John Periam heads to the village of Ford to meet a man who has dedicated his life to looking after and protecting animals.
If you are a pet owner you will be familiar with Bruce Fogle’s name.
Not only is he Britain’s most prolific author of pet care books but his voice is still recognised as the informative and amusing veterinary advisor on Radio 2’s The Jimmy Young Show.
However, if his name sounds familiar but you cannot quite place it this may be because his son is the broadcaster and adventurist Ben Fogle – making his surname nationally recognisable.
Bruce was born in Toronto, Canada in 1944.
On graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1970 his then academic Dean suggested it might be good if he went into research.
“I was given the opportunity to do a research project at the Zoological Society of London,” Bruce explains.
“It was, as far as I was concerned, just going to be a year abroad, returning back to Ontario once the project was over.”
However this changed as, while in London, Bruce met eminent vet Brian Singleton, who was about to become president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and was offered a post to work with him for two years.
At the same time Jim Archibald, Bruce’s professor of surgery, was on sabbatical in London.
“I asked Jim his views and while he said I could do no better than become Brian’s assistant it would also be good that I make my mistakes thousands of miles from home,” Bruce reveals.
When working for Brian, a young woman came into the practice with her golden retriever.
The relationship blossomed with both her and her dog resulting in his marriage to well-known actress Julia Foster, who was recently in Yorkshire working on the film of Dad’s Army.
“So here I am, over 40 years later married to Julia with three children,” Bruce smiles.
“Emily is an art director who lives in Dubai, then there is Ben and then Tamara, an accessories and fashion designer – both of whom live in London.”
Julia is a Sussex girl who was born in Lewes. Her grandparents lived in Seaford and she was schooled near Patcham where her father was an estate agent.
“The first time I heard Julia say, ‘I will see you somewhen’ I thought it really odd until one of her stage directors told me that ‘somewhen’ is a distinctive and now virtually lost Sussex idiom,” Bruce tells me.
Bruce still works as a vet, with his current practice The London Veterinary Clinic in York Street, Marylebone.
However, his work has over the years extended far beyond just working in a clinic.
By the late 1970s Bruce admits to feeling reasonably competent with his medical and surgical skills but found it difficult to understand why pet owners behaved the way they do.
That’s when he convinced the British Small Animal Veterinary Association to allow him to organise an international meeting he called The Human Companion Animal Bond.
Most of the speakers were what Bruce called ‘ologists’ – psychologists, sociologists, cultural anthropologists.
He edited the proceedings called Interrelations Between People and Pets then thought some pet owners might also be interested in understanding more about why they behave the way they do with their pets.
That resulted in his first popular book called ‘Pets and Their People’ – it sold well.
Soon publishers were knocking on Bruce’s door and more followed.
“A wonderful editor came to me with the perfect title for a book, ‘The Dog’s Mind’,” Bruce explains. “More than 20 years later that one’s still in print and earning royalties.
“That lead to an approach from Dorling Kindersley and with their firepower international book sales soared into the millions. I’ve been amazingly lucky.
“When we bought our place here in West Sussex Julia suggested we called it Dorling Kindersley House.”
Bruce has gone on to further writing, including travel narratives and his first memoir.
His ‘Travels with Macy’, in which he travelled around America in the footsteps of John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels with Charlie’, was particularly successful in the United States.
In May, ‘Barefoot at the Lake’, a memoir of one summer as a ten year old at the family cottage in Ontario will be published in Canada, the United States and in the UK.
Walking his dogs along West Beach near Littlehampton is one of Bruce’s great delights when he visits Ford – it gives him an opportunity to think about the many projects he is involved in.
This includes being the co-founder and vice-chairman of the charity ‘Hearing Dogs for Deaf People’, which trains 140 dogs a year for deaf people who often have multiple disabilities.
He is also chairman of an international charity, HSI– Protecting Animals Worldwide.
“HSI evolved out of HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States,” Bruce enthuses.
“We work with governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals to protect lab animals, livestock, street dogs and wildlife throughout the world,” he explains.
“For example in Bhutan we recently completed sterilising around 65,000 dogs.
“And in Israel we influenced the government not only not to permit the use of animals in cosmetic testing but not to permit the import of any cosmetics where animals have been used in their testing.”
In conclusion I asked Bruce what he would like to see happen to veterinary medicine in the future.
“Almost every single student who sees practice with me tells me he or she has chosen veterinary medicine because of a desire to improve the lives of animals,” he reveals.
“Yet something happens during their education. Somehow that ideal gets squashed.
“I don’t know why and I don’t know how.
“But if you’re asking me what I’d like to see happen it’s that this compassion is given room to blossom and that my profession places itself where it should be, at the forefront of the public’s ever increasing demand that animals experience lives that are worth living.”
February 14, 2015 Culture and Events