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BookThink: Sharon, I know you are a book collector. Share with us some information about your book collection ... your favorite authors and favorite books in your collection.

Vanderlip: I mentioned my Albert Terhune collection. I also have Katharine Bates' book, Sigurd, Our Golden Collie. I think people don't realize she wrote the words to "America the Beautiful." I have all of O.P. Bennett's books on collies, plus his almost impossible to find Famous Collies. I also have many old British books by authors like Packwood, including The Collier Sheepdog by Rawdon Lee. He wrote a lot of other books that are pretty tough to find.

My favorite book - this is not an old book - is Possums of the World by Timothy F. Flannery, the Australian naturalist. I aspire to one day be an author of Tim Flannery's caliber! His Possums book is amazing. The artwork is gorgeous, the research is extensive, and for me, it's the kind of book you can't put down. Tim Flannery has also written The Future Eaters, A Gap in Nature, Mammals of the Southwest Pacific and Moluccan Islands and Mammals of New Guinea. I think he is now a curator of one of the museums in Australia.

Loren Eisley is another of my favorite authors. I was introduced to his writing in college when my zoology class reading assignment was The Immense Journey. I have all of his books in my collection except The Brown Wasps, a scarce work. Some of them are signed.

Edward O. Wilson, another naturalist, is also one of my favorite authors. I also really enjoy David Quammen's books. They are informative and often funny.

BookThink: All of your writing so far has been non-fiction. I'm sure you have many interesting stories to tell about life as a veterinarian. Have you thought about writing a memoir?

Vanderlip: I have thought about it a lot, but I have to get my collie book out first. There have been so many crazy things that have happened in my life, especially in the early days - a woman like me with a veterinary career ... my memoirs would be less like James Herriot and more like an Erma Bombeck gone-wild disaster story!

I do have a whole list of crazy stories that have happened over the years. Some of them are so off the wall. It scares me to tell people because they think I'm making it up. It's the people stories that are funnier than the animal stuff, the things that happen while you are interacting with the people who bring the animal in.

BookThink: Can you share with us one particularly funny or poignant story from your experience with animals?

Vanderlip: As you probably know, dogs, especially Labradors, will eat anything. The kinds of things you remove from a dog's gut are always surprising. After surgery, I like to put whatever object I've retrieved from the animal's gut into a Zip-loc bag to show the client. It always impresses them and reinforces the fact that I saved the dog's life.

Well, one day this couple brought in their sick Lab. I retrieved a woman's thong (the underwear kind, not the shoe!) lodged in the dog's small intestines and put it in a Zip-loc bag. When I showed the contents of the bag to the dog's owners, the woman had a stunned look on her face. Then she glared at her husband and said, "Those aren't mine." I didn't pursue that any further, and I felt terrible to know what might have followed. I'm sure this type of thing happens to many veterinarians. You could probably write a whole book on things removed from dog's guts.

There was also a car mechanic client who called and said his dog had ticks. He brought him in to be examined, and I couldn't find a single tick. I said, "Show me. Where did you see the ticks?" And he starts pointing to the poor dog's nipples, which were all traumatized, because the guy had tried to take them off with pliers! He didn't think male dogs were supposed to have nipples.

BookThink: Tell us about your importation of Poitou asses.

Vanderlip: Back in 1984, I imported some endangered Poitou asses from France and had them displayed in the San Diego Zoo. There were 44 left in the world at that time. They are draft sized asses that have long dreadlock hair that hangs to the ground. I have some old French books and literature on those too.

I learned about them when I was in veterinary school. They presented the subject in class and mentioned they were just about extinct. I remember thinking, "Well, what's anybody going to do about them?" It was just a fleeting thought at the time.

Later, when I returned to France with my husband, we decided to go find the last Poitou Ass breeder. She was a lady in her late eighties. We made videotapes at the farm and formed a friendship. After a few years, she let us purchase some of the animals. We imported them and had them on display at the San Diego Zoo, and from there they went to Tennessee, to a philanthropist who had a preserve for a lot of endangered species, and he took on the project of breeding them.

