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Julia’s Weekly Column For The Middy

Being the vet on duty at night is not easy!

It’s hard to gather your wits when you have been woken from a deep sleep by the emergency phone. You need to sound caring, professional and in control, which is not always straight-forward when the person at the other end is panicking.

When I was a young vet I went through phases of being on call on what we called a ‘1 in 2’ rota. This involved alternate nights and weekends on call.

As an on-call vet, we had to be constantly prepared in case the phone rang. The correct phone needed to be switched on and charged up, we had to be within a 20 minute drive of the Clinic, and we had to be sober!

At first I found it hard to relax when on-call, and terrifying when the phone woke me in the night. But as I gained experience and faced most of my worst fears, I began to settle into it, and like all professionals, I adjusted.

I have been called out to genuine emergencies such as caesarean sections, lambings, pets who have been run over, and horses trapped in ditches. I have also been woken by loving pet owners anxious about sore paws and teenage cats showing their first season. (When people call it a ‘cat calling’ – they really do ‘call’. It’s a sound that would distress any loving Mum!)

My first boss had just one rule: if the client is worried, you must go out and see their pet. So even if the description fitted the diagnosis, I would get up from my warm bed, drag on some clothes, stagger out to the car in the dark and scrape off the layer of frost, to tackle the set of ten keys plus alarm to get into the Clinic in order to reassure the loving pet owner.

One such pet was Fluffy, a 5 month old kitten in striking good health, and the problem was that she was experiencing her first season. For a novice cat owner this can be alarming. Fluffy was rolling about on the floor as if in agony, yowling loudly, and apparently in dreadful pain.
But rubbing along her back helped her to settle into a crouching stance and put her tail to one side, and continue calling for a husband (or two!) to come and get her. Kittens typically call for days. It’s often worse at night-time, and her hormones caused the urge to come back every few days. A torment both for the new pet owner, and for the on-duty vet, but easily resolved with a little spay operation!

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