After the £1,100 quote from the vet in London I drove down the A3 and out the other side of the Hindhead tunnel in search of affordable healthcare for the spaniel.
On the Surrey-Hampshire border, I found a well-recommended vet who had been in practice for 40 years and appeared to be still engaged in the treatment of animals for a small amount of money above the price of the labour and materials, claiming his reasonable costs back from the insurance rather than making the client pay up front.
He was past retirement age and clearly only practising for vocational reasons: a genuine fascination with veterinary medicine, a deep love of his job, and the satisfaction of curing much-loved pets.
The poor man will be censured by the veterinary professional bodies if they find out he is following such an outdated ethical code so I won’t give his identity away.
Rather than the eye-watering amount the London vet quoted me, he said the operation to remove the small lump would be £360 including lab fees. When I fumbled gratefully in my handbag to seal the deal, the cheery receptionist refused to take my debit card, saying there was no need to give them anything up front. I could settle the excess of £60 on my policy after the procedure and they would send off to the pet insurance for the rest.
The London vet had outlined a radical plan to cut away a small but significant surface area of my dog in a defensive op, just in case the lump turned out to be nasty. They would have to do chest X-rays first, they said, in case anything from the lump that might turn out to be nasty had spread. They also wanted to neuter her while she was under anaesthetic. My protestations that she was in season and therefore not suitable for spaying at that time seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Which was part of the reason (the estimate was the other part) I took her to get a second opinion.
The old vet reassured me that my instincts were right. He would not spay her until she came out of season. He would also not do any more radical a surgery than to remove just the pea-sized lump and see what it was.
I explained that the eager young London vet had warned me that I should err on the side of caution and go for a more radical op, because it was 50-50 the lump was something bad.
The old vet shook his head philosophically. ‘Yes, well,’ he said, a little wearily. ‘I’ve been in practice a lifetime and I’ve seen thousands of these lumps. I’ve been to dozens of seminars on them and heard all the latest theories, which come and go. At the last one I went to all the youngsters were getting excited by some new research until I asked where the sample dogs had come from. They had to admit they were all Japanese dogs. I pointed out that a Japanese dog might not be a good comparator for a European breed. Of course they hated me.’ He chuckled. ‘No, that didn’t go down at all well. Never mind, eh.’
I left Cydney with the old vet, hoping to goodness I was doing the right thing. She wiggled happily as the nurses took her out the back. She’s happy to be anywhere, bless her. She’s happy about everything. She’s delighted when it’s Monday and ecstatic when it’s Tuesday. She’s elated to find herself in a park and overjoyed to discover she’s at the vet. She doesn’t do anything but optimism. That’s why I love her so. I went home with my stomach in knots.
When I came back to collect her that evening, the receptionist presented me with a tin of recuperation dog food. It was the pricey sort so I fumbled in my bag again. ‘Don’t worry about that,’ she said. Then she went out the back to get the pooch, saying, ‘Come with me and see. She looks so sweet. She’s sleepy but keeps wagging her tail at us.’
Cydney was in a cage in a row of dog crates, all lined in thick sheepskin rugs. She was stretched out having a sleep but started wagging her tail with her eyes closed when she heard me.
The test results on the lump would be a week, they said. So I took the pup home and spent the time fretting, not sleeping, feeling sick, wishing it was me.
Six days later the receptionist rang to give me the news. The tests had come back clear. It was a benign lump. Then the phone rang again and the old vet himself came on the line to tell me how pleased he was. And I believed him.