Friday, 16 January 2015

Not exactly "a walk in the park"...

It's Saturday afternoon, it's September and there's a bit of a chill in the air between the more distant rays of sunshine and the white clouds are moving fast across the sky. More importantly - for some unlucky pet owners - most local vet practices are now shut for the weekend and so my workday as an on-call emergency vet is about to begin - any minute.

2.15pm - the phone rings. It's the cafe proprietor in Buckingham Park in Shoreham, she reminds me who she is and how I went to help her dog at home just a few weeks prior. She explains, slightly breathless, that there's an elderly lady who is desperate for a vet to come out as her large, likewise elderly dog has suddenly collapsed in the middle of the Green, is in pain and simply cannot get back up - and there doesn't seem to be a local vet surgery open as she has phoned around all the local vet practices before she finally remembers to try me. Vets2Home luckily just "happens" to be the only visiting vets out-of-hours available for home (or park) visits in Sussex and borders!

Our special service offering urgent out-of-hours home vet visits, was something we started 10 years ago, while I was working as an emergency vet for Grove Lodge in Worthing, soon realising we were having far too many calls to the clinic for a vet to come out to suffering pets after hours. Equally frustrating for all parties however, is not being able to send one out due to the low weekend/night staffing levels and very busy times at both the regional 24HR clinics in Worthing and Brighton.
This was definitely a rather huge and recurring problem I thought seeing house calls were not something readily available to pets and owners in Sussex - or in the UK in general - so it was something I soon decided to change. With an equally frustrated Vet Nurse, Alex, having had the same experiences in her practice, we then started Vets2Home together in 2005.

Fast forward 10 years and my practice have thousands of times been called out to help pets in need - and owners in distress - who cannot come to the emergency practice - very much like Maisy - or when some owners understandably don't want to come in as it may very well be that it is the "very last vet appointment" which in their - and my opinion - is best taken care of peacefully at home.

Luckily this Saturday I have not yet had any other calls so I reassure the worried Cafe Lady that I could get there within half an hour - depending as always on traffic as my flashing blue lights are still just wishful thinking for times like this.

I get to the Park which this Saturday afternoon as always is full of families with children and dog walkers in abundance enjoying this lovely autumn day and I quickly try to gain access into the large center Green in my appropriately stickered up "Vetmobile".  Luckily the nice Park Ranger is waiting to escort me safely onto the pavement and into the middle of the Green with my hazards lights on to alert any "straying" dogs or small children.

As I approach the lady sitting with her dog there in the middle of the Green, surrounded by the bustling of activity all around, it almost looks like they are just having a little cosy rest as the lady, Mrs Burgess her name is, had been served a caring hot cup of (hopefully very strong) coffee by the compassionately concerned Cafe Lady while waiting for my arrival.
Mrs Burgess and lovely Maisy with her face showing her pain

Her lovely old dog, Maisy the 13 year old German Shepherd/Labrador mix, is lying peacefully on her side as if just lying down for a rest. But her face tells a very different story.  It is very clear - to me anyway - that her whole expression, even while being stroked gently by her owner, is very strained  and in excruciating pain. Poor, poor old girl.

As I gently take a closer look at her hind leg, it is clearly in a wrong position, swollen and when touched poor Maisy cries out in agony. It's very bad news indeed - Maisy is an elderly "lady" and Mrs Burgess tells me she has been increasingly lame over the past months but she still loves and wants to go on her usual walk in her park - albeit at a much slower rate now to earlier in her life. The medication she had been given by her normal vet a few months before had helped Maisy - and her owner - to start to enjoy her walks again so Mrs Burgess had been hoping it was just arthritis as many large breed dogs (and smaller ones and even cats) suffer from when they get older.

Sadly, it is very clear to me that her leg is fractured - and at her age with the sneaky symptoms Mrs Burgess described, it is highly likely a nasty bone cancer that has caused the leg to weaken and break so easily when Maisy was just walking normally. She wasn't even running or trying anything when it happened.

