Wildlife rescue

Since I posted about a racing pigeon who came to stay in September two wood pigeons seem to have heard that I’m a soft-hearted pushover and turned up for handouts.

The first one actually knocked himself out on my bedroom window. I collected him from the lawn and put him into a dark box in the hope he would recover. I thought one of three things could happen: he’d die, he’d recover and I’d let him go, or if he just lurked in his box unable to function I’d have him put to sleep. It doesn’t seem fair to me to keep broken wild things that will just be scared and feel helpless.

He did seem to be improving and got back on his feet, but he wouldn’t fly away. I put him back in a box with a perch, food and water, but he died during the night.

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The second I found at on a work call-out. He kept falling over and once I picked him up I could tell he was seriously underweight. I took him home and set him up with seeds and chicken feed to try and build him up but he wouldn’t eat, so I contacted a local wildlife rescue who agreed to take him. They knew a LOT more about pigeons than me and showed me the canker which was preventing him from eating. Apparently the prognosis isn’t great but they have had some successes so will have a go at helping him.

If I’m honest, I’m conflicted about rescuing wild animals. Nature is famously red in tooth and claw; the lives of wild animals end brutally, painfully and prematurely all the time. To interfere hinders the action of natural selection to produce better adapted animals and undoubtedly causes temporary stress to the patients. On the other hand, when I see something suffering, I want to help. Maybe that’s selfish and self-satisfying; but then maybe the young pigeon will get to fly off and fulfil its simple desires to eat, roost and raise chicks. Humans put their animal neighbours through a lot so perhaps when we can give something back, we should.

Update! Coventry Wildlife Rescue sent over a lovely message about how the last pigeon was doing. Apparently he is recovering well! How nice are these guys?

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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!

Honestly, I’m not a vet.

My family are very supportive of my career goals and I don’t mean to offend anyone by writing about their questions; they’ve put up with all sorts of biology trivia and gory detail at the dinner table over the years. I really love it when anyone asks me an animal-related question. However, I am absolutely not qualified to give medical advice and I won’t be until at least 2022. As a result, I have to try and divert their misplaced faith in my animal-healing abilities…

Last weekend I went home for my birthday. My mum hugged me, wished me a happy birthday and told me there was “a problem”. “I found a baby rabbit in the hall,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be hurt but would you take a look at it?”

Continue reading “Honestly, I’m not a vet.”

Common health problems in dairy cows

I’ve seen several articles recently which compare dairy cows to high performing athletes. Although they don’t inspire the same awe in the public audience or compete at the Olympics, the lactating cow’s metabolism works at an impressively high rate to convert feed into huge volumes of milk. Unfortunately, this incredible production comes at a cost and our dairy cows do suffer from a variety of common health problems, the most frequent of which I’ve been reading up on.

Continue reading “Common health problems in dairy cows”

A dangerous job – on Countryfile!

My little sister sent me a link to this episode of Countryfile where they talk about the dangers vets face when working with livestock. I think they used a lot of the same references as my post on the same subject. The programme is available for a few more weeks if you want to take a look.

Oh and bonus material with this post….

 

An update on Olaf

Olaf had a vet appointment today as he hasn’t been improving as we’d hoped. Thankfully since moving here we’ve found a fantastic vet who has paid great attention to my small pets. I had worried about the “little pets aren’t so important” attitudes you hear of but this practice has been wonderful with one of my hamsters and now with Olaf.

Continue reading “An update on Olaf”