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The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human    by Vint Virga order for
Soul of All Living Creatures
by Vint Virga
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Dr. Vint Virga is a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavioral medicine. He is called upon to help animals, both in zoos and privately owned, who have serious problems that cannot be explained physically, as they seem healthy but have started behaving in ways that are disturbing to the people who care for them, as well as to themselves. In The Soul of All Living Creatures, Dr. Virga tells the stories of some of his patients, going on to compare the behavior of these animals with different ways that people react to similar problems in their own lives.

Each chapter has received a title reflecting the particular characteristic that he hopes to illustrate, with specific problems he attempted to cure in one or more animals, such as Connection, Sensitivity, Presence, or Adaptability. Pongo is a dog that has been struck by a car, and in the first chapter, Connection, Dr. Virgo tells about his recovery.

Pongo had not been seriously injured, but seemed close to death, as if he had given up. Dr. Virgo is so worried about this dog that he keeps checking on him frequently during the evening, but the dog seems to be dying. He tells us, 'Despite our aggressive supportive care, he lay on his side where I'd seen him last, indifferent to all we had done for him. Each breath he took was a labored effort - a familiar blend of rasping sighs and guttural moans I'd heard before in trauma patients. His eyes drooped half-closed with a far-off focus ... {and} now he lay oblivious when I crouched beside him and spoke his name. Despite my best efforts, I was losing my patient.'

Exhausted by his day's work and his worries about Pongo, the veterinarian finally lies on the floor next to the dog, updating his charts with his left hand while his right arm was 'draped loosely on Pongo's chest.' Finally after some time had passed, Pongo seemed to regain his will to live, as his pulse grew stronger, his heart rate slowed, and he awakened, wagging his tail the slightest little bit and licking Dr. Virgo's hand as he heard his name spoken. The connection with the doctor helped to bring him back to life.

The experience with Pongo happened early in Dr. Virga's career, and it colored all of his later treatments. We learn about zoo animals and beloved pets with their reactions to their experiences, and we then get a comparison with the way people react to similar types of experiences. Dr. Virga believes that we can learn a lot about how to handle the various stresses of our lives by concentrating on the here and now, as an animal will do, and accepting that life will have difficult times as well as good times. This interesting book lives up to its subtitle: 'What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human'.

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