I offer Mrs Burgess the option of taking them both in my car (not something I am allowed to do but feel I must help this poor lady best possible) to the nearby emergency clinic - for x rays and confirmation if need be - but Mrs Burgess is not in doubt - her face says it all - she doesn't want Maisy to go through anything painful at her age and it is rather clear she says what the prudent decision is - for Maisy's sake.
She quietly ask me if I can stop her pain - Maisy's that is? I nod - I can luckily take all her pain away - with one quick injection in the back of her neck containing a strong sedative which will make her go to sleep very gently and gradually over just 10 minutes. Mrs Burgess agrees this sounds the best decision - right here in this spot - in Maisy's favourite park - on her favourite walk.
I give her owner a tasty treat to give to Maisy as she despite the pain, is still part Labrador, so I always carry tasty treats in my bag and so Maisy never notices the injection I sneak into her soft blonde fur in the back of her neck.

What happens next is one of the greatest wonders that makes it SO rewarding to be an animal doctor: Maisy's face softens as her grey-blonde muzzle gradually relaxes - and she almost has a subtle little smile on her face as she slowly puts her head down on the soft grass - the "doggy morphine" as I call it, is working wonders in no time and she is clearly feeling that lovely fuzzy warm feeling that just takes all her worries away - all the while she is having cuddles from her "mum" who in turn is being reassured by the lovely, supportive Cafe Lady who, having just gone through a heartbreaking goodbye herself only weeks before, is also getting misty eyed - as are we all - including the (not so) weathered looking Park Ranger and myself who is finding this whole scenario a bizarre mix of sadness and beauty all at the same time - as are a few other people watching the ordeal from a distance.
Maisy relaxing and sleeping in the park -  no more pain!

As Maisy is having a gentle snore, I shave her front leg and give her the final intravenous injection but she notices nothing at all. She is just having sweet dreams - probably dreams of running on all four painfree legs again and enjoying the relief of "ridding herself" of this old painful and well used "shell"...

Maisy passes very peacefully and Mrs Burgess is clearly collecting all her strength while I cannot begin to imagine the turmoil of emotions inside her, having left her house only a couple of hours earlier for her normal walk in the park, only to return home but without her beloved companion.

Looking at Maisy's peaceful face and posture, the helpful Park Ranger and I both seem to discreetly wipe away a stray tear and together we put Maisy in the big dog bed I always have in my car, cover her with a pink blanket and then we load her carefully into the boot of the car.
Despite the strict company policy I don't hesitate for one second - of course I am taking Mrs Burgess home - with Maisy in the boot - and later I will take her to the crematorium.
So we slowly drive off right across the green back towards her house across from the park - with a very heavy heart - all the while the small crowd disperses and the Cafe Lady and the Park Ranger go back to what they were doing earlier but surely forever marked by the turn of events this Saturday afternoon - as were we all. But surely none more than Mrs Burgess who was displaying an amazing amount of inner strength this unexpectedly sad day, where she suddenly had to decide to see and support Maisy safely through to her destined but heartbreaking end - however peaceful it may have been in the end.

As you my dear reader can vividly imagine by now I am sure, actually being able to help this poor Iady and her poor dog in this painfully urgent situation, is exactly what is truly rewarding about being a mobile, emergency vet. As many, many animal lovers like myself know very well, absolutely nothing feels better than helping animals (and people) in real need and particularly when these lovable creatures are in a tremendous amount of pain. Who didn't always want to be the one removing that thorn from the tigers paw.
So enabling animals to not have to be painfully handled and transported to a clinic first, is what makes me get out of bed in the morning (or in the night for that matter) and is definitely what made me spend almost decade of my "best" years going through vet school!

Sweet dreams lovely girl...

Thursday, 1 January 2015


Here's hoping 2015 will be your best year yet - full of adventures, love and happiness for all two - & four legged family members...