Tuesday, 30 December 2014

BEST of 2014: Instruction note for dog-sitter: DON'T take Rolo to the vet!!

Got to be the FUNNIEST dog-sitter instructions we have ever seen in 10 years of being mobile, home visiting vets:

Note pinned on wall in the kitchen for Rolo's (a very large 48kg chocolate labrador) dog-sitter - taped on wall next to dog food... 
Ever since being neutered, Rolo did NOT like vets and was apparently one of the very few dogs that the Principal Vet at his normal vet practice (in Peacehaven) was really scared of. 

Luckily we know he is a real labrador and like his treats very much...

#GrumpyDogs, #AtHomeVets, #GeriatricPets, #MobileVets


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Is there a right time to say goodbye to a pet?

Having been a veterinary surgeon for 15 years, the question of when is the right time to say goodbye to a pet is one of the most difficult questions to answer and perhaps the reason why it's the question I hear the most. But one thing I am certain of: a good life deserves a respectful and gentle departure at the end which paves the way for everlasting happy memories. And this is what I, as a 24/7 on-call hospice vet, want to help pet parents have...

After treating pets at home since 2005, we have become experts in this field and my practice, Vets2Home, now specialises in helping families have time for a peaceful ending with their much loved pet - in the comfort of their own home. 
Although we often hear pet owners express the secret wish that their pet will go quietly in his or her sleep this almost never happens, or usually not without some degree of suffering first - something we allow to happen to humans but which we luckily can spare our animals.
Having visited and helped thousands of pets at home, I strongly believe “the right time” is when your pet and you lose the joy in your life together, whether this is due to old age or unmanageable illnesses. The reasons can be many - from not eating, or eating excessively but with severe weight loss, poor mobility, hidden or subtle pain, vocalising, hiding, not interacting, soiling inappropriately, grumpiness or even aggression to sleeping a lot - or not at all. Some of which could be indications of severe illness or of what I call “petzheimers” which makes your elderly pet a completely different “person”.

I strongly believe the one last gesture of love we can show our pets is giving a calm, respectful end - without stress, pain or suffering, when it is most needed and not before. And that goodbye should ideally be at home, surrounded by loved ones, familiar smells and sounds, pain-free and in that favourite spot.
As a hospice vet and life-long animal lover, I want to leave pet owners with only happy memories of their special furry friend and I feel honoured to be able to give my patients a dignified, pain-free end - without any worry or pain of travel, stress or strange places - that one last time. 

I am grateful and humbled to receive so many kind words from our clients afterwards as you can view on our website www.vets2home.co.uk or please come meet us on Facebook to ask us any questions or concerns you may have about being a senior pet parent or just to hear what some of our many lovely clients said about us over the years.

Monday, 1 December 2014

What "Pets at Home" Really Should Be...

"PETS AT HOME" = Vets Helping Pets in Their Own Home - In particular senior and terminally ill pets...

At Home Geriatric Care, Animal Hospice & Pet Euthanasia Services 24/7 - Home Vet Care to Your Pet by a Compassionate Mobile Vet Service.

Introducing Susan Gregersen & Alex Gravett, Vets2Home:

Please come "meet" us on FacebookTwitter or Google+
or on the Vets2Home Website

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The story of the dog that “does not do vets”...

When treating the more than average challenging animals that people keep as their pets, meeting them in their own home environment is always a new experience and it is never boring. Actually it’s always a special treat to go to a pet’s home - for a Viking vet liking a good challenge... 

For the most successful outcomes when dealing with these “special needs” animals - and their families - it is important that treatment can take place in the safest and most comfortable surroundings possible and on their own terms, with ample amount of time to hand - a privilege not afforded in normal eight minute consults which is why I left normal vet practice behind many moons (owooooo...) ago - almost ten years ago to be exact!

One such very memorable, special and unpredictable patient I have ever had the pleasure to meet (and treat) at home in my nine years as a mobile vet in Sussex, was one bright sunny Saturday afternoon when I was called out to treat what the owner, Dona, called “a large dog that does not do vets” and who had suddenly become very lame on one of his hind legs! The owner strongly recommended I looked up information of this dog breed prior to coming out - as many devoted owners of rare breeds often do. I only wish I had this time...

