Highs & Lows


Headed East

My highs have been pretty high lately.

The entire month of March was one big tidal wave of laughter, adventure, hugs, joy and success and I’m still beaming from the experience.

Alistair and I got to spend 3 whole weeks together where we were both healthy and hospital beds weren’t involved.


My cool traveling buddies en route to Bismarck!

Loki, UB and I traveled back to Bismarck with him for my North Dakota book signing tour. Loki navigated the house there as if she had full vision- our little blind grand-dog is a trooper!


My view, #2

Once you leave the sky-high mountains of western Montana the terrain changes.

The road becomes straighter, the sky becomes larger,  the mountains become buttes and the fenceposts get further and further apart.


My view, #3

And then suddenly you realize you’re driving on the horizon in a straight line through the prairies.

There are few houses and few driveways.

There are miles and miles of fenceline.

There are cows, calves, horses, foals, sheep, lambs and antelope (didn’t see any antelope-lings).

There isn’t much shoulder and there’s nowhere to pull over but that doesn’t really matter because we were practically the only vehicles on the road.


Cocoa, Fumie, Penner, Shilo and Flash… some of my ND gang

I enjoy going back to our home in Bismarck.

I love seeing our horses and chipping golf balls at Fyfe’s Backyard Driving Range and watching prairie thunderstorms roll in.


Fyfe’s Backyard Driving Range. Pants optional.

I love how New Neighbor doesn’t disappoint me when I have to roll my eyes at least once at their trying-to-fit-into-the-hood-ness. This time NN came by to apologize for his dog going into our garage and tossing our garbage all over the place.

“I don’t know if he’s done that before…”

“Yes. Yes, he has, but Alistair never mentioned it.”

“Oh. Say, are you guys getting ready to go somewhere?”

(In my head I wanted to say, ‘no, I always wear sparkly jewelry and have my hair all styled with gobs of makeup on a Saturday on the farm…) Out loud I told him about my book signing.


We got the BIG table ūüôā at Dunn Bros. coffee in Bismarck, ND! (photo by Rebecca B)

Selling and signing books I climbed that tall wave of happiness as I got to see so many people who have meant the world to me for many years.


Skating world and book world combined!

My top figure skaters and their moms came down and joined in the fun. We talked skating, book-writing, jewelry, coaching, college, how mothers-always-know, and high school graduation.


Leanna, me, Alicia & Andrea… 3 of my top figure skaters when I coached in Bismarck

Friends from the hockey world stopped by. Parents of players we had coached in both Watford City and Hazen.


Hockey friends, Sonny, Wendy and Sherry!

Friends we have known for the 15 or more years hubby has worked at his hospital, like Geneva, who was one of his first nurses.


Geneva, who had already read the book, sharing with me how she just started taking piano lessons!

And friends whose parents we’ve known¬†who have grown into pretty cool adults now!


Rebecca and Ben Brick (wedding photos in a blog from last August…)

The very next day I was off to Watford City, where Alistair and I first played house back in 1994.

It was a lovely day for a 3-hour drive on roads I haven’t traveled for awhile.

Roads that have weathered many windy winters through the “Badlands” (aka North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park).


by The Park


more of the jagged, craggy landscape that has been created by forces of water and wind and boat loads of time

Although the highway was the same there are things new to the area that are almost unbelievable.


Sunday morning truck traffic in North Dakota

This is the heart of oil country now and while the jobs and money and people are there, it is a far cry from the Wild West we used to live in. Its progress, alright, but its a bit unsightly.


The landscape dotted with ‘progress’…

And even though I have read about this growth and people told me about the development I still wasn’t ready to see the “Man Camps”… where people from all over the US have settled in row after row of RVs or box-car-like homes on fields that once housed cattle.


Man-Camp just outside of Watford City

Once I got to Main Street, things looked more familiar and I made my way to our old house.


Our first home together, Watford City

The house we moved to after having just met a few months prior.

The house I got my first cat in.

Where we got our first ferret.


Gareth with Koshka and Marshal & Alistair in Watford City, 1995-ish

The house we got dressed up to go elope in when Alistair got 2 hours away from the pager.

The house where the kids came to live with us… where rugby lessons were given, hockey was played on the¬†driveway,¬†school was skipped for skating sessions, cookies were baked, tennis balls were thrown, dogs were walked, field trips were taken,¬†homework was done,¬†garter snakes and¬†Larry the Lizard¬†were kept¬†and Hallowe’en Parties were held.


The Rugby Lesson, with Scottie, coach Alistair, Whitney, um… Troy? Sean, Gareth and Mychael (whose folks, Sonny and Wendy came to Bismarck’s book signing!)


