Wireless Electricity? Really?!

WiTricity, electricity transfer, wirelessThe TED lectures that you can stream online have become one of my new favourite sources of downtime entertainment and, it seems, both education and inspiration. Seeing great people speak passionately about subjects they have a real buzz for is incredibly engaging and addictive. It was one of these talks that prompted me to sit down and write this post. The subject? Well, it was about wireless electricity transmission. Yep, that’s right. The transfer of electricity without wires.

Now, you’d be forgiven at this point for saying “why should I care?” Unless you are especially nerdy then the words that closed the last paragraph with will probably be anything but inspiring. But let me explain. The speaker, Eric Giler, told the story of an MIT professor’s sleepless night due to his wife’s Nokia mobile phone beeping to say that it’s battery was low. His thought was wouldn’t it be cool if the phone could simply access the huge source of electricity that was literally surrounding it in the form of the house mains supply without needing to be plugged in. Very much like your iPod, computer, laptop, and countless other devices now source their Wifi connection. And so WiTricity was born.

WiTricity, wireless electricity, magnetic resonanceThe technology works by means of a phenomenon known as magnetic resonance, in which a magnetic field induced by flow of electric current in an induction loop can, well, induce a magnetic field to form in another device and trigger the flow of electrons, or in other words, the flow of electricity, thus powering the device. Eric demonstrated the technology by placing a specially designed induction loop, about the size of an A3 picture frame near an average flat screen TV. Within a few moments the TV screen lit up! Pretty cool stuff. To demonstrate both the safety and the reliability of the system, the speaker walked between the loop and the TV with no disruption to the TV’s function or any obvious adverse effect to himself. The applications for such technology are pretty wide, as you can imagine, with the need to plug in any device, whether mobile phone, camera or computer to recharge a thing of the past.

The potential medical and veterinary applications are also very exciting. I can imagine a clinic where the annoying beep of a drip pump low on battery will be long-gone, or the ophthalmoscope that someone forgot to return to it’s base station still works as well as ever due to it constantly being fully charged. It may even increase the chances of us achieving the Holy Grail of a GPS-enabled implantable pet microchip. The main issue at present is how to reliably power such an implant for long periods of time (ie the lifetime of the pet), given that you can’t exactly remove it to change the batteries or plug your pet into the mains! Imagine if you didn’t need to worry about it because every time your dog or cat went into the house the chip simply charged itself safely, efficiently and silently, with no adverse effects to your pet yet the peace of mind that comes with knowing that when Pooky heads off again, you can log in and keep tabs on them thanks to GPS. Now that would be great!

A world of wireless electricity? Now that’s an illuminating thought!

A lesson worth revising

Elderly father and sonI have just finished conducting a very sad but peaceful euthanasia appointment for an elderly lady’s old dog. All went as it should but the thing for me that really made this one experience stand out was the timely human lesson that it provided. You see, the lady in question clearly had some degree of dementia and although everyone took their time to explain, guide and otherwise help make the ultimate decision for her pet go as peacefully as it could, there was a lot of repetition and, in effect, use of the sort of communication skills that one would apply with a child. Her son – a lovely gentleman who clearly loves his mum dearly – was, it could be seen, becoming somewhat frustrated with his mother, something which those of us with aging parents or family members will be able to identify with. The tragedy is the fact that we find ourselves, as human beings, getting frustrated and perhaps becoming short with our loved ones in such situations and all it does is then leave us with an intense sense of guilt at having reacted in such a way. We know, of course, that our loved one is not being the way they are on purpose or to goad us and irk us in any way but it is the human failing that we react the way that we do. My nurse colleague, Claire, and I were talking afterwards and she showed me a video that she had been sent by her own father that really struck a huge chord with me and very nearly moved me to tears, as I believe it sums up in 4 minutes everything that is so devastating about such situations. I thoroughly recommend watching it and challenge anyone not to feel moved and want to call their dad immediately.

View the video here.

Does your practice website ROCK?

Slash rock god guitaristPractice websites – does yours rock?!