So this is not at all an unusual description for a mobile vet to hear as we get many calls to treat rather unsociable and/or very large canines - or particularly delicate and sensitive felines at home (which is actually most cats I would think) or the just extra precious and rare breeds of pets. The eight year old lame dog that I was called out to treat this sunny afternoon clearly fitted all of those descriptions.
What I learned, soon after arriving at the big iron-gated house on one of the distinct hilltops of Brighton, was that this particular dog, greeting me in safe distance from the other side of the garden pool, with the unfamiliar breed name to a UK based Danish vet anyway, was the one time that I probably should have looked up this particular breed of "dog" - just this once. The registered breed name had worked as the “undercover” name trademarked to this very large dog type and what had enabled his otherwise unlawful import with his family to the UK seven years prior: Kono, as my new patient was called, had the distinct and unfamiliar breed name of "Native American Indian Dog" and. was. clearly. all... WOLF - or rather – an immensely handsome and shy version of a large wolf hybrid - half dog, half wolf!

Kono greeting me from the distant, safe side of the pool
The result of this type of breeding native to the USA is a unique, quite unusual type of dog, bearing all the expected characteristics of a wolf; shy, independent, extremely handsome and stoic - and with very strong flight reflexes. And also hypo-allergenic apparently.

For a vet, that translates into a very difficult task to help him indeed, especially at a time when he was feeling very low, extra vulnerable and unable to move his legs as he was accustomed to.

Now Kono’s lovely owners, Mr & Mrs Roche-Tarry, were merely unaware when they went to acquire a hypoallergenic dog, that this handsome dog possessed some very unique characteristics.

A Poodle - hypoallergenic and pretty
His owners had given the task to their two teenage sons to research for a hypoallergenic dog to suit their mum’s multiple allergies and the whole family were all very excited to introduce a new furry family member into their household. Well, unsurprisingly the two budding young men were somehow not impressed about having the obvious choice, a fluffy Poodle!

So living in America at the time, they kept researching and after much digging they finally found this unusually named dog, a Native American Indian Dog (NAID). The parents were very impressed with the real effort and devotion their sons had shown in helping their mum have her dreams fulfilled to be able to finally have a furry family member and so they lovingly trusted their normally very responsible sons to have found a lovely bundle of non-allergenic fluff to liven up the house...

Fast forward to 18 months or so later, I think the first time they came home to their house in America with this “fluffy bundle of joy” sitting now fully grown, on top of the low roof of the house in the very nice and quiet neighbourhood, vocalising and howling at the moon in his best Hollywood wolf style, convincingly reluctant to descend, was perhaps the time the Roche-Tarry's may have slightly regretted this decision. I think there were perhaps more than a just a few such especially memorable episodes living with his human family over his lifetime.

That Saturday afternoon I was particularly pleased to have over 7000 home visits under my belt as all the hard earned “tricks of the trade” treating animals at home could now be unleashed to good use dealing with this handsome fellow .
Now Kono was definitely more than an average challenging patient I thought looking at him from across the garden. This day his “mum”, Dona, called me because he had suddenly become very lame on one of his hind legs, having known a bit about the specific breed traits of this dog before coming out on a home visit, would possibly have been quite helpful. Well, the ability of improvisation is a key quality and also quite the survival predictor of any mobile vet which I had already learned the hard way after years of "straying" from the safety of the clinic with relatively well-behaved dogs kept on leads.
Kono was very calmly standing in all his handsomeness, in safe distance on the other side of the pool – also safe for me, I thought, when it suddenly dawned on me that this dog looked far more wolf than dog. I was sincerely hoping my faint memory didn’t fail me and that the main trait of a wolf is not severe aggression, as some people may think, but rather avoidance and shyness.

The "dog" that does not do vets...
I spent the next 45 minutes with the owner trying to get nearer my reluctant patient in order to find out how I could best help him. As we all slowly moved around the garden, it was obvious he was in pain with his leg but still able to move with great agility so while gaining his trust by moving slowly, I discussed the best approach to help him with his "mum". After the experience gained on nine years of home visits, we always tailor our treatment to the individual patient - and owner - as all have very different personalities, abilities and needs.
We then agreed it was best to simply start Kono on pain relief and anti-inflammatory treatment for ten days or so to see how this would help him as a clinical examination was simply out of the question. After one hour, Kono had realised I was not a complete foe but willing to chance it that I was merely here to do no immediate harm to him. Without looking at him, he let me sit next to him and stroking him gently without him hardly noticing I even managed to sneak in a quick injection of pain relief into him to get him feeling better very soon. The follow up treatment was handed to the owner to give him in his food every day.

