Nottingham Open Day – and…

The first part of this post can only be to say one thing: I just sent off my application to Nottingham, RVC, Liverpool and Bristol Universities! I was (am) so nervous just to do it, I read and re-read my personal statement so many times and then had to make a bunch of last minute changes to fit the 3,999 characters onto those 47 permitted lines. But eventually UCAS accepted it, I made Tom double-check all my details, paid my money and pressed the red button. Aaaaaargh!

On an equally exciting note, we spent yesterday at the open day for the Nottingham vet school. I am a little bit in love with this one. The facilities were modern and expansive and their teachings methods sound really varied. They also integrate more practical work and clinical skills into the early years of the course compared to the other schools. Although I have every intention of applying myself to anatomy and physiology textbooks, it would certainly help to be getting regular insight into why I need to know it from the very start.

Unlike the open days I attended five years ago and the more recent Bristol and RVC visits, Nottingham didn’t offer a free-form day where you went to two talks and could optionally go to the farm or have a campus tour. Instead we were given our itinery and taken though a busy afternoon of educational activities. After a talk about the school we went straight into ultrasounding the hearts of four very tolerant dogs. Our group had a brown lab with a tendency to lie down but we all managed to get some images of atria and valves from between the ribs via an “acoustic window” near the right elbow.

(I didn’t take many photos during the day as I wanted to get stuck in to the activities and chat to the existing vet students and other applicants. It seemed a waste of time to stop for pictures even if they’d have improved the blog post! But Tom did take some later on.)

From there we went to a whirlwind obstetrics class where we delivered toy lambs and diagnosed pregnancy on “breeding betsy”, a model cow rectum/uterus. Here I had a chance to talk to some other potential vets and it was really interesting to hear their views on the universities I haven’t applied to, such as Surrey and Cambridge. Before long though we were off on a tour of the campus, a quiz, a mock emergency situation and a sutreing lesson!

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I so enjoyed this open day, but best of all was the visit to the huge university dairy. It featured an incredibly high-tech indoor system: robotic milking, automated slurry scrapers, individual feeding programmes, cow mattresses and my favourite – cow wash brushes. Tom had to elbow me to point out a cow using one. Although I appreciated the advantages of the robot milker I got very frustrated watching it try to find a cow’s teats with the lasers and was tempted to try and lend a hand. We couldn’t take photos in the dairy or I would be bombarding you with them now (you know – how I do with sheep photos).

For me, Nottingham has two other advantages besides the amazing facilities and course. First is its proximity to beautiful Derbyshire where I grew up and am always going home to. Second, the entire veterinary course is based on one rural campus in Sutton Bonnington. Tom and I keep talking about buying a house when we move to wherever I end up studying, so to be on one campus for the whole course in what seemed to be a lovely area would make that much easier.

This weekend cemented Nottingham as one of my choices and saw the start of my application process. I also dropped in on one of the vets I’ll be shadowing in farm practice next month to make sure the arrangements would all work out. It’s been busy and nerve-racking but hopefully very worth it! Thanks for reading and good luck if you’re applying too at the moment 🙂

 

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Pigeongate 2k16

It seems it’s that time of year… once again, our little flat has been home to a racing pigeon.

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I saw him/her when I got to work on Tuesday and he hung around all morning. Due to the warm weather we had the office door open and he kept wandering indoors, clearly not fased by people but unwilling to fly at all. Eventually due to the number of cats who come through out car park we caught him and our customer complaints lady rang his owner to ask for advice. He said the pigeon was meant to be racing from Cheltenham to West Yorkshire but as he’d got stuck on the ground, would we feed him up for a few days and send him on his way? We couldn’t see any injuries but he really didn’t seem willing to take off at all; apparently this time of year is the “young bird season” and birds get “flown out” or over-exhausted due to their inexperience.

For the rest of the day we made him an enclosure in the workshop and the end of the day I took him home. He ate seeds and peas and drank water from a mug. By Saturday he was flapping around in his specially adapted rabbit cage, but the weather was terrible so we waited until Sunday morning to send him off.

We have a top floor flat, so he had to be packaged up to get outside.

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(Honestly, he was in the box at this point – just getting his act together!)

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He sat by the bins for a bit before taking off in roughly the right direction. I hope you got home in one piece pigeon!