The internet is more and more vital to the success of any practice, with the primary role being to gain new clients & help retain existing ones. However, simply having a website is not good enough anymore – it has to rock!

I recently attended an Entrepreneurs Circle event on websites and it really got me thinking a lot about what it is that vet practices can and should be doing to really ensure that their websites are as epic as they can be. I would like to share some of the thoughts that came out of this thinking and offer my take on how practices should be applying the lessons to their own practices. If you are serious about really growing your clinic then I do recommend considering joining the Entrepreneurs Circle.

1. Why have a website?

There are 3 main reasons: 1. to sell things online; 2. to get clients to call you; 3. to get clients to give you their contact details. Most clinics are interested in getting clients into the hospital so getting them to call you, and FIND you is key. Is it clear how they go about doing that on your site? If it is then the second question has to be is there a clear reason why they should bother calling you?

2. Two-second rule

These days we all have the attention span of a hyperactive kid with attention deficit disorder and expect websites to speak to us immediately. Does yours? Is it clear from the first fold (the first view of the homepage) what you do and who you are for? How does your site look on different devices, including mobile, which is becoming more and more important?

woorank.com is a great free resource for checking your site for a number of relevant parameters and will tell you where you can improve things.

Navigation is also an important point here as it must be clear and intuitive how users move through your site. Is it obvious how to contact you? Can users easily switch back to the main homepage by clicking the practice logo in the header, or do they have to follow a long, winding bit of digital string back to the entrance? If so then they’re just as likely to exit the site altogether and find a local competitor. Get as many different people (ideally those representing your clients) to play with your site and feedback on what they thought of the navigation and ease of use.

3. Google Analytics

Do you know how many visitors are coming to your site? Where they are entering and leaving? How many visitors compared to the number of enquiries or bookings made? What about the keywords that people are using to find your site? Information is power and Google Analytics provides information in bucket-loads to enable you to really drill down in to how your website is working and, most importantly, how it can be improved to bring more clients to your door. It is easy to set up for your site and your web developer has probably already installed it for you – ask them.

4. Reviews (What our customers say)

We all love to see that a product or service has been proven and word of mouth (reviews by another name) is still one of the most reliable ways to gain new business. I would sooner use a professional that another person, independent of the business, has had a good experience with than take a punt on an unknown – most of us don’t like being pioneers, especially when it comes to both the health of our animals and that of our wallets. Your current clients love you – if they didn’t they’d go elsewhere. Ask them for reviews, including photos if they’re happy for them to go on the website (most people are), and get them on your website in various, prominent positions.

5. Personal Touches

Veterinary is more of a people business than it is anything else and pet owners invest as much in the vets and staff they like and trust than they do in any other aspect of the practice’s offering, including price. You could be the cheapest vet in the entire country but if you’re as personable as Jack The Ripper then no (sane) client is going to stay with you. Show your existing and potential new clients just how awesome, friendly and personable you and your team are. Have photos of the team (nice, professional, smiley photos as opposed to dour, happy-snap ‘passport style’ mugshots) and include great photos of your clinic, including some scenes from both outside and inside, preferably showing what you do well.

6. Phone numbers

It is still the case that the phone is the most valuable piece of equipment in veterinary practice today – without it we’d be sunk! Is your phone number clearly visible on each and every page of your website? It is best placed up in the top right corner where it is most visible. Also, ensure that it is entered on your site as text so that it is automatically available to copy, call etc from a smartphone. One thing that might be worth considering as well is the use of call tracking numbers. These divert to your normal phone line but can be a great way of actively keeping track of where calls are originating from. Are clients calling you because they saw a flyer? Or have they searched for you online and found your website? Having a different call tracking number in each place provides a simple method for seeing which media/ marketing efforts are yielding the most calls. www.citynumbers.co.uk is a good place to get them, and they cost a few £ per month, so very affordable.