Luckily Kono responded very well and was able to move even better than normal immediately and for the first week or two and the owners were very pleased. We all hoped this was merely the beginning of osteoarthritis – a very common disease in large dogs – and apparently also wolves.
But the triumph was short lived - suddenly after two weeks on treatment - Kono became even more lame than to start with and was in more pain than ever. It was decision time. Should we try to find a diagnosis with all the stress and upheaval of getting Kono X-rayed at a clinic or should he have even stronger pain relief and stay at home in peace and see where this lead to but without him being in pain? At this time, Kono was only 8 years old and as a hybrid wolf-dog breed was estimated a much longer life expectancy. 

So the owners and I thoroughly discussed our options: would it be worth putting Kono, the shy reclusive wolf-dog, through the immense stress to have X-rays at a clinic to find out once and for all what was causing his lameness and pain?
The owners told me the story from when Kono was only six months old he had coped with being transported all the way across the Atlantic when he moved to Brighton with his owners seven years prior so it may be possible to get him to the vet. In favour of taking this action was that he actually liked going in the car as that to him usually meant going to “pastures new” and long walks on the Downs. So after “buying some decision time” for a few more days on much stronger pain relief, the owners finally decided they could not bear living with the unknown and seeing Kono struggle.
I referred Kono to The New Priory Vets and the owner managed to get him there in one piece and the skilled staff somehow managed to knock him out and take X-rays. However he was so stressed when he woke up in cage confinement after his anaesthetic, that he completely savaged his cage while the nursing staff tried their very best to try and calm him from the outside.  But only when the owner came could she calmly woo him out of his cage to take him home after his frustrating “meal” of metal mesh and bars.
However high the stress levels of all parties involved, Kono finally had a definite diagnosis: the X-rays revealed very obvious osteosarcoma – a nasty bone cancer – of his femur. The owners were understandably beyond devastated - as was I - his vet: my very first wolf patient, that I had gotten to know quite well by now and made him trust me, while knowing that under all his fierce, rugged good looks, he was actually such a lovely, kind and gentle animal. Now he suddenly did not have very long to live.

A very handsome boy still...
Once again life had proven to be unfair to the gentile, as Kono was only eight years old and likely to not have long before his quality of life was just too poor even with large amounts of strong pain relief. The lurking worry was that he would suffer a devastating fracture which is the worst possible outcome of the weakened effects of cancer in the bone.
Before his pain got too unmanageable, the rest of Kono’s loving family - their now two fully grown sons - flew in from both Spain and America to be with Kono on that last evening. They celebrated his special life, and shared his wolf-dog antics, with many memories, stories - and glasses of champagne. I then arrived to gently sedate and send him off on his very last journey. Already having built trust, this time he just let me give him the quick injection as he seemed to somehow know I was only there - yet again - to help him not suffer.

That night Kono peacefully snored his way into eternity, surrounded by all his loved ones while resting in his favourite spot.

Kono in his prime - with his blonde "normal" dog friend
Kono, exhausted just a few days before his journey ended

KONO, a handsome and lovely boy, R.I.P.

Friday, 31 October 2014


Meeeeeeeeeeooooouw........HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all the cuddly, furry souls, enriching our lives every day. Look after them all tonight...and especially all the black kitties!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A touching story about saying goodbye to a furry soulmate...double spread in Cat World Nov Issue 2014

We are proud to this month have a double page spread in the lovely and elegant Cat World Magazine where Tinker's owner, Tara Harley, is sharing her experience of parting with her soul mate for 18 years - Tinker the Tortie.

Mine's a pint - Tinker Harley - the lovely Tortie
Please read the full feature as it appears this month in the magazine by clicking this link:

We are grateful that Tara, who is now an animal healer herself, was being so open and kind to let us share her tough journey. 
It is in the hope this will help other pet parents to know that animal home hospice care is a real and gentle alternative that has now arrived in the UK through Vets2Home, in order to offer support and a peaceful goodbye to pets and their families/owners at the most difficult time when the end is approaching...

Or try this link: http://lnkd.in/bqV3vHF

Cat World Magazine November 2014

Friday, 3 October 2014

A London call out at 2am - a BUSy night...