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A local puppy farm welfare case

The Dog Rescuers on Channel 5

The link above is to a documentary on puppies and the work of the RSPCA – featuring my local branch and the dogs I’ve been walking during my volunteering there!

Apparently there has been a lot of interest in the dogs shown and the centre have posted on their Facebook page to remind people that, due to being part of an ongoing case against the owner, they’re not yet available for adoption. I’ve been really careful not to share any photos or videos of the case dogs but now they’re on national TV I think it should be okay to provide a link to the show! The particular dogs shown in the video may not be up for rehoming but the centre has MANY, MANY dogs in need of forever homes if you’re looking for one.

The problem with puppy farms

Last month saw the start of the #SeeThemSuckling campaign against the production and sale of farmed puppies. Puppy farming is one of the big challenges in companion animal welfare at the moment, so today’s post looks at what it is, why it’s a problem and what can be done to tackle it.

What is a “puppy farm”?

The name refers to businesses commercially producing pet dogs. It’s commonly used to describe fairly intensive breeding and implies profit being put before the welfare of the animals. BBC Panorama filmed a great documentary about these “farms” which shows footage from inside some commercial dog breeders’ kennels. It’s still available here on iPlayer and I’d definitely recommend watching as I hadn’t realised the set up and scale of some of these breeders until I saw the film.

So what’s the problem?

Although it’s possible in theory to raise lots of dogs well to sell as pets, puppy farms can often pose the following problems:

  • Puppies are not socialised during crucial periods of their development, leading to future behavioural problems with other dogs and humans.
  • Puppies are not habituated (used) to experiences they will have in later life, such as going for a walk outdoors or riding in the car, which can lead to fear and more behavioural problems.
  • Dogs are kept in small kennels on inappropriate bedding so not get the level of care that pet dogs in the home should ideally receive.
  • Dogs are bred too often with no time for bitches to recover from a litter.
  • Puppies may be weaned too young.
  • Lack of hygiene and disease controls in large, multi-dog operations cause health issues.
  • The dogs may not all get prompt veterinary attention when required.
  • Some breeders are known to use inhumanely small or closed cages for dogs, especially when they are about to give birth to puppies.
  • Long distance transport is required to supply puppies to dealers and buyers, sometimes crossing borders illegally – which has huge repercussions for health and disease control.

Several of these problems are caused by obviously illegal actions, such as the tiny boxes some breeders use for bitches giving birth to puppies. Others are roughly within the law – although neglect and abuse are legislated against, whether or not a dog is sufficiently socialised and exposed to stimuli as they grow up is much harder to prove.

Another huge problem is wilful deception by dealers claiming that their stock of farmed puppies is home bred. Misled customers buy these dogs without realising the health problems they could have and the industry that they are supporting. No one advertises that their puppies are farmed but the dealers go further than omitting this key fact and may claim that the puppies’ mother is out for a walk, that they are an accidental litter from a family pet or that you can’t come to their home for an innocent reason like renovation work so need to collect the puppy elsewhere. The BBC even uncovered breeders supplying a “show bitch” to dealers, of the same breed as unrelated puppies, to convince buyers that they were buying a homebred pup.

What’s the legal position?

To “keep a breeding establishment for dogs” (described as producing 5+ litters per year) businesses must be licensed by their local council under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999. Breeding and selling dogs without a license can lead to fines, imprisonment and disqualification from keeping dogs, but that’s not the whole problem – as well as unlicensed breeders, welfare at licensed outfits is also an issue.

Each year to renew their license a breeding establishment must have an inspection by a vet to ensure that the dogs are well cared for. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets the standards for this care but as with all the animal welfare scenarios I write about, sometimes these are allowed to slip even if they were in place during the annual vet inspection. In these cases, the RSPCA can inspect and prosecute if a crime (such as neglect, which the Act above lists as a criminal offence) has been committed, but only if they have enough evidence to do so. Gathering evidence takes a lot of resources, so the problem with poor welfare on puppy farms continues.

What can be done?

Puppy farms remain because there is a huge demand for puppies. The popularity of certain breeds, such as pugs and bichon frise, plays a part in pushing would-be owners to buy these puppies rather than adopt a shelter dog or mongrel. But ignorance on the part of buyers and wilful deception by puppy farmers and dealers means that demand for puppies in general is often met by “farmed” dogs.