Hallowe’en Party, 1995, Watford City

Its the house where our beloved Golden, Mitch, laid down by the back deck and died peacefully in his sleep one sunny afternoon.

Where I held him and cried my eyes out knowing I had to tell the kids and Alistair that our faithful companion was running free.


Whitney & Mitch in Watford City

But its just a house, right?

I wiped my eyes and made it to the Civic Center for my book signing combined with a fundraiser.

The local paper had done an article beforehand and I got to see just about everyone from the good old days.


Kira, who was one of my youngest figure skating students back in “Tiny Tots” in the then-brand-new ice rink… she has since toured with Disney on Ice, graduated college and become engaged!

It was fantastic to see everyone and share my stories with them all. Some didn’t even know I’ve become a veterinarian since living in Watford City.

How everything changes while staying the same.


Back in shiny jewelry and makeup in Watford City! (Signing Kayla Hansen’s book while mom, Lynette took the picture)

Driving home I made a point to stop at our old farm which, happily, isn’t made into an oil field or a Man-Camp.


View of our old quarter-section just outside of Watford City… happily undeveloped

I smiled, with tears in my eyes when I saw Mitch’s hill and the pole that marks his final resting place.


We love you, Mitchie!

And then I smiled some more looking towards the taller hill by the driveway, where I rigged up a Happy Party one drizzly spring for Whitney and her girlfriends, complete with a watermelon-shaped cake and horseback rides on old Sonny.


The first ever Happy Party more than served its purpose ūüôā

The highs of March continued with tremendous online sales of my Chloe + Isabel jewelry, where I made my goals and earned myself some incredible bling.

I’ve been riding that enormous wave of happiness and its been a good ride.

Its been much needed and Alistair has enjoyed sharing it with me.


Whitney & Gareth playing on one of the old cars on our ND farm back in the day

And I made the trek back to Montana with UB and Loki after they shared a fun week on the prairies, too.

Back to a home where the word, ‘attrition’ has been used too often these past few months… where it may be used again soon.


Casey (with Cleo) this morning

Casey’s laryngeal paralysis is finally doing what I’ve feared it would do.

How can I be surprised by something I’ve been expecting for close to 2 years?


Casey this winter

He isn’t able to go for our short walks without turning blue and gasping.

That’s not cool for him.


My old friend, Casey this winter, “helping” me shovel the decks

If he isn’t worked up he still wags his tail, leaps and devours his food; he isn’t suffering or in pain.

But he isn’t allowed to be Casey, either.


Casey and Dad a summer or two ago

So, unless I have to step in beforehand, I will wait for Alistair’s return this week and I will do what must be done.


Until that point you can bet Casey will be loved up the ying-yang, even if he bonks into me.


Several years ago, air-dancing with Casey!

And I will keep on keeping-on, enjoying my high-level highs and making more adventures possible. I’m setting up an online jewelry party for the Fyfes in Scotland… talk about a high!

Mitch is going to get a kick out of Casey.

I just hope they have tennis balls in Heaven.


High times in Bismarck with hubby


View from the deck in ND


Casey Fyfe, a good old boy, noshing on his kibs this morning

The Truth About Small Town Veterinarians… at least, this one


I had some pretty high hopes when I opened Seeley Swan Veterinary in our tiny little town several years ago.

I figured it would be something akin to the lives of James, Siegfried and Tristan, without the cows. I was game.


There are things, though, that weren’t quite the same about the community I lived in and the foggy, rainy one where All Creatures took place.

After our first 2 years here, for example, I was the only doctor of any kind. My husband had tried working here but there wasn’t enough volume to keep him busy.

You would think that would have been a clue but I kept going. Remember, I was game!

I knew I was in for something whenever a client would glance left and right then ask me in a serious voice if I was just like a real doctor… “like, I can ask or tell you anything”….


Had I wanted to listen to human problems I would have applied to med school. I wanted to play with cats and dogs and ponies and ferrets.

And yet…

“I have this lump. Down there,” said a client as he started to unbutton his jeans. Apparently the lump didn’t affect his “performance” (his words).


I had a few people show me their rotten teeth, asking whether or not I thought they should see a dentist.

I think, in general, if you’re asking your veterinarian about your lumps and smelly teeth then, yes, you should see someone who deals with those things regularly.


There are some amazing perks to being the only vet in a close-knit community. Like my buddy, Rocky, who I would see walking on the streets with his folks as well as in my clinic.


And Spike, the happiest pittie in the world, who would bound into the clinic and sit looking up at me like this every single time he came in.

I miss our Dog Days of Summer celebrations that incorporated a walkathon fundraiser for the local shelters, agility trials and dog shows.


Knowing just about everyone allows for some fun events, like puppy parties, holiday open houses, summer celebrations and school or Brownies tours.