Thursday night 2 am: 

Driving around London last night as also covering as an emergency mobile vet, helping out the busy, central emergency and out-of-hours providers in the area when they cannot attend away from their clinic to an urgently unwell patient that can be best helped at home: 
Well in this case I was helping a very sad, poorly but really lovely 10 year old Black Labrador called "Fella" (very sadly diagnosed with a heart tumour only 4 weeks ago) so he would not suffer unnecessarily as he had a bad sudden turn in the evening. Luckily his whole family was there with him and they were obviously extremely upset as this was still somewhat unexpected and as he still in many ways up till very recently had seemed a young lively dog with a shiny black coat. 

Although Fella still mustered a sad, little wagging tail when he politely but slowly came up to me and greeted me, he instantly rested his big square, heavy head looking up at me with those big brown sad eyes on my knee as to say: pleeease help me ....so heartbreaking that even this hardened (not really) emergency and end-of-life vet was struggling to hold back a tear. 

So I did help him - the poor fella - ever so peacefully... and it was really truly the only way we could help him, knowing only too well what was just about to happen to him had the family waited much longer to make a decision! 

Well as if that was not rewarding enough to be able to help Fella not suffer - in peace at home - then as an added bonus for this Danish "tourist" vet, on the way back from my relatively long travels, I got to see an unexpected "attraction": A packed, almost blocked road (and garage) with London Busses all over the place - queuing up at the Drive Thru BUS WASH.... Quite a spectacle! 

For some unknown reason it just lifted my travelling spirits up after leaving this very sad family... And together it just served as a reminder why 
I so do love what I do - for so many, many reasons!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

How do we do what we do?

People ask me this all the time: I do what I do simply because I. Love. Animals.... so very much - and also their animal loving families with hearts of gold - which is why my colleagues and I want to help them all have time to say goodbye at home. With loads of love & dignity - the gift of peace I call it!  Nothing less... Just love! 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Life in the fast lane...and having a very big fit!

The fast lane... hmmm... Well yes, I am always in it - but reality for an on-call mobile vet is it's never as fast in the 70 MPH lane as I would like - or more often - need. As a trained emergency, out-of-hours vet operating this far more urgent home service, alongside my main service of looking after geriatric and end-of-life home pets, a Batmobile - or just a small helicopter - is definitely on my Christmas list... every year!

Very much to my own - and many an anxious pet owner's - disappointment I do not have the flashing blue lights that I'd really like at times and especially frustrating is it to have to disappoint desperately upset pet owners, as I am not included in the government-funded ambulance service programme (aka NHS Paramedics) with a response time of less than 8 minutes!
I am a mere mortal driver in a small white Range Rover (as someone told me - probably a sales rep from Land Rover!? - that this is the car brand a "proper country vet" should be driving- so ok I aim to please!) and very sadly I have to follow normal traffic regulations like anyone else.
On the up side though - I do enjoy now also being an Out-Of-Hours mobile vet as juggling traffic is much more fun and far less challenging when the road is fairly empty - if it wasn't for those sneaky little annoying yellow boxes that do not care what time of day it is or just how devoid the road is of anything human, when it's 3am and I have a poor animal in need...

Alex, my practice manager, the car and I with Benji,10  (a lucky stay at home patient)

Now as a "novice blogger" I hope you bear with me as with this - my first blog - I want to share some of my most challenging, interesting = least menial, special, different and hopefully thought provoking experiences from "the road" - hopefully on a regular basis - as material and opportunity presents itself! I will try not to blog while I am driving - promise.
But it would be wonderful if you, my reader, if you enjoy reading my posts you would be so kind and give me your feedback so perhaps I can improve the writing as I mature with mastering this beast of a blog - throw me a grumpy, territorial Rottweiler (actually some Mastiffs are far worse) any day instead of this blog and I will feel far more at home... but I hope my blogging skills will develop at the same life-saving rate that my mastering of the grumpy Mastiffs did - I will show you my scars later...!

Anyhow - let's dive in....this week on Saturday 8.15 am, a lovely autumnal English morning, I receive a call from a local veterinary practice - they have a very upset client without a vehicle (being serviced at the garage) with a fitting dog on their other line but they are sadly unable to attend as their Saturday vet has a full diary-meaning soon a waiting room full of animals - so could I maybe pleeeaaase go see this poor dog asap! But of course I can... we are here to help practices out, so I get dressed, forget to check the mirror (as usual) and leave home almost on two screeching tyres to arrive less than 15 minutes later at this poor client's house - in the small pittoresque typical English village next to mine.