With the problem attracting more and more media attention, there are few excuses left for would-be owners who buy a farmed puppy. Somehow though a big, profitable market for breeders and dealers remains so sharing the message and educating your friends is important. I was really shocked to learn about Dogs4Us which is literally a puppy shop in the North of England. Make sure your friends and family know all about farmed puppies and how to ensure they never buy one!

The simplest advice if you are buying a puppy is from the #SeeThemSuckling campaign, that if you can visit your pup with his/her mum and see them interacting the chances your new companion has been farmed are much lower. Never agree to have your pup delivered alone or collect him/her from a location like a car park or motorway services. If you have any doubts, it’s better not to buy the puppy – although it feels like rescuing it, you might be supporting the neglect and abuse of his/her family. You can report someone you think may be selling dogs from puppy farms here. Of course, you could decide not to buy a dog at all and instead take one of the thousands who are awaiting homes in rescue centres!

The government are currently reviewing feedback on their plans to update several types of animal establishment license in England. This would modernise licensing of pet shops, kennels and dog breeders amongst other business, so it will be interesting to see what changes are made.

It’s horrible to think that many dog lovers are unwittingly supporting abuse of the species we all agree is “man’s best friend”. Through educating dog buyers and cracking down on the breeders and dealers who supply the dogs, there’s a huge opportunity to make a change. Spread the word to your friends and family, #PoutforPuppies and adopt your pets from shelters whenever you can. Thanks for reading!

Want to take action?

  • The Puppy Love Campaign suggest writing to your MP and letting them know your view. They provide a letter template to show your support for an updated Pet Animals Act, preventing the sale of puppies in pet shops.
  • The RSPCA see the next step as being compulsory licensing of everyone selling a puppy and if you want to sign their petition, you can find it here.
  • Post your #PoutforPuppies selfie on social media (if that’s your sort of thing!) to promote the #SeeThemSuckling campaign.

References/further reading:

The Kennel Club – resources on puppy farming

RSPCA page “Scrap the Puppy Trade”

RSPCA report “Sold a pup? Exposing the breeding, sale and trade of puppies.”

 

RPSCA Volunteering

Today I thought I would write about the RSPCA volunteering I started doing back in May to improve my understanding of kennels, cattery, small animal care and how rescue centres work. Whilst this “work experience” ticks lots of boxes, it’s also pretty fun and rewarding – and hard work of course but then we already knew I’m a sucker for punishment.

I started out doing 9-5 every Sunday but last month I asked if I could reduce this to once a fortnight. It’s a shame but I haven’t had any real time off work since Christmas last year and I felt like continually working six days a week plus evening experience wasn’t a good idea for my health. As my visits are quite spaced out it’s taking me a while to learn the ropes but now I sometimes have responsibility for a block of kennels which is the hard work I mentioned nice.

Depending on staffing I get assigned to kennels or cattery first thing. Although the animals, feeds, toys and layout are different the routine is pretty similar. Before the public can come visiting at 11AM we feed and water, clean all the kennels or cat pods, disinfect anything contaminated with urine or faeces, remove feeding equipment, wash floors and make the place tidy.

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Lots of cleaning but for a good cause!

I don’t know a lot about other places but the centre seems to have a pretty good set up, there are five blocks of kennels and 30 cat “pods” all with inside and outside access, isolation facilities, three pens for dogs to play in, kitchens, a bathing/grooming room, laundry, a meeting room which can also be used to socialise cats, several dog walking routes, reception, offices and lots of storage for donations, cages, food, cat litter and other supplies.

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One of the lovely dogs I’ve walked, rehomed several weeks ago now.

Once things are set up for the day volunteers can start walking dogs whose names are on the walkers’ boards. Each dog is graded red, amber or green for behaviour and we can only walk grades we’re trained for. The board also has notes on the dogs – for example, whether they can have treats, should wear a harness, need grooming after their walk or shouldn’t go in public spaces due to being from a prosecution case. In the cattery we spend time socialising kittens or take adult cats into the meeting space to stretch their legs and be made a fuss of.

