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Book review: Letting the Cat Out of the Bag by Siôn Rowlands

03 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: The Secret Life of a Vet by Siôn Rowlands is published by Two Roads

Jon Gower

 It’s not often that I laugh out loud when reading a book but this one had more than its fair share of gustily guffawing moments.

Siôn Rowlands is a vet, and a sympathetic, good one too but he is also has the flair of a natural, fluent storyteller. So when things go wrong, or even totally wrong he knows how to turn such adversity into a damn good yarn.

Snarling hyenas

Which is certainly true for the time he found himself in the Zimbabwean bush with a tent minus the tent pegs having taken some literally forbidden fruit into a game reserve.

It wasn’t long before the hyenas turned up and, when those were chased away, they returned with more snarling animals. Luckily the elephant scared them off but even when that outsize mammal lumbered away there was still the small matter of having erected the tent in the middle of a path used by hippopotami.

Which made their own dangerous appearance, causing Rowlands  to think that if he ‘managed to live through this whole experience I was going to learn five languages, become a philanthropist and aim for the Nobel prize before I was thirty. After all, at this stage, my chances of making it to thirty were slim to negligible, so why not aim high?’

Animal adventures

You’ll get the gist: there are some cracking animal adventures in this book, from dealing with Cinnamon the dachshund that managed to swallow a condom containing illegal drugs through being lowered on a fire crew’s harness to rescue a horse that had fallen on to a ledge to dealing with the deadly brown snake that a client brought in to a surgery in Australia in order to show what species precisely had bitten her dog.

There are some nail-biting moments and others when the biting comes courtesy of the enraged cat which manages to send Rowlands to A&E.


The trials and travails of a vet also include witnessing appalling animal cruelty and neglect, not to mention more routinely having to deal with PTS pets, meaning ones that have to be Put to Sleep.

Which means that reading this sparkily written veterinary memoir can also be very moving, can reduce one veritably to tears, as healthy dogs have to be euthanised because of behavioural problems, or entire families turn up to bid their tearful goodbyes to a deeply loved pet. As Roberts tells us, when

You take that leap and become the guardian to any animal, adjust to them, care for them, and share your life with them, you just cannot know what the future has in store and the choices you will have to make. What is true, and abundantly clear to vets and nurses…is that when that bond between an animal and a family is made, it’s as strong as any human relationship and can be unbearable when broken.

I’ll freely admit that as I read Letting the Cat Out of the Bag I gave more than the occasional reassuring cwtsh to Ianto, our rescue dog, especially when I read that I shouldn’t have been throwing sticks for him to fetch all this time.

He’s the one member of the family who never tires of listening to my nonsense and has an endearing routine of cleaning both my ears, always starting with the right. It all serves to consolidate the strength of that bond which Rowlands describes.

No nonsense

Luckily the mixture of stories her arrayed tends towards the positive, with tales of a three-legged lamb called Jeff or Digby the Orange St Bernard – the orange, that is, of snaffled cheese puffs – all shot through with a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach Rowlands had developed after a quarter of a century looking after animals, small and big.

He’s certainly seen enough to have come up with some of his own cardinal rules such as ‘Do not feed frankfurter sausages, and only frankfurter sausages, to your dog’ or ‘Triple check that the ointment you’re applying to your dog’s eyes is indeed eye ointment and not superglue.’ And of course ‘Do not feed Frosties or Cornflakes to your rabbits’ just as surely as ‘Your cat is not vegetarian.’

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag is pretty far from the sometimes-whimsy of James Herriot country, being an unsentimental but totally engaging account of the extraordinary range of challenges faced by a vet, sometimes just in the course of a single morning.

Here are the pressures of being on call, the dangers of handling horses or the dismantling effect on morale of receiving a letter of complaint.

Here too is the story of the mislaid cat’s eye and having to deal with the amorous advances of a strongly perfumed client.

And there’s a heart-pumpingly tense account of dealing with a muscular Malamute called Panther which serves to underline the sometimes dangerous nature of veterinary work.

So, all in all, a rich menagerie of stories, convincingly and entertainingly told.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: The Secret Life of a Vet by Siôn Rowlands is published by Two Roads and is available from all good bookshops.

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