“Some of us are born knowing just what to say to impress other people, to claim the world as the oyster we so richly deserve. The rest of us have dogs.”
Such is the theme of San Diego veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang’s new book, “All Dogs Go To Kevin: Everything Three Dogs Taught Me (That I Didn’t Learn in Veterinary School).”
In a humorous yet poignant style, Vogelsang chronicles the ups and downs of life and how three beloved dogs stood steadfastly by her through childhood anxiety, postpartum depression and plenty of life changes, with encouragement and unconditional love.
It starts with Taffy
Vogelsang’s story begins with her first dog: a grouchy Lhasa Apso named Taffy that her parents agreed to adopt in order to help their shy daughter open up. Although the antisocial Taffy wasn’t helpful in that regard, she played a critical role in Vogelsang’s childhood and beyond.
Taffy accompanied Vogelsang and her family when they moved from a small town in Massachusetts to sunny California.
Faced with a cast of intimidating characters from the bubbly blond sisters down the street to the class bully, Vogelsang found she couldn’t relate to the natives and instead sought solace in curling up with Taffy.
It’s typical of anxious kids to find pets a comfort, says Dr. Tamar Chansky, a psychologist specializing in adolescent anxiety. “There’s a sense of unconditional acceptance for a child who is maybe going through a tough time socially,” she explains. “They come home to the one ‘person’ who doesn’t question them and who loves them.”
Taffy’s presence in Vogelsang’s childhood cemented her lifelong love and understanding that dogs are more than just pets; they are protectors, confidants, companions and teachers.
With her dog by her side, Vogelsang made her way through school and ultimately to the decision to become a veterinarian, a career choice influenced by Taffy. “I’ve always liked to stand up for the literal underdog,” Vogelsang explains to MNN.
Readers accompany Vogelsang on her emotional ride through college to vet school to marriage to parenthood and beyond. With wit and self-deprecating humor, Vogelsang wraps each experience in the influence of the animals in her life.
Pets are a common bond
Throughout the book, Vogelsang shares hilarious stories of quirky friends like Kevin, who leads Vogelsang and her husband on crazy adventures; perplexing bosses and kind colleagues; and her human clients and their animals. The author shares a common bond with all of them: their love for their pets.
Of course, her dogs are key characters in Vogelsang’s story: Taffy, who set Vogelsang on her path; Emmett, the “crazy man” golden retriever who sneaks his way into Vogelsang’s home, standing steadfastly by during many life changes; and Kekoa, a “remorseful” yet sweet black lab with separation anxiety, who wiggled into the family’s hearts, teaching lessons about acceptance, love and loss.
Emmett eventually "goes to Kevin” — as Vogelsang’s then 2-year-old son so poetically put it and the book cover echoes — and Vogelsang and her colleagues adopt this phrase for the tough moments when patients in their veterinary practice pass away. But Vogelsang has no idea that the concept will take on new meaning when her family faces an unexpected loss that leaves them reeling. (No spoilers here; just a hint.)
Today, with the love of all of her past and present dogs embedded in her heart, Vogelsang specializes in in-home hospice care for dogs and cats. “It’s the most meaningful work I’ve done in my life,” she tells MNN. Vogelsang says she hasn’t stopped learning about the impact dogs have on our lives, while they are here and after they’re gone.
"You can fool yourself, you can fool your friends and family, but you can’t fool a dog who knows only what he sees," Vogelsang muses.
"And thank goodness for that."
Photo of Vogelsang: Paul Barnett