission
Doug and Casper the alligator, one of his favorite longtime patients.
Source: Chris Gilette With Permission

MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

DM: Medicine had always been a passion. When I was in high school, I started working with horses, which led to blacksmithing, which led to working with a veterinarian. which led to veterinary school. I promised myself two things—I’d never live in a city (I was a country boy and loved ranch life) and I’d never work in a small animal practice. An under-aged, drunken driver changed all of that in a matter of seconds. A year and a dozen surgeries later, I realized I was no longer able, with any confidence, to work with large animals. During my convalescence, I volunteered my downtime with the zoo ward at the veterinary school. That, combined with my early upbringing in the Florida Keys, traipsing around the Mangrove swamps with my older brother, helped change my path to working with exotic animals instead of horses. After I finished my residency in Primate and Zoo animal medicine my friend, and ultimately my business partner, and I started the Noah’s Ark Veterinary Hospital.

MB: Who is your intended audience?

DM: Everybody—veterinarians, veterinary students, pre-veterinary students, any student, any animal lover, and people that just like an engrossing read. Like Herriot, I wrote the book for everybody to enjoy. Although technically it is a memoir, because it is about a time during my life, it is a narrative, non-fiction book about the power of the human-animal bond. It just happens to be written in the first person.

MB: What are some of your major messages?

DM: Hands down, the most important message is that of the magic of the human-animal bond. The book is teeming with stories about this bond. Whether they are short vignettes that are one-offs, stories about the bond that involves characters that recur through the book, or the big one, about Wok, my personal Chow Chow that was my best friend, confidant, and bodyguard. Wok is by my side from the beginning to the end and the reader gets to meet and fall in love with this amazing animal character, the best dog I’ve ever had.

Source: Sea Turtle Hospital With Permission
Doug performing surgery on a large Green Sea Turtle,
Source: Sea Turtle Hospital With Permission

I also am so proud to introduce to the readers the many, many wonderful staff members, who I had the privilege to work with during my tenure at Noah’s Ark. These amazing, dedicated, passionate people sacrifice so much to provide care to many animals, and in many cases, in dire circumstances, risking their lives, such as during the Rodney King civil unrest.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

Hands down, the biggest, ultimate compliment I have received from literary critics is that “The Vet at Noah’s Ark” is the first American James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small. Over the past 70 years, there have been a lot of excellent books written by veterinarians. I think I have read them all. One commonality is that they are compilations, anthologies if you will, of special cases throughout their careers. People love animal books, and these literary contributions satisfy that love above and beyond.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about what you do they will treat their patients and other animals with more respect and dignity?

GM: My goal is to show people, from literature lovers to animal lovers to veterinary professionals and wannabees, that being a veterinarian is not just about animals, it is about people, animals, and the love and bond they share.


In conversation with multi-talented Dr. Doug Mader DVM, a triple board-certified veterinary specialist who has been a veterinarian for over three decades. He has written three best-selling medical textbooks, numerous book chapters, and scientific publications, as well as long-standing pet columns in newspapers and magazines. Mader has received numerous community, academic, and professional accolades. He practiced in California for many years, but today lives and works in the Florida Keys.

1) The book's description also includes: This is a book about survival, both of the pets that Mader and his staff try to save daily, as well as the staff themselves. Living in the harsh reality of the city, surrounded by gangs, drugs, violence, traffic, smog, and deadly riots, they must overcome and rise above, for their own survival and that of the animals who need them. This awe-inspiring account is told through Mader's riveting storytelling―as Carl Hiaasen writes, "Doug is fearless and dedicated," and "a damn good storyteller."

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