Throughout the day there are also a variety of other tasks like sorting donations, cleaning and tidying, animal health checks, assisting with vaccinations or microchipping, laundry, feeding animals on multiple daily feeds, grooming, bathing, assisting in giving medication, sweeping, taking out rubbish, washing up… No it’s “not all puppies and kittens” as people like to say but it’s still 100% more puppies and kittens than my average day! We also help with enrichment materials for the animals such as frozen food, toys or time outside their cages. Being in kennels with a changing rota of carers, no matter how dedicated, is stressful for the animals but varied enrichment can help reduce this and prevent boredom issues.

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Some dogs are easier to photograph than others…

Once the public go home at 4 there is another round of feeding, watering and cleaning before the centre is locked up and the staff go home. Several of the team live on site so there’s sometimes scope to give the animals some extra time with outdoor access. You’d hope it would also deter people from abandoning pets but sadly there has been a spate of dumped cats recently. This means that pets on the waiting list who need to come to the centre and whose owners have followed the proper process have to wait even longer and it also puts the team in a really awkward position. However, to avoid ending on a sad note, here is a short clip of Mia who I last saw two weeks ago on the day she was ditched in a taped-up box. Then she just sat and dribbled from the stress – look how friendly she is now!

I’m going to keep at this volunteering for as long as I can until another type of animal experience takes over my weekends. It’s a great centre and open 11AM-4PM every day except Tuesday, so you should definitely go visit and put some coins in the donations jar! You can also donate pet food, cat litter, beds, blankets, towels, toys or treats – it will all go to a very good use.

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Cat family  ❤  one of many!

Thanks for reading and “see” you again next week!

Reading List #1

Much as I’ve always loved animals, I’ve been a lifelong book worm too. Here are a couple of my recent animal-related reads which will hopefully also interest any readers out there.

  1. Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin.

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As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I am a huge fan of Temple Grandin’s work. I’ve just started on Animals in Translation and accidentally left it at my mum’s house – she returned it to me “in case you were getting withdrawal symptoms”. Dr Grandin writes in a wonderfully clear and informative yet personal style. She has done so much for animal welfare by looking at how animals think and applying this to farms and slaughterhouses. Her books are thoroughly referenced whilst still reading easily – I’ll stop now before this becomes a homage to Temple Grandin blog post instead of a reading list!

2. My Family and Other Animals, by Clare Balding.

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Clare Balding’s autobiography is again incredibly readable and a definite page-turner. The endoresement from Caitlin Moran on the cover (another author I love, although not in any way related to animals!) that “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want a horse,” rings true as you read the chapters each focussed on an animal from Clare’s past, bringing in the story of her childhood and adult life. It’s an emotional story but one you’ll want to read to the end.

Of course, the title is a play on Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals,” which my parents bought for me as a child. I treated it as a license to bring any number of creatures into our house and I’m sure Mr Durrell played a big part in sending me off to uni to study Natural Sciences.

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3. The Truth About Cats and Dogs, by Emma Milne

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This is my other current read and paints the very sorry picture around pedigree dogs, especially brachycephalics and breeds with serious health issues. Dr Milne’s view on the veterinary profession has been strongly influenced by these problems and she provides clear descriptions of the different flaws we’ve bred into our pets. Although she definitely hammers home the downsides of becoming a vet her style is very chatty and readable whilst communicating the facts so I’d recommend this to other wannabe vet students like myself.

4. Down Among the Donkeys, by Elisabeth Svendsen

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I have a little area on my bookshelves that I think of as the “awesome inspiring women’s autobiographies” section. Clare Balding sits there, and Ellen McArthur, Caitlin Moran and Elisabeth Svendsen. The founder of the donkey sanctuary, Ms Svendsen has turned her hand to all kinds of things from running a hotel to working with disabled children to bring them the benefits of donkey time. Whilst reading this I was amazed over and over again by her positive “have a go” attitude. I know it probably doesn’t jump out as a gripping read but it’s genuinely interesting and helps you to believe that all sorts of things are possible if you just give them a try.

5. The works of “James Herriot”

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Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But after reading umpteen times “do NOT mention James Herriot on your vet school application,” “the admissions tutors don’t care if you’ve read James Herriot,” “EVERYONE HAS READ JAMES HERRIOT DO YOU HEAR US?” I thought I’d better pick them up and see what the fuss was about. Because surprisingly, I’d never read them (except, weirdly, one chapter about rubbing a cow’s udder with goose fat that I realised I must have seen somewhere before).

