For Life?

It is a sad fact of life, and especially of veterinary life, that people feel compelled to buy or otherwise home a pet to then seemingly get bored and ultimately abandon them. There are, of course, a number of completely legitimate reasons for why a person might no longer be able to care for a pet and thankfully help is on hand from well meaning charities and individuals who do their best to ensure such animals do not remain homeless, something I fully support. Similar to having a welfare system in place to provide much needed support in times of acute economic crisis, such as the unexpected loss of a job, having such organisations and mechanisms in place for pets is vital and they provide real options for well meaning, caring but unfortunate pet owners. However, much like welfare systems, there will always be the malignant few who take the piss.
Taking on a pet is not – or certainly should not – be a decision that is taken lightly or on a whim. Responsible human beings realise that they are making a commitment to care for an animal for the rest of it’s life, not simply the remainder of it’s “interesting life.” I, along with many other vets, see far too many examples of people ignorantly taking on a dog or cat, either for themselves or as a misguided gift, and to then quite frankly get bored of them and look to offload them on to someone else as if they are a second-hand car or last season’s smartphone. An example this week reminded me of such aspects of human behaviour as we have had a lovely, if vocal, young dog in hospital who it appears is no longer of interest to his young owner and, more disappointingly, their family who you would hope should be serving as positive moral role models for their child. Alas, all the example that seems to be getting set is one of disposal and “easy come, easy go.” The child has become bored with the dog and so the family no longer want the dog and had expected to simply be able to leave him with us as if we were some repository for discarded pets rather than a hospital. No good reasons exist for why this animal is being abandoned other than the fact that the child’s family made an all too common stupid decision to buy a puppy for their child, who was probably already used to stamping their feet and screaming “I want” and promptly getting, before getting bored of their new plaything. This is fine with toys. Or gadgets. Or shoes. Or clothes. Or anything that doesn’t have a pulse, feelings, a life. But not a pet. Abandoning an animal simply because it no longer amuses you is abhorrent and simply marks a person out as irresponsible, unreliable and unfeeling. Not great character traits in anyone.
Thankfully, after insisting that THEY do the legwork in finding THEIR dog a new home and that they come and collect their pet and pay for it’s treatment with us, as is their responsibility as both pet owners and consumers of our services, a new owner was presented and, fingers crossed, the dog can now look forward to a life in a caring home with people who actually give a shit. I know, however, that he won’t be the first ill-advised, ill-conceived pet purchase and ultimately abandoned animal we see this year. Depressing? Yes, it is.

Nothing is ever as simple as it first seems

Today served up one of those true examples of something not quite being as simple as one might initially have expected, this time in the form of a tricky case of hide and seek. Clinical hide and seek that is.

The afternoon saw a stray cat presented with a history of a swollen paw, with the concern being that it was broken. The fact that the cat was weight bearing and had a discharging wound on the front of the paw did make me doubt whether we were dealing with a fracture or, as I suspected, simply a bad case of infection on account of a cat fight. Anyway, the cat was duly tested for FeLV and FIV, both unfortunately common among the stray cat population, and was thankfully found to be negative for both. Examination of the paw under anaesthetic (it was too painful to examine thoroughly conscious) resulted in pus being expressed – so clearly an abscess was present – but there was something about the level of swelling that didn’t quite fit with a simple cat bite abscess. As such, x-

paw, cat, foreign body
You can see the object between the bones clearly on this view of the paw

rays were taken after all and the cause of the swelling and discharging tract soon identified: a small radio-opaque foreign body present in the paw, sitting, based on the views taken, right in between the metacarpal bones, the equivalent in humans being the bones in the main body of the hand. The object was suspected to be a tooth and was, according to the images, in line with the open puncture wound on the paw.

Consent was received from the owners to take the cat to surgery in order to remove the mystery item; a simple procedure that I would be able to complete within thirty minutes before my afternoon consults. Or so I thought. As is often the case in all walks of life, from professional veterinary practice to business, and life in general, the initial simple imagined scenario – ie, I open the wound a little, find said object quickly and heroically remove it from the paw thus effecting a rapid resolution of the cat’s problems – ended up being anything but. Do you think we could find the mystery object? No. No we could not! For what felt like ages I found myself frustratingly exploring the area, having to extend my initial incisions to open the region up more and all the while wondering why on earth I was not able to locate the offending article. Further radiography, this time making use of needles and the mobile dental x-ray unit in order to more accurately ascertain the precise coordinates of the object, which was very clearly visible on the films, eventually led me to see what ended up being the tiniest of pieces of tooth lodged firmly between the two middle metacarpal bones and virtually imperceptible to the naked eye. With the tip of what was clearly a cat canine tooth finally extracated from our patient’s paw, I was able to finally close the area, dress it and let the owner know the result.

My team of nurses were, as ever, superb and the entire operation ended up being a lot more challenging that any of us had initially imagined it would be. Thankfully the fact that the surgery took longer than anticipated was not a major issue as my colleague was able to handle consults whilst I rooted around delicately but purposefully in search of a biological needle in a fleshy haystack.

The main lessons that I took away from the experience include the fact that apparently simple situations can sometimes become more complicated or time consuming than first imagined and being prepared to cope with and adapt to changing circumstances is vital. Everyone on my team remained calm and acted in a really smooth and professional manner during the entire process and it ended up being a great example of effective teamwork. Remaining calm in a stressful situation is so vital as you need to be able to think clearly and make decisions, actions which are difficult if stress is at high levels. Trusting the evidence gathered is also important as in this case I knew that there had to be something to be found, due to the unequivocal radiographic evidence, meaning that persistence was simpler to adopt than if doubt had been allowed to creep into the scenario.

All in all, a testing afternoon but ultimately a triumph of appropriate clinical process, access to decent, reliable diagnostic equipment, trust in one’s own ‘gut instinct, and the superb dynamics of a great team. A great result all round, with a more comfortable and happy patient as a result.