7. Language

Does your site read like you would actually speak with pet owners or is it more akin to something straight out of a stuffy office in Whitehall? If you’re aiming to project a fun, friendly, caring image then surely the language you use on your website should reflect the same. Have a go now by reading out sections of text from your website aloud. If you feel like you’re addressing the House of Lords when you speak then maybe the language needs revision.

8. Images

A picture does indeed paint a thousand words and the use of professionally taken, crisp, clear, fun photos of you and your team all working harmoniously together in your superbly clean and well equipped practice, surrounded by happy, content animals will do more to make your practice shine in the eyes of new and existing clients than any amount of well-written prose. A professional photographer needn’t break the bank and could well be a very savvy investment.

9. Video

A lot of websites make video available now and it can be a really smart way to offer an insight into what it is your practice offers. I find myself clicking to watch introductory videos on businesses’ homepages far more than I ever used to, and probably make the decision to stay on the site based on what I see more so than on what I read, if I am honest. A short, well filmed and edited video introduction to the practice, especially if presented by someone clients can identify with and relate to, will really help to bond people to your site and to the practice, encouraging them to pick up the phone and give you a call. One question that does arise is that of “to autoplay, or not to autoplay?” I personally have no issue with videos that autoplay as long as the sound is not on and I don’t run the risk of inadvertently blasting the quiet cafe or library that I might be in with noise. If it is appropriate then I can always choose to activate the sound and listen to the video commentary. Whether you choose to autoplay or not is up to you but it is worth considering whether some people might be inclined to navigate off the page rapidly if they are not prepared for a video with sound to suddenly kick into life. Short video is good, with no more than a couple of minutes generally being advised before people get bored.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to really making your practice’s website rock but with the application of some of the principles above then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be performing brilliantly and taking your clinic to epic heights.

Big cats, Big surprises

lion, leopard, tigerThe standout feature of this week’s Safari Vet School – other than ITV’s incredible ability to massively over-dramatise everything –  was the lion dart, transport and release experience. As in previous posts most of the fun adventures that the students get up to manage to trigger some memory I have that I am able to draw parallels from with the safari experience. After all, in spite of being born in South Africa there are not too many Lions roaming the streets of Hampshire for me to get my clinical teeth into. Plenty of unpredictable, oft grumpy and sharp moggies though.

The students had to administer sedation to the two lions in question, in order to safely transport them across the reserve, and had to remain vigilant during the process due to the risk of the lions waking up. It highlighted the inherent unpredictability of sedation in general and how not all of our patients take note of the dose charts. We had a feline patient in yesterday who it was suspected may have had a foreign body impaction (ie may have had something stuck in his guts) as he had not been to the toilet and had been seen for vomiting previously. In order to fully assess him, including taking an xray of his abdomen, we opted to admit him for sedation and to start him on a drip in order to rehydrate him. In the end we needed to sedate him before we were able to place an i/v line as he was a bit of a flighty chap. The sedation worked a treat and within a few minutes our bouncy feline customer was a pliable bundle of fluff. This proved two points for me: 1. it is often preferable, both in terms of reducing stress on the patient and for making sure you, as the vet, are able to do the best job possible in the least amount of time, to sedate animals that are making life a little tricky when it comes to examining them; and 2. the response to sedation is such an inherently unpredictable game – another cat of the same weight may not have been touched by the dose we gave whilst the cat yesterday responded perfectly. Having top-up drugs, reversal agents, and additional medications and supportive treatments, such as oxygen, on hand is therefore essential, so that you are able to respond in real time to what is actually happening with your patient, rather than relying on what is ‘supposed’ to happen, as it rarely goes the way it should. The other thing to remember is that even though our patient wasn’t a 300kg lion, it could still have caused a decent amount of damage to either myself or one of my colleagues, especially during the recovery phase when animals are often very disorientated and confused. Anyone who has been on the sharp ends of a cat will certainly know what I mean. In terms of what was wrong with the cat, it turned out he was massively constipated and so a decent period of rehydration and an enema later and he was right as rain, including being significantly lighter than before! Ah, the glamour.