The house is a nice modern flint, semi-detached house of the typical English countryside type. The lady, Mrs.Jenkins, is standing in the front door, in her PJs and with a very upset and clearly tear-stained face having woken up to her only 3 year old rescued Border Collie mixed breed dog, lying on his side on the floor jerking away with all legs all over the place, passing urine (and worse) while making guttural, horrific noises - one of every pet owners worst nightmares and a very scary way indeed to be woken up on a sunny Saturday morning I should think. This is the first time the dog - and the owners - have ever experienced anything like this.

The poor dog, named Skye, had been fitting (Grand Mal seizuring to be more medically precise) for almost an hour non-stop which is a very dangerous condition due to the risk of suffocating and suffering other vital organ repercussions and he would need immediate help and medical treatment to stop the fitting.
While I am talking to the owners, asking questions, I prepare and draw up the necessary emergency treatment - intravenous valium - but attempting to shave the dog's leg to remove the fur to be able to see the vein is proving quite the task as the legs are all over the place, moving jerkily in the air.
With the help of Mr Jenkins, I manage to hold one leg still just long enough to slowly give the first dose of valium I/V and strap the syringe to the leg with plaster - and immediately the effect is evident - PHEW - in a matter of seconds a long awaited peace finds and fills the poor dog - and not least his "parents" are sighing with relief as it is obvious Skye is now relaxing and breathing more normal without the accompanying horrific sounds. 
Within a few minutes he is contactable, aware of his surroundings and his owners cannot believe their luck. Again their eyes seem a bit moist - but this time only from profound relief. I quickly check Skye's "vital signs" such as his gum colour, heart rate and other such indicators - but I leave the syringe with the next valium dose strapped in...

So next we need to talk - Mr & Mrs Jenkins and I - about Skye's situation and options - this while waiting to see if he will start seizuring again which is fairly likely. Most dogs, if not all dogs, would normally be adviced to go to hospital to control this serious state we call "Status Epilepticus" - a state of fitting without stopping when left without medical intervention.
But this dog was a rescued, very nervous large dog who the elderly owners could not possibly carry out of the house in a state of severe fitting, even if they did have a car available - a mobile at home vet was definitely needed and their only option - at first.
Before, when I was working in normal brick and mortar small animal practice and never left my practice and with the benefit of having nursing staff, I was like everyone else there of the opinion - even most of my seasoned vet colleagues - to tell clients to "just pop" their pet into the car and come to the clinic - how hard can it be!! Really...really really hard actually... After nine years on the road away from the safety and comfort of a clinic with staff at hand and seeing the sticky situations in "real life" outside of practice and not least the effect after on animals that get to stay at home under illness and duress (please note only for eligible cases and not possible for every emergency) - I really know now the reality for pet owners is far more complex than these vets in practice think - I used to be one of them!
I will come back to this in my blog time and time again I am sure, if the past 9 years are anything to go by...

Back to the fitting dog - well actually still not fitting now -  the relieved owners are very much up for trying to treat his problem, if it can be managed with medication to stop him having fits in future, they defintely want to give this young dog the chance. We discuss the potential reasons and the options and not least the plan for Skye over the next hours and over the weekend until he can return to his own vets for a full check up and to perhaps start a permanent control program of medication, which he may have to stay on for a very long time and maybe even for life, depending on how his situation and his health develops in the very near future. 
This long-term outlook, is however not my main worry as an out-of-hours (evening/weekend) emergency mobile vet - my biggest challenge right now is to get him through the next 24-48 hours without any more seizures and getting his medication spot on - to not drug him up so he is completely off his head - and legs - but enough to stop him having fits so he can stay away from the 24-HOUR hospital as the owners so badly want to avoid given his nervous temperament. I then give him a quick intramuscular injection to keep him on track until he can start having medication with his food in a few hours.

I leave after 1 1/2 hour having left the now very relieved owners with a lovely although slightly weary and groggy boy who despite his ordeal, is almost back to himself and wagging his fluffy tail just a little bit again. I leave them with a stash of medication to last till the morning appointment at their regular vets on Monday - even if it means the poor elderly couple have to take turns getting up in the night to give Skye his tablets.

I slowly drive back looking forward to some well-earned breakfast (or lunch by now) with the family....and perhaps I should check the mirror for the first time today!

