After rushing our little spaniel to the veterinary hospital on the usual bank holiday emergency basis upon which all animals seem to get sick, we were held up by the most extraordinary fracas.
The builder boyfriend carried her in, wrapped in a blanket, and we sat ourselves down anxiously to wait.
But in the reception area of this smart animal hospital in Surbiton was a family who were engaged in a dispute with a desperate-looking young vet about the bill they had just run up for their fitting poodle.
The scrappy white pooch stood on the floor heaving quietly as they shouted that there was no way they were paying for the lengthy consultation they had just had as they were on benefits. Suddenly, the poodle began drooling saliva on to the floor and the young vet, a bearded hipster type, snatched the dog up and rushed him back into the consulting room shouting: ‘He’s fitting again!’
As the vet clattered about trying to save the poodle, its owner, a woman so scary-looking I confess I would not have admitted her to the building, carried on ranting about the ‘blasted cheek of these people’ presenting her with a bill.
‘What’s the matter with ’em, eh?’ she shouted in our direction, as we sat frozen in our seats, little Cydney curled up on the BB’s lap and me stroking her head as she whimpered in pain.
I whispered to the BB: ‘She could be here arguing for hours. Shall I ask if there is another vet?’
But the BB pointed out it was bank holiday and the likelihood was that the bearded hipster determined to dispense healing to a non-paying customer was the only vet.
‘I usually ga’ da’n Blue Cross, dun’ I?’ said the woman, who was bedecked in heavy jewellery and a hooded sweat-top bearing the name of a horribly local animal charity. ‘Waggy Tails Sanctuary’. Or some such. You just knew this was the back garden of a house in, for example, Chessington, where 25 dogs in various states of disarray were being hoarded under the guise of ‘rescuing’.
The poodle, it transpired, was 14 years old and had various long-term conditions. But she was hopping mad that the young vet wouldn’t stop its degenerative neurological disorder right there and then, at 7 p.m. on a bank holiday, for free.
‘Otherwise I ga’ da’n the RSPCA,’ she continued, as we winced and tried not to engage with her.
Cydney made a yelping sound as a bolt of pain shot through her. We suspected a burst cyst, which she’s been prone to. ‘We need to get her admitted before it gets worse,’ I whispered frantically to the builder b. ‘These people could be here all night arguing. Shall we say something?’
He said we should keep quiet, for truly the woman looked like she might throw a mean punch if challenged. She was with another woman, just as scary-looking, as well as a younger girl who we took to be her daughter, and the girl’s boyfriend.
The girl was crying to herself over the poodle while her mother and friend raged on about the cheek of the vet for asking them to pay a £350 bill.
‘I’m going to offer to pay for it,’ I told the BB, in a panic. ‘Otherwise this could go on all night and Cydney needs seeing right now.’
‘Don’t,’ he said. And at that moment, the vet came back out with the poodle, who had stopped fitting again, and told the woman he would waive the outstanding £350, but would need paying if they admitted the dog for more treatment.
Thankfully, she had a shred of decency, for as Cydney let out the most pathetic whimper of pain, the woman turned to us and said: ‘Oh dear. Perhaps you better see that one while we decide.’
The vet agreed, and we were taken in. Cydney was quickly admitted to the hospital and I was told I would get a call in a few hours when they had scanned her and put her on pain relief.
Outside, as we made our way to my small Peugeot, we bumped into the woman and her brood standing by their enormous brand new Audi 4x4 discussing their plan to go da’n the Blue Cross the next day. Our other spaniel Poppy was sitting on the back seat looking anxiously out of the window.
‘’Ere,’ the woman said to us, ‘them dogs is lucky you own ’em, int’ they?’
I presumed she was referring to the way I had instantly agreed to the estimate of thousands of pounds and paid a deposit of £500 using a credit card. How could she know that the card was dangerously near maxed out and that I had no idea where the balance would be coming from? This is how the other half live.