As a footnote, I just wanted to commend Fitz on her rather spectacular feat of acrobatics in diving out of the way of the zebra’s flailing hoof, which would have made quite a dent in her head if it had hit. Vets do seem to have to develop the reactions of a wired cat as, again, the unpredictability of our patients means that danger can literally fly at you from any direction at any time. Another feature of vets, and indeed nurses, seems to be our ability to contort ourselves into the oddest of positions and maintain said postures for lengthy periods of time in the course of administering to our patients. It sometimes feels like being a vet instantly puts you in contention for the title of World Twister Champion. Maybe compulsory yoga classes should form a part of the vetty curriculum?!


And the award goes to…

It seems to be a week of awards. Sadly not ones that I am personally winning but they are ones I have been attending nonetheless. Having said this, Friday saw me come pretty close to picking up the coveted Veterinary Marketing Association award for Young Marketer of the Year 2011, which was sponsored by British Dairying. This award was open to young (under 30 years of age – just snuck in there then) professionals within the animal health sector who have demonstrably shown promise in the field of marketing over the past twelve months. Each contender was nominated by their line manager, or otherwise, with Penny Evans of Moor Cottage Veterinary Hospital very kindly putting me forward. The winner was decided following an interview yesterday morning, right before the annual awards ceremony itself. As you may have guess, I did not end up walking away with the top prize, although did receive a rather snazzy certificate as a Highly Commended Runner-Up. The top prize went to the very deserving Jemima Scott, Vetmedin Brand Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim, who I daresay I wasn’t anywhere close to being a true competitor to. A deserving winner indeed.

The awards themselves were fantastic! Held at the Globe Theatre in London in the exhibition area beneath the theatre, the scene was one of mesmerising and magical light, with a truly Shakespearean feel to the entire room. They even had a tree in the middle of the banqueting area! A tree I tell you! How can that ever NOT be epic?! I had the very good fortune of spending the afternoon with some very fun and interesting people and got to see a side of the animal healthcare industry that very few in practice ever get to. The clear winners of the afternoon, other than Jemima, were Boehringer Ingelheim, who walked away with no less than 9 awards. They were certainly the runaway winners and the head of their advertising agency who, from where I was sitting, bore a remarkably uncanny resemblance to Robert DeNiro, ended up spending more time posing on the stage and brandishing polished marble than he did sat at his table. I think at one point it was suggested that his table actually be moved up there to save him the walk!

Now, I like my food and have had experiences of balls and other such events before, with the general experience being one of being underwhelmed by the catering. Not so yesterday. I think I can safely say that the medieval feast put on by the team at The Globe was by far and away THE best meal I have had at such an event and if I were ever to stage an event then I would definately be considering picking up the phone to the organisers and booking the same venue.

Here’s to the work of the Vet Marketing Association and the professionals who keep us entertained, informed and generally aware and abreast of the latest products and innovations in the animal healthcare sector. Roll on next year. I for one very much hope to be there.

Oxford Entrepreneurs Shine Yet Again

Idea Idol 2012I love entrepreneurism and there is one society that really seems to embody all that is exciting and fun about seeking new ideas and opportunities, and that is the Oxford Entrepreneurs. Each year they hold their famous TATA Idea Idol competition for new business ideas and each year the entries simply get better and better and better. This year was no exception.

The format is basically the following:

  • Stage 1: Hopeful future business tycoons submit a short description of their business idea for initial consideration by the board.
  • Stage 2: Those fortunate enough to be selected are taken through to the semi-final, of which there were 40 this year, whittled down from over 200 initial entries. I am proud to say that the apps (Mucky Pup & Purrfect Paws) were among the semi-finalists this year, something I am personally hugely proud of. Following an afternoon training session on writing a great Executive Summary (1-2 page summary of the business plan), we had one week to complete and submit our summary.
  • Stage 3: Just six business ideas make it through to the final, with the lucky six receiving further training in pitching their business ideas before the big night of the final itself.
  • The Final: Each team, or rather one individual from the team, has just 2 minutes to present their business idea to the packed lecture theatre in the Said Business School (Oxford) and then 5 minutes of grilling by seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs who make up the judging panel. This year’s judges were Melody Hossaini (CEO of InspirEngage International and The Apprentice fame), Gary Frank (CEO of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys), Will Chadwick (VP of Tata Interactive Systems), and Leo Johnson (Co-founder of Sustainable Finance Ltd).