Mrs Jenkins calls me the next day - Sunday morning - and I can hear a big smile on her lips when she happily relays to me that Skye has not had a fit since yesterday morning when I came out and is eating and taking his meds fine - well in cheese, the ancient trick of the trade - so far so good....

Monday morning and Skye is now well back under the care of his usual vets who after some tests, will design a control program to keep him seizure free - hopefully giving him a long lovely life with his loving "adoptive pet parents".

A very happy end indeed - and one last time - I remind myself once again that no matter the urgency of a call to never leave the house without checking the mirror...

Happy again!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Saying goodbye to Sunshine...

Our first real end-of-life story is a lovely heartwarming story of healing - and a real tribute to Annie and "Sunshine", a 15 year old German Shepherd, the last of Annie's small herd of five lovely Shepherds she had brought over from Belgium a few years back. This is their story...

So this month, my practice manager Alex and I here at Vets2Home, are very sad to have had to - fairly urgently but also very peacefully - send our longest standing and also first true long-term hospice patient "off to Devon" (= dog heaven):
We have lost our lovely Sunshine - a stoic, 15 year old "blonde", sweet and gentle German Shepherd, and also had to say goodbye to her owner Annie (equally lovely, sweet and gentle) who have been with us for an over three year long uphill journey of parting with no less than the whole "clan" of her five elderly shepherds - all related as two generations of littermates.

We first met Annie and her lively furry shepherd family living in a small cottage in the beautiful and pittoresque Sussex countryside, when we were urgently called out to peacefully let her first (with us) shepherd, Indy, go as he was the first to catch what I call the "Shepherd plague" - meaning he went off his back legs - and also caught a nasty infection taking away all of his quality of life, making a gentle home euthanasia the only option for him to not suffer unnecessarily. Ever since we helped Indy peacefully go at home, we have supported Annie and her remaining Shepherds at home - with medication, advice and support - through a long, testing journey of saying goodbye to a house full of life and lively activity.
Sunshine, or Sunny as she was also called, was the last one standing - although she was also the oldest and the mum of Annie's two younger ones, Beeper and Lulu.

On the most beaming of sunny days on the Sussex coast, with lovely blue skies and at the peak of this atypically warm British summer, Annie calls us late in the afternoon with an unusual amount of worry in her voice.
Annie has been attentively and lovingly caring at home for Sunshine, 15, who she has had ever since birth as she just couldn't make herself part with this little bundle of joy and also kept two other, Indy and Teddy, out of a litter of eight, as she at the time also was a friend of the shepherd "mum's" owner and owned the "dad" herself.
Over two years ago, Sunny however suffered a huge "doggie stroke" which happened just a couple of days after Annie suddenly lost Beeper (one of Sunny's puppies) and Teddy (Sunny's "brother") only one day apart - to the devastatingly acute "bloat" also called a twisted gut. Both Annie (and maybe also Sunny?) were so clearly deeply traumatised experiencing this sudden loss and which may very well have triggered Sunny's stroke episode as I do believe - although surely not easy to prove "scientifically" - animals are sensitive and receptive on a level far beyond our human comprehension.

The "stroke" had sadly - despite various medication and supportive treatment - left Sunny in need of constant human care and assistance to support many of her doggy needs - not to mention added to poor Annie's anguished state of mind with the sudden and traumatic decimation of her clan from five shepherds to just barely one.
Annie at 66, as Sunny's devoted "mum", is luckily always at home, and has these last two years since the stroke and her sudden loss, been taking care of Sunny's every need to a 5* star top notch level including assisting her "outside needs", hand feeding and cooking her top grade meat and fish while keeping her super clean after unavoidable "accidents" and last but not least keeping her constant company by always being by her side also as she at the very end had lost most of her sensation in her hind legs.

Now over these past two intense years, Annie would normally call us a few times of month with a repeat medication order or just a little "progress report" and a little chat. Today is different though... Annie describes - with a clearly tremble in her voice - how Sunny's stomach suddenly has blown up as a big balloon over just an hour and she is burping and passing wind like a Jersey cow first out on spring pastures.

At this stage this is indeed very bad news - and we both know it - Annie being the seasoned Alsatian owner and remembering too well having suffered from the sudden losses just two years prior, to this devastating and very acute illness - a twisted gut is no laughing matter and is a dire, fatal emergency that if left untreated, will leave the dog to die in severe pain. Sadly this scenario won't take very long to develop very unlike what many owners think. As Sunshine is so old and already a hospice patient, surgery certainly is not an option so Annie and I both know what this means: this is the end for her.