And they were fantastic. I knew in advance there was no such person as James Herriot – he was the creation of real vet Alf Wright – nor Siegfried or Tristam, and that Alf Wright was barely qualified in the setting of the thirties rather than hurtling all over deepest darkest Yorkshire, and that many of the stories need taking with a pinch of salt. And I realise that very few vets practice so generally anymore, with the profession becoming more and more specialised and unlike the role of Jim Herriot. But did that ruin it for me? Not at all. The charm and trials presented by clients, their mannerisms and generosity, drew plenty of similarities with my own rural chilhood experiences. There may be embellishment to the cases but it’s grounded in Alf Wright’s long veterinary career and the changes he saw take place over that time. As you can see I couldn’t stop after the first book – I had to get the sequels and I’m sure I’ll return to them to re-read again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and picked up a recommendation or two – I may do another as I have been re-reading lots of books from my first time at uni recently also. Thanks for reading, until next time!

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Volunteering with Suntrap

Last weekend Tom and I headed down to London to help out with the Suntrap “Meet the Animals” stand at Walthamstow Garden Party.

First, a little more about Suntrap Forest Education Centre. Suntrap is a council-owned environmental education centre in Epping Forest just outside London. The teachers there run workshops to get schoolchildren learning and playing outside, including den building, forest walks, pond dipping, “meet the animals” sessions, camping and much more. Since I first moved away from the little rural village where I grew up I’ve realised that lots of children don’t just automatically get to do these things and the centre plays a crucial role in bringing nature into people’s lives at an early stage.

You can learn more about Suntrap on their website or their Twitter page.

The 16th and 17th of July saw the Walthamstow Garden Party take over Lloyd Park, a celebration of music, food, craft and entertainment. (Lloyd Park is also the home of the William Morris Gallery, if you want to be extra cultured.) Suntrap held a stand in the mini garden party aimed at younger visitors and alongside the rest of the team we introduced them to Cynthia the corn snake, two hissing cockroaches, salamanders, stick insects, giant African snails and a tolerant millipede.

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Tom and Cynthia. Neither smiles in photos.

We tell the children what the animals are, where they live in the wild, what they eat and any cool facts that might grab the kids’ attention. The hissing cockroaches’ defence mechanisms are a good one to explain but the cockroaches quickly realise they’re not in any danger and stop hissing so people just have to trust us! A massive part of the workshops are also allowing the children to touch the animals, hold them and realise snakes aren’t slimy, bugs aren’t scary (although the jury is out on spiders) and how to be gentle and considerate of the animals.

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Mr Hissing Cockroach

I have to admit I love watching people’s reactions, whether they’re super excited or grossed out by the animals. Last year I felt I was guilty of hogging the snake section (my personal favourite but also I suspect Tom’s) so this time I mostly “worked with” the cockroaches. The stand got very busy so I stood just outside it and people would come up without realising what was in my hand, or they’d assume he was a toy and be surprised to find he was a real cockroach! Very small children had to be prevented from putting him in their mouths but most were happy to hold him or, as the fantastic sunny weather warmed him up, let him climb up their arms.

I did get to do some time with Cynthia although as you can see, like the bugs she was getting very warm and wriggly. The animals did get a break between the two sessions each day to cool off away from sticky little hands and we also came up with creative ways to give them some relief once we took them home for the day. Witness: the salamander bath.

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(It’s a ramakin.)

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Of course, the welfare of the Suntrap animals is a really high priority and I don’t want to give the impression they only got cared for at the end of the day. All the children are really carefully instructed on how to behave towards the creatures, for example never touching the cockroaches antennae or wetting their hands before holding a salamander.

I didn’t realise at first that volunteering with Suntrap would be relevant to my veterinary studies, especially as it was a series of chances that got me helping out there – Tom’s mum works at Suntrap and he has always “volunteered” so ever since we got together I’ve been going too. When we used to have nice long uni holidays we got to do more workshops with visiting schools or groups wheras now we get to do the garden party and the open day. I really enjoy the time we spend doing Suntrap things and what’s more it has taught me loads about the care of exotic pets (including the time I accidentally cut the tail off a frozen mouse and dropped it, oops) and another work environment where animals are found. So by complete accident – or maybe because my whole life is geared towards messing about with animals – I got some more work experience!

Thanks for reading and I hope you had an equally happy weekend!