One weekend during my exchange trip to the United Kingdom, I took a day trip from Edinburgh down to the village of Thirsk, where I visited the old vet practice of Donald Sinclair and Alf Wight. Or, as they are better known, the town of Darrowby, and the vet practice of Siegfried Farnon and James Herriot. I have wanted to make this trip ever since learning that James Herriot was a real person. I had been sitting in the kitchen one morning, eating cereal and flipping through the newspaper after finishing the comics section. At the top of one page, were the words “Veterinarian and author, James Herriot, dead at age 78.” With those words, all of his stories of lambing in the winds of Yorkshire, caring for the dogs and cats in Darrowby, and time spent with the Farnon brothers became real. Such a setting and life actually existed. I felt that such a momentous occasion warranted a day off from school, but my mother didn’t agree.
I arrived by train about mid-day, and there were no taxis in sight, just a pub and a road. So I took off walking in what I hoped was the direction of Thirsk. I passed a racecourse on my left, and thought I remembered some stories involving the Darrowby race meets. I wondered how much Thirsk had changed since Herriot arrived here in the 1940s.
I had plenty of time to wonder, and thirty minutes later I finally made it to the city center, where I hailed a taxi to take me to a cute, comfortable B&B. I had just enough time to stow my bags in my room before I caught a ride back with the owner, who was nice enough to drop me off at the sidewalk in front of a tall stone building. I wandered through his old house and clinic, gawking at the ancient equipment, seeing the dining room that had doubled as a client waiting room, and a dispensary (pharmacy) with beautiful bottles filled with mysterious fluids. The small animal operating room was so small that if I stretched, I could probably touch both walls with my fingertips.
It is funny how far medicine has come in the last fifty years. When Herriot first started practicing, spaying dogs and cats was still an intimidating surgery and antibiotics were unknown. In fact, vet medicine for dogs and cats was just starting to gain momentum, while livestock and horses were the main species treated. What would vet school have been like fifty years ago? I can’t even imagine vet school without the Internet, much less without antibiotics. Also, Herriot had only one female classmate, whereas my class of 140 students has only 20 or so men. In Herriot’s day, it was not unusual to retake classes several times, and the pass rate was 45%. In my class, failing just one test is a big deal and the requirement to pass is between 70% and 80%, depending on the class. The weekend trip has left me excited to see what happens in veterinary medicine in the next fifty years.