Monday, 28 February 2011

Book review: Vet on Call

What happens when you need to do an emergency x-ray but you can’t fit your patient on your x-ray table? Can cats lay eggs? Why did the Golden Retriever rattle? All these questions and more are answered in Vet on Call, a candid account of Marc Abraham’s first year as an out-of-hours vet

You may know Marc from ITV’s This Morning and the BBC’s Breakfast programmes. Or like me, you may know him from Twitter, where he keeps his followers entertained with games like ‘#GuessTheBreed’, and with news about the work he does to campaign on animal welfare issues like puppy farming.

Vet on Call is full of stories about the emergencies Marc’s had to deal with in the 12 months after he set up Brighton’s first out-of-hours veterinary service – from performing a caesarean section on a gerbil to tearing through the streets of Brighton with a sick Irish Wolfhound on a shopping trolley. These stories run the full gamut of adrenalin-fuelled emotions that are part and parcel of life for a vet who deals with emergency cases. But more than this, Vet on Call lets its readers into the mysterious world of the vet – a world that affects many of us profoundly, but which we probably only ever see now and again, from the clients’ side of the counter.

Having once worked as a veterinary receptionist and also (in a completely different job) worked nightshifts, I’ve always gazed in wonder at anyone who could pull themselves together in the middle of the night, to deal with emotional pet owners and perform life-saving surgery on animals ranging from small rodents to giant dogs. In Vet on Call, Marc communicates the other-worldliness of out-of-hours vet work – the adrenalin-fuelled emergencies, the quiet times when boredom and tiredness take over, the challenge of trying to have a life outside work, and everything in between. He pays attention to the mundane details as well as the entertaining stories – the horror of running out of milk for those crucial coffees; the MTV-fuelled soundtrack to those long nights at the surgery; his own inability to sit still for five minutes – and in doing so, he connects with his readers in a way that makes that nether-world concrete.

Like millions of other people, I wanted to be a vet when I was a child. It was an ambition that was laid to rest as I got older and seriously considered the type of work involved and my own ability to cope with it. Veterinary work takes a special kind of person with a special kind of commitment and drive, and Vet on Call illustrates that people like Marc and his trusty nurse Ruth have those qualities in abundance. They are energetic and committed, with a sense of adventure and – perhaps most importantly, a sense of humour. They seem to like people as much as they like animals – crucial for both client relationships and for telling an engaging story.

Vet on Call is an easy read that doesn’t bamboozle its readers with technical terms. But this is more than a collection of entertaining stories – I recommend it if you’ve ever had to visit a vet, or if you’ve ever thought about becoming one.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Bad news for Shanghai dogs

There’s not much that would make me move away from where I live, but if a law was introduced like the one in the Chinese city of Shanghai, which allows only one dog per household, I’d be off like a shot.

Three dogs good...
I’ve seen different reports about the new rule. The BBC says that households with more than one licensed dog will be able to keep them, but new licenses will only be approved for households without a dog. This at least makes some kind of sense, as it would mean a natural decrease in the number of dogs as they naturally die out. Another, more worrying report in The Independent, says that owners of multiple pets will have to choose which one to keep.

Either way, I can see so many problems with this law. I doubt it will reduce the amount of stray and abandoned dogs – in fact, I suspect it will increase that number. And it must also mean that thousands of dogs will be needlessly destroyed.

Responsible dog owners are able keep a number of dogs as well as they keep one – either that, or they’re responsible enough to know that one is enough for them. It’s the irresponsible owners –those who allow their dogs to cause a nuisance, those who buy a dog without thinking of the commitment involved, those who abandon their dogs or, in the case of Shanghai, those who don’t register them with the authorities – who cause the problem. Will cutting the number of dogs owned by law-abiding, responsible owners really help to solve that problem?

I can see that unlicensed and stray dogs are a problem in Shanghai, but surely there’s another way to combat irresponsible dog ownership.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Busy times

It’s been far too long since I wrote anything here I know, but it’s been a hectic few weeks.

2011 started quietly on the work front, and then made up for it by suddenly picking up a frenzied pace. As a freelance writer I use any quiet periods to catch up on admin, work on ideas for features and look for more copywriting jobs. It all tends to balance out: things go at a more relaxed pace at times like this, because I know I’ll be working flat-out working to a tight deadline soon.

Time for a break!
And that’s exactly what happened. I was catching up on some correspondence the other Wednesday when one of my favourite customers called with a rush job. I’ve been filling a recruitment gap for this customer until they employ a new in-house writer, and they wanted me to write some articles for them by the Friday morning. After that, they’d need some help with proof-reading, which would probably involve me working over the weekend so the publication could go to print on Monday. “Of course,” I said, and got to work.

Well, if you’re waiting for a job it sometimes happens that three come at once. Even as I began writing, another client called to ask me for a feature article and soon after that, I lined up another piece of work to start in a week or so's time.

So it’s a busy time for me, but having deadlines at regular intervals helps me to keep pace. The dogs are also very helpful – by making sure I take a proper break from the computer and go for a walk, they help me to focus more clearly and do work at my best.