I miss those things.

The smiles on kindergarten faces as they rode my hydraulic tilt surgery table.

The looks of astonishment on first or second graders as I showed them roundworms preserved in a little jar of clear fluid.

The wide-eyed Brownies viewing radiographs of a little dog’s bladder that was full of obvious stones.

The joy, relief and love on the faces of grown-ups as they picked up their healthy seniors after another anesthetic procedure went very well.


I miss going to my cute little clinic in Big Red, my ’96 Dodge Ram with the vet box and humungous snow blade on the front, waving at every one, knowing everyone’s story.

I would tell Alistair something about just about every car on the road as he would take me to lunch.

“That’s so-and-so, who has one of the Great Danes.”

“Oh, that’s the couple whose older lab we just had to say goodbye to.”

“Whoop, don’t get too close to that one, he’ll be coming home from his noon bender. He has that nice lab I like so much.”


I miss the cuddles, the kisses, the Easy Cheese fan club and the satisfaction at being able to provide care in a cozy, safe environment when needed.

I even miss the beautiful goodbyes we were able to provide, often on a lovely rug with an angel on it.

Many tears were shed and many wonderful stories were shared during those quiet, tender visits.

For Hunter, Chessie, Snooksie, Tilly, Chase, Kodiak, Cybil, Scooter, Thelma, Koopie and Andi.

And so many more.

I am glad I was there when I was there.


But I’m glad I made the choice to close my little vet clinic last fall. The decision took me 2 years to make because I was proud of what we had built. I wasn’t ready to accept defeat.

Despite the no-pays and no-shows.


But they started to really add up.

Which is one of the things I don’t miss.

“I don’t have any money.”

5 words that I heard way too often, especially after we had gone over the amount individuals would owe after a planned spay or neuter with vaccinations.

I hand over your animal in excellent condition, having had a safe, warm surgery done where you won’t even see the sutures after, where they were taken care of as if they were my own pet, and you¬†say you can’t pay?

And its a very small town where I have to see these people regularly.

“That’s the guy who stiffed me for 2 cat spays and won’t return our phone calls.”

“We can’t eat there- 2 of the servers are in Collections.”

“One of the waitresses there owes me a hundred bucks and has disconnected her phones.”


I had a lot of good folks make payments and I always appreciated their efforts. I know that accidents happen and you aren’t always prepared.

Many people are eager to tell me I was too nice.

Or a soft touch.

Or a sucker.


But then how would you handle it, knowing you were perfectly capable of saving an innocent animal’s life even if the owners were out of work?

Or they were rip-roaring drunk, slurring about their beloved dog they just drove over? (That one was a classic- as I stabilized the big lovable pooch and took radiographs of his beaten-up chest, the ‘dad’ fell down on my waiting room floor as he was making a phone call to get a ride.) The dog survived after a week in the big city. Never saw dollar one from them, myself.


I would hear about almost everything animal-related in our tiny town and it started to tear me apart.

Like the lovely lab puppy who I dropped everything for when the owner brought him in for a ‘dangling leg’. X-rays showed a clean femur fracture. Easy fix, especially on a young, vibrant, healthy pup.

Only I didn’t do orthopedic work here so we sent him off to the big city.

Apparently they could never come to terms on payment plans ahead of time so the guy brought his dog back home and shot it.

I would have taken that dog myself.

Clients who sat here while we fit that emergency in would have taken that dog.

“That’s the guy who shot his puppy.”

“That’s the dad who told me a bullet was a heck of a lot cheaper than a cat spay.”

“That’s the wealthy family who turfed their¬†pup to the shelter because they didn’t want to deal with him anymore and they didn’t even leave a donation.”

I didn’t like where my conversations went and it was eating me up inside.

And I still had to see and mingle with these people in town.

The only answer, for my mental and financial health, was to close.

And yet, I miss bringing Cleo and UB to work as “shop dogs”.


I miss seeing my good friend, Lynn almost every day and sharing our lives and views with each other.

I miss seeing Fireman Frank and sharing our days and war-stories about drop-off kitties and neglected animals who will get their own blog someday.


I miss the great clients and friends who are out there and the summer people who always brought their pets back to me.

Sedona, Kula, Bruiser, Lucy, Ruby, Crosby, Duncan, Malcolm, Mackenzie, Cooper and many more.

But now I get to see these clients on the golf course and when we talk about dogs and cats and horses it is nostalgic and still happy.

I feel healthy in my mind and body and I’m not allowing myself to carry everyone’s burdens.

I’m a better person, wife and friend now and nobody asks me to check their lumps.

Or feel their lymph nodes.

Or look at their fungal infections to see if I think they are healing.

And that is the truth about this small-town veterinarian.