A letter has arrived summoning me to parents’ evening to discuss Cydney’s progress. Yes, I am aware that Cydney is a dog. But it seems that my vet is not aware. Or if he is, he is doing a good impression of pretending she is entitled to the same checks and balances the state affords children.
‘Dear Miss Kite and Cydney (Byrecoc Cinemon Jonquil),’ began the letter. I called the spaniel to heel as I read, telling her, ‘Cydney, you better listen up because you’ve got mail.’
‘We have noticed,’ the letter went on, ‘that it is soon time for you to come in to the surgery for a visit.
‘This will give us the opportunity to say hello, complete a comprehensive health check and make sure there is adequate cover against preventable disease by administering the annual booster vaccinations.
‘This is also a great time to let us know how you and Cydney (Byrecoc Cinemon Jonquil) have been getting on...’
Getting on? What, in a social capacity? Or was the vet insinuating there might be subtle developmental problems requiring professional intervention — dog autism, perhaps?
‘...and answer any questions you may have.’ Questions? What questions? I’ve been the owner of this spaniel for three years. I think if I had a question I would have asked it by now. I did once have some questions, like, ‘Why won’t she sit no matter how much I ask? Why does she think she is human and entitled to sleep in my bed, under the duvet with her head on the pillow? Why will she only eat Lily’s Kitchen at £2.50 a tin?’
But the time for addressing those issues has past. I have given in to all of it. I have a gun dog who has become a lap dog. Any musings about this are entirely metaphysical and best answered by a philosopher, not a vet, along with, ‘Why is my gun dog afraid of bangs? Thunder, fireworks, gunfire — all make her cower behind my legs.’
That is not much use if one is trying to get her to pick up pheasants. Ah, but hang on, now I think about it, I do have a question for puppy parents’ evening.
How come vets order pet owners to vaccinate their animals every year for their entire life?
I fancy this too is existential. To the unsuspecting pet owner, it might appear that the annual booster demand — with or without parents’ evening Q&A session — is purely to do with the animal’s needs.
But when you look into it, it seems also to involve a complex yearning of the human soul for what is known as a ‘licence to print money’, or ‘money for old rope’ or ‘having a laugh’.
I began delving into the issue because the demands for my three horses and one dog all come in October and nearly bankrupt me. It’s £50 for the dog, once they’ve had me in there for an hour grilling me about her welfare and developmental opportunities, whether she’s enjoying P.E., and so on.
It’s hundreds for the horses because even though they live within a few minutes’ drive of each other, that’s still three separate call-out charges, before the vaccine costs.
This year, I made matters worse for myself by asking the vet, as he jabbed Darcy with flu and tetanus at the racing yard, if he thought the raised bump on her neck was a sarcoid. ‘No.’ The cost of that ‘no’ induced suicidal thoughts.
Desperate for mercy as another vet injected Gracie the pony a few days later, I asked if it was really necessary to drive round the corner to a nearby field, racking up a hundred quid on the way, to jab Tara, the retired mare, who is 30.
She probably only needed tetanus, the vet advised, and tetanus lasts two years so nothing was due until next year. Grace only had flu this year too. ‘Oh goody,’ I said. ‘That must be cheaper?’ Not really. Turns out flu and tet is £38, while flu on its own is £35.
And so to Cydney. Last year, when the vet jabbed the bejesus out of her with a combined vaccine, it brought her out in warts.
When I rang to make my appointment after getting the letter, therefore, I asked the receptionist to tell me exactly what jabs she needed.
After a lot of science blinding, he conceded that, as she had been given distemper, hepatitis, pavo, flu and leptospirosis, along with an extra lepto booster for good measure last year (no wonder she still has the warts), she was only due a single lepto top-up this year.
‘Great,’ I said, ‘how much?’ ‘£40.’ ‘But it was £40 last year for six boosters!’
‘Yes, but we charge £38.84 for the consul. The comprehensive check-up?’ said the receptionist, sounding offended. ‘Yes, I know. I’ll see you at parents’ evening.’