The interesting story here is that when we imported the first Poitou Ass, the USDA wanted to euthanize her because it said it couldn't run any tests to prove she didn't have a long list of diseases. The USDA was using antiquated testing procedures, not any of the newer tests that were available. They planned to kill the baby donkey two days before Christmas, so it became a big story. We went to a prominent law firm, hired attorneys and obtained help from Senator Pete Wilson, who was then on the Senate Agricultural Committee. Pressure was put on the USDA, and there was quite a shakedown.

As a result of this, USDA regulations were updated, and the baby donkey received full coverage in the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Paris Match, was featured in National Lampoon; and we were invited to do several television programs. The Poitou Ass was on display at the San Diego Zoo for three months and attracted several thousand additional visitors. The next year, when we imported the males, we put them on display at the zoo again.

The shakedown which occurred from forcing the USDA to update their testing procedures allowed the zoo to import other endangered equines such as Chinese Kiangs. They'd been trying to bring them in for a long time but couldn't get past the testing snafu. Basically, we forced the USDA to change all that.

It also brought a lot of notoriety to the Poitou region of France. The hotel where I had stayed had a picture of me with the Poitou Ass framed above the concierge desk with a "SHE STAYED HERE" sign. Boutiques in the town sold postcards with photos of me and the animals! The photo they had of me was taken in front of the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park by the San Diego Zoo, an incredible looking theatre. All the French people thought this was my house and my yard!

BookThink: Any special dream you'd like to fulfill?

Vanderlip: Something I think about a lot is the mystery of the Thylacine, which is the carnivorous marsupial that lived in Tasmania and was hunted to probable extinction. The last Thylacine in captivity died in a zoo in the 1930's. Now it's the animal they are trying to clone, and this has been in the news a great deal. My hope is that someday they will find a Thylacine alive in the wild, that it's not really extinct (a bit like the recent woodpecker news). The terrain that they lived in is so rugged, so who knows?

The expert author on that subject is Eric Guiler, who is getting on in years. Tim Flannery's book A Gap in Nature has a piece on the Thylacine that will tear your heart out.

It was kind of a big, wolf-size animal with stripes like a tiger, but it was a marsupial. It's the big logo for Tasmania - it's on their beers, their postage stamps, it's on everything there - but unfortunately, it's gone. The Thylacine would have been a very interesting animal to know and study, because there were a lot of things anatomically and behaviorally about it that were amazing.

It will be interesting to see what will be done as far as cloning it. As much as I'd like to be hopeful, I don't know what they would use as a surrogate parent. Thylacines were marsupials, so they have to grow up in pouches. The Tasmanian Devil is their only (and distant) relative, so I don't think it's going to happen. But we can hope.

BookThink: Thank you, Sharon, for taking time out of your busy life for this interview.

I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

Brief Market Analysis

Dr. Vanderlip's first book, The Collie - A Veterinary Reference for the Professional Breeder, (Biotechnical Veterinary Consultants, 1984) usually sells for $100 and up, depending on condition. It is very difficult to find. I was able to find one copy available in Denmark at the time of this article (it was reasonably priced at $42.17, but no description of condition was given.)

Most of her animal care handbooks are readily available, and I highly recommend them for their thorough, precise and practical material. All were published by Barron's in softcover format and sell at reasonable prices.


The Collie - A Veterinary Reference for the Professional Breeder. Biotechnical Veterinary Consultants, 1984.

Hundezucht - Therapie Genetik fur Tierärzte und Zuchter am Beispiel Collie. Biotechnical Veterinary Consultants, 1985.

Dwarf Hamsters: Everything about Purchase, Care, Feeding and Housing. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 1999.

Lhasa Apsos: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Behavior, and Training. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 1990 and 2002.

Degus: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Behavior and Housing. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2001.

Fox Terriers: Everything About History, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2001.

Scottish Terriers: Everything About History, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2001.

Mice: Everything About History, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2001.

Prairie Dogs: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2002.

The Guinea Pig Handbook. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2003.

The Shih Tzu Handbook. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2004.

1,000 Dog Names from A to Z. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2005.

1,000 Cat Names from A to Z. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, 2005.

The Chinchilla Handbook. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., New York, anticipated release 2006.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Photographs appearing in this article by Jacquelynn Vanderlip.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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