An interview with Laurie Hess, author of Unlikely Companions

What inspired you to write Unlikely Companions and why now?

I decided to write Unlikely Companions after friends and family listening to all the funny, silly, heartwarming stories of all the owners and the pets I have treated over the past twenty-plus years repeatedly told me that I needed to share these stories with a wider audience. I also wanted to give exotic pet owners a book to which they could relate, as dog and cat owners have many books (such as Marley & Me and Dewey the Library Cat) to which they can relate, while exotic pet owners have none.
What was your writing process like? How did you fit writing into your hectic daily schedule?
Unlikely Companions has certainly been a labor of love. The more my co-author, Samantha Rose, and I wrote, the more we wanted to write. We squeezed writing in between animal hospital appointments and time with kids and relied heavily on emails and phone calls. After many, many edits, we are both very proud of the final version of Unlikely Companions and feel it really captures the essence of what it’s like to be an exotic animal veterinarian, what amazing bonds exotic pet owners can have with their pets, and how challenging it can be to be a mom with a busy career.
Why is the story of the sugar gliders so impactful to you, and why is it such an important story for you to be able to tell in your book?
The sugar glider story is very important to me because it was one of the most challenging cases I have faced in my veterinary career. Every day at the animal hospital, I try to figure out what is causing illness in my patients; yet, with the sugar gliders, unraveling the mystery of their illness was extremely hard, as my veterinary colleagues and I kept hitting dead ends as animals continued to get sick. Through collaboration with each other, application of logical medical principles, and perseverance, my colleagues and I were able to solve the mystery of the sugar gliders’ illness and prevent further sugar gliders from becoming sick and dying. This was a very rewarding experience.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I have ever been given was to trust myself and my abilities, even when others doubted me. In 2010, in the middle of an economic recession and against the advice of friends and colleagues who never thought I would succeed if I opened an animal hospital that catered only to exotic pets, rather than to cats and dogs, I opened my hospital – the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics – that now employs 9 people, including 3 veterinarians. We have successfully treated over 4000 exotic pets over the past nearly 7 years and are still going strong. While opening and managing the animal hospital hasn’t been easy, I believed in myself and stayed true to my vision – something I share with all new veterinarians with whom I work.
Who are some of your heroes?
Growing up, I read the entire series of animal books, including the well-known story, All Creatures Great & Small, by James Herriot. Herriot’s series certainly inspired me to follow veterinary medicine as a career path and definitely spurred me on to write my own memoir about my experiences as an exotic pet vet.