The pitches were amazing and the business ideas presented exceptional. The six companies vying for the grand prize were, in no particular order:

  1. Rehabox – a personalised service to manage prescribed movement rehabilitation exercises for many conditions, including back pain, osteoporosis, injuries and following strokes.
  2. Oxford NanoSystems – a novel re-design of heat exchange systems found in boilers.
  3. BaNaPads – a social enterprise, initially focused in Uganda, providing locally manufactured female sanitary pads made from banana pseudo stems, an abundant organic waste, and a significantly more cost-effective material for pad manufacture.
  4. InVision – software that recognises hidden emotions by detecting facial micro-expressions with video technology.
  5. Medopad – a mobile health start-up providing hospital doctors with secure real-time access to patient data, images and lab results via iPads.
  6. FoetoH – provides home-based monitoring for babies before birth.

FoetoH winn Tata Idea Idol 2012The ultimate winner was judged to be FoetoH and the team, led by Dr Michelle Fernandes, won the grand prize of £10,000.


It’s a Dog’s Tweet

Toby Morris Tweet DogIt is rare that something crops up on Twitter that makes you sit up and say “Hey! That is truly awesome!” Today, however, was one of those days. I was casually flicking through my Twitter feed glossing over the usual fare of celeb announcements and product plugs when lo-and-behold this cracking story made itself known… True genius on an epic scale!

Nat Morris, an IT consultant and dog owner from Wales, put his technology skills to legendary use by rigging up a fun system that provides his Border Terrier, Toby, with a treat every time a message is tweeted to @FeedToby. The system, which incorporates a mini-computer, that receives the tweets and drives the funky device, sounds a buzzer to alert Toby of the imminent arrival of a tasty snack, and a camera that snaps a pic of Toby and tweets it back to Nat so that he can see that Toby has eaten the food. There are, however, self-imposed limits on the system to prevent Toby get overfed as a result of being the recipient of loads of well-meaning tweets!

The full story can be viewed here.

Dog Breeding & Abandonment – What’s the answer?

border collieI have just been listening to a section on BBC Radio 2 about dogs, breeding and the idea that many people are simply acquiring dogs that, to be honest, are wholly unsuitable to their lifestyle and, by extension, to the dog’s innate drives. This can, and often does, result in a doubly disappointing situation: a dog who is frustrated, and may end up displaying symptoms of that frustration, such as destructive behaviours (eg furniture chewing), and may end up being abandoned or rehomed; and owners who are equally frustrated, and end up with mixed emotions, including possible feelings of resentment towards their dog, or guilt that they can’t seem to satisfy their dog’s exercise or behavioural needs, and who may feel that they are left with few choices over what to do. The facts are that rescue and rehoming centres are seeing record numbers of dogs being admitted, reflecting a depressing state in which too many dogs are being given up by owners, for a multitude of reasons. However, on the flip side, as a vet I regularly see lots and lots of new puppies, purchased from breeders, often for hundreds of pounds, and in many cases perhaps questionable in terms of their suitability for that particular family or owner.

Why are dogs being given up?