I grab my big medicine bag (actually a builders tool box as the only thing roomy enough for all my kit) and throw myself down the metal pole that leads straight to the driver's seat of my waiting car with the keys ready in the ignition.... well not really - but it feels a bit like that trying my hardest to get to Annie's house as soon a possible.
I arrive within the hour as it is rush hour on the rural but busy Sussex roads and I still have not got those darned blue roof lights that I keep wishing I had when getting calls like this. Annie is sitting with Sunshine who is now lying on her side and resting her head on a carefully arranged pillow, with a blanket over her and on a collection of duvets that would leave the princess on the pea very envious.
She looks peaceful as Annie and her daughter has managed to take her outside to relieve herself which has taken off some of the pressure - but this is just buying a little bit of comfort time.
There is no doubt though - Annie seems surprisingly collected and calm as if she is ready and very much aware she must make a really hard but also kind decision for Sunny: she cannot let her suffer and she has to finally let her go.  At least this time she can do it peacefully as planned, at home and in her "sleep" as this is the last thing Annie can do for her after all they have shared and been through over these many years.
As I get her sedation injection ready, I ask Annie to find her a lovely tasty treat she will enjoy as she has never given up her love of food at any point - maybe due to Annie's gourmet buffet offerings and hand feeding regime - who can resist that? And Annie doesn't disappoint on this last occasion - she brings out an old favourite: a whole tin of Pilchards in tomato sauce and starts handfeeding this to Sunny - all the while I sneak the injection in behind her, in the abundant loose skin of her skinny neck and she never notices a thing.

Annie & Sunny - sardines fed by hand so taking no notice of the sedative injection
Annie and Sunshine is lovingly share this last moment of intimacy around a yummy favourite treat and soon after, Sunshine puts her head down and gently drifts off into a deep sleep where there is no pain or worry of a stomach blowing up to balloon size, causing immense pain and suffering. Annie as her loving "mum" has spared Sunny the stress and upheavals of a car journey at this time (Annie doesn't have a car) not having to make way to the clinic half an hour away...instead Annie has shown Sunny the last gesture of love by letting her die at home - in her sleep - helped by a quick injection she didn't even notice.
Sunshine is blissfully unaware of the noise of the clippers as I gently shave her blonde fur on her front leg so I can give her the last injection with the overdose of sleeping medication directly into her bloodstream, and Annie is sitting gently stroking her head as she takes her last breaths and as she passes over, her face seems to suddenly relax with a big sigh of relief.

Sunshine is finally at peace - having a gentle ending as she has also been fortunate to live her last months at home with her own "top private nurse" by her side to serve her every need. Knowing Annie well by now, I can't resist to ask if perhaps it would be possible that I can come and move in and receive such generous care ...  Luckily Annie gives me a big reassuring smile as she knows exactly what I mean and how lucky I think Sunny has been with the exceptional care and attention she has been receiving for the past many, many months.

But most remarkable and what makes my chosen path as a hospice vet so truly rewarding, is I have again had such beautiful confirmation - and affirmation - of just how amazing animals are. Seeing just how far Annie has travelled through this process from losing two shepherd in two days and almost another one (Sunny) in the same week to the devastations of a doggy stroke and watching up close how bravely Sunshine has fought since - for herself and for her "mum" - like a true warrior she has made sure to hang in there precisely long enough to see Annie safely through this long journey of emotional healing and letting her gradually come to terms with losing no less than all of her whole four-legged family of five lovely shepherd companions over a relatively short time - and they are now both finally set free to seek new pastures, holding forever in their heart only happy memories...in Sunny and Annie's case - from the very first breath to the very last!

SUNSHINE 1999 - 2014 


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Early beginnings...

Today is starting out as the most lovely spring morning in May - with sunshine in abundance and birds chirping in choir. Luckily so far I have not had to rush out to see any poorly pets - or owners in distress - but have spoken to a few pet owners who needed telephone advice for when would be the right time to say goodbye to their elderly furry family member....I always make plenty of time for these calls so my dogs' morning walk usually have to wait a bit...this is them in the sunshine (and me): My staffy Romeo, 4 and Sundae, 5 my little Jack - both rescued from a local shelter I work with.