There are many reasons why someone might feel they have to make the decision to rehome their dog, and it is important to point out that in the vast majority of cases such a decision will not have been reached lightly and will represent a heartbreaking and traumatic event for both the owner and the dog. The owners that I speak to in this position feel that there is simply no other choice and it is emotionally devastating to those clients, most of whom will have already explored all the other potential options for their dog (eg rehoming with a family member, seeking behavioural therapy, and more). The main reasons that I encounter for dogs being given up for rehoming are:

  1. Lifestyle factors – the breed of dog that was originally purchased as an adorable bundle of 8 week fluff has actually grown into a super-athletic, busy, intelligent animal who needs to be continuously stimulated and requires regular and long periods of exercise in order to stay both mentally and physically fit and stable. The classic example here is a Border Collie, which is traditionally a working dog used for herding. I have a friend who trains for and runs ultra-marathons. He takes his Collie out with him on runs and whereas he is ruined by the time he gets back in, his dog will have spent the entire run darting ahead and back, and generally not stopping, covering, in all likelihood, about five times the distance. And not even be tired! How can the average family, or even someone living in an urban environment or with a busy job, possibly be expected to cater to such a dog’s apparently insatiable exercise needs? We then act all shocked and upset when the same dog starts turning on our sofa to burn off some of their nervous energy. Who was on hand to advise that new owner about whether such a breed was actually a good lifestyle fit for them? Whose responsibility is it? Vets? Breeders? The Kennel Club? The Government? The owner’s themselves?
  2. Change of circumstances – many people will purchase, or otherwise take on, a dog as a family, or perhaps with a partner and all is rosy and joyful at the time of acquiring said pooch. Life, however, has a way of serving up curveballs and some of those relationships may hit the ropes and, sadly, break up. What happens to the dog in those situations? Who is responsible for them? What was agreed at the time of getting them about what would happen in such an unthinkable scenario? Oh, nothing was discussed? This is a situation that unfortunately does seem to occur all too often and the dog ends up being in limbo between owners who either don’t want them or haven’t got the means or set-up to continue caring for them. The result is that said dog finds itself in a rehoming centre. Sad all round. Now, some may be baulking at the idea of a ‘puppy pre-nup’ but I think the idea has merit. We are used to thinking about our options and possible worst-case scenarios in many other aspects of our lives, including marriages, so why not take the time to really discuss and agree what would happen to Freckles the Labrador should he find himself in the middle of a messy break-up? It may be that the result of this discussion is that you both decide to get a different breed, which would be more suitable to a potentially different situation, or even, dare I say it, to opt for a cat instead, although that’s a whole other discussion. The point is that taking on a dog means to accept the responsibility for another life, much as you do when bringing a child into the world, and so you owe it to that dog to be sure about what will happen to it in the future. Unfortunately, too many people seem to just rush into the whole ‘get a puppy’ thing, caught up in the giddy excitement of the experience, without thinking long-term.
  3. Cost – it was interesting to note that the Radio 2 discussion did not, at any point, mention cost as a factor. This was surprising as I would argue that for many people who end up giving up their pets, not just dogs, the cost, or rather unexpected costs, of keeping that pet represents a major factor. Owning and caring properly for a dog over the course of it’s lifetime, which on average seems to be about 12 years, costs a lot of money. That’s a fact. The figures naturally vary but some estimates place the total cost at anything up to £15k! These costs include insurance cover, food, kenneling, and of course healthcare. This is the point that I am sure I should be getting ready to become all defensive about vets and what we cost, and answer the inevitable charges of us all being “ridiculously expensive.” I can, and probably will, write a separate lengthy post on this subject, but the facts remain that providing a dog with good, lifelong healthcare is expensive. Failing to provide such care, or attempting to do it “on a budget” is often a false economy. It does always amaze, sadden and usually anger me that many people will gladly fork out hundreds of pounds on a new puppy from a breeder yet baulk at the idea of spending the same amount, or usually less, on a trip to the vets and a course of treatment. I cannot get my head around the logic. The main point, however, is that for some the costs of owning a dog become too great and they feel there are no options other than to rehome that animal, which is desperately sad.

What’s the answer?

I wish I knew as it would be a dream come true to be able to fix the problem and instantly empty the rehoming centres, with all dogs happy and secure in a suitable and loving home. I do, however, have some thoughts…

  • Breeders – I agree with the gentleman interviewed on the segment about dog breeding best being done by responsible hobbyists, who are in a better position in many cases, to properly socialise their puppies and who are able to advise and cater to potential new dog owners on a local level. Socialisation is one of the key factors in any dog’s long-term health and mental stability, and of course it’s going to be difficult to do a great job at an early age in a large commercial breeding set-up. There may be exceptions, and there often are to both sides, but I think generally small scale, local breeders represent a better opportunity to get it right. In any case, the aim should be for the breeder to really discuss and educate the potential new owner on the actual suitability of their breed for that owner, as I believe they have a responsibility to both the dog they have bred and the new owner to maximise the chances of that relationship being a long and successful one. On the point of ‘local’ there is one word of warning I would offer, and that is to really question how local your breeder actually is. I personally have seen puppies who have been presented by their excited new owners for second vaccinations, and enquired as to where said cute puppy has been bred. The answer in both cases was that they were bred by a local breeder. I then looked at the accompanying vaccination card and saw that the first jabs had been given in, in these cases, Wales. Now, I do not imagine for a second that the ‘breeder’ in question was taking all of their new puppies on a four hour journey for their vaccinations, which suggests that the same puppy that the owner had assumed was bred locally has in actual fact simply been supplied by a middle-man, a dealer if you will. Is it the responsibility of the supplier to make it clear the origin of the puppy, or is up to the owner to ask the question and feel confident about exactly where their new puppy has come from? That’s difficult to know the answer to.
  • Vets – we are, at the end of the day, charged with a duty of care for our patients and to ensure the safeguarding of their welfare. Should we, therefore, as a profession be doing more to educate and advise potential dog owners on choosing a dog? How do we do this, especially given that most of us only get to meet new dog owners after the event of them having actually acquired the dog? Will we be accused of meddling and sticking our noses in where and when it isn’t wanted? All valid questions and ones worth considering answers to.
  • Professional bodies – there are lots of groups catering to the doggy sector, from individual breed associations to the one we probably all know, The Kennel Club. What duties do these groups have to advise and educate new dog owners over what type of breed they should consider, or even whether they should be considering a dog at all? They are in a great position to influence owner choices but the main problem at present is that many are failing to sing from the same hymn sheet, resulting in fragmented and confusing advice and information for potential new owners, who may then decide to just buy their new puppy based on cuteness after all.

Dogs are so different and it is vital to really spend time and effort in really researching options when it comes to choosing a new dog. Maybe if we all thought longer and harder before diving into the exciting and, ultimately for most, richly rewarding experience of owning a dog then there would be fewer sad cases of abandonment and more empty rehoming centres. We can and do dream.

Probably one of the most genius uses of a single bit of plastic ever.

I wasn’t sure if this was really even worthy of a blog post but you know what, I think it is. Every pet owner needs one of these things. They could save you a load of money and hassle, and keep both you and your pets safe and healthy. They are easy to use, cheap, and once you get used to them (which takes moments) are actually quite fun, in a weird way I guess, to use.

What on earth am I yabbering on about? A tick hook. Brilliant bit of ‘tech.’

Take a moment and breeeeaaathe…

Don't panic buttonErm, really?

Although I am enjoying the Safari Vet School series, and it always cool to see vets getting airtime – especially prime time – I do feel compelled to pull ITV up on a couple of, what may seem trivial, points. The first is in response to the opening lines, “Amakhala Game Reserve is home to one of the most demanding vet schools in the world.” The course the students are on is NOT a “vet school,” and the show should really be careful with how it uses the term. The second point is in response to the statement, “the course forms part of the vital work-experience the students need to qualify as vets.” It is more accurate to say that the course CAN form part of students’ EMS, but that students don’t have to do it in order to qualify, which is the impression the show does give. The fact is that most vet students simply would not be able to participate in the course, which in spite of the fantastic conservation work that is done and the incredible role the course plays in promoting conservation, does cost a lot of money to take part in. Most vet students will and do complete all of their EMS prior to graduation in the UK. Pedantic points perhaps but worth just clarifying I think.

One other thing…

It has been interesting to see the contrast between the two sets of students, although I must say that it does feel like we’re simply seeing the same show repeated, as they are doing effectively the same things as the previous group we followed: giraffe capture; mass capture of a herd using the funnel system etc. As such, I do wonder whether the show could have actually been a few episodes shorter than it has been(?). Controversial view perhaps. I also wanted to offer a note to any students reading this who feel that they wouldn’t be able to get the same experience from their more ‘pedestrian’ UK based work experience: you can and will. The excitement of herding sheep, or a herd of cows in Wales can easily match that of herding wild safari herbivores, with the same level of danger and adrenaline being provided. If you have ever been faced with a cow that has spotted a gap and you’re the only one standing between them breaking free and staying put then you’ll understand. Although it is amazing to have the chance to get that level of excitement and animal contact in a more exotic location and setting, the fact is that you will be able to experience similar levels of adrenaline and satisfaction right here.

Stress: a vet’s permanent companion

The main theme seemed to be ‘the stress of being in charge,’ with the pressures of leading a team in a high pressure situation where time is of the essence and lives are at risk being explored. The students were involved in the tense activity of capturing Giraffe which, as we saw in a previous episode, carries a high level of risk to the animal, especially if the vet does not administer the sedative antidote in time. Any vet who has been in the situation where a genuine emergency (eg a dog that has been rushed in after being hit by a car) has occurred will know the surge of stress and excitement that accompanies such a situation. It is all too easy to lose your head in such scenarios as you are expected to think fast and act rapidly. The added pressure of being in charge of directing a team adds to the pressure cooker of emotions that can result. I have been in many situations where I could feel myself starting to freeze like a rabbit in headlamps and hear my thoughts go from a steady, ordered, organised set of signals to a random fuzz of static. The key, however, is to realise that you can, and should, take a moment – and that’s all you really need – to gather yourself as it is only once you are in control of your own thoughts that you can take control of the emergency and keep everyone else focused and effective. As a vet, even a newly qualified one, you possess all of the skills and knowledge to apply basic first-level emergency care to a patient. These basics don’t really change regardless of the emergency and are obvious when you think about it:

1. Is there any bleeding and if yes, is it both possible and safe to halt, or at the least reduce it, immediately? For example, if there is a large wound to the neck and significant bleeding from the area, rapid application of a pressure dressing would be appropriate. After all, a patient who has bled out is not really going to be bothered that you haven’t detected and dealt with it’s fractured leg straight away. Because it will be dead.

Rapid access to a vein, and starting on fluids to support the animal’s circulatory system is another thing that, if you think about it, makes immediate sense. The rate and other factors can easily be adjusted once the animal is more comfortable and stable, but at least you will have intravenous (i/v) access and thus be in more control.

2. Is the animal in pain? Probably yes. Would giving decent pain relief straight away be a good idea? Again, probably yes. The likelihood is that the animal that is wildly thrashing about in a frantic panic, thus making the entire scene ten times more dramatic than it could be, suddenly becomes calmer and thus easier to more fully assess. I, for one, would want my doctor to get some decent analgesia into me long before he starts messing around with my busted leg! In fact, if they didn’t then I would probably bite them, so we can’t really blame our patients for doing the same.

3. Is the animal having trouble breathing? Can you give it oxygen safely? Yes? Well do it! Either put the animal in an oxygen cage (these can even be ‘mocked up’ with the use of a kennel, or carrier, and roll of cling-film) or apply a mask to deliver oxygen enriched air to the patient. Is the animal unconscious? If so then getting control over it’s airway by placing an endotracheal tube would be the thing to do. Again, once you have control of the basics then you can pause, reassess and adjust the plan accordingly.

So, the key point really that I am trying to make is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the stress and excitement of an emergency situation and forget that you do actually know what to do, at the very least, to stabilise your patient. Oh, and one thing to remember at this point: in spite of all your best efforts and pulling out a textbook Super Vet act, some patients will die on you. Fact. Although every one is a shock and hurts, it is a fact of being a vet and something we have to accept and be able to move on from.