Why you should ask to see your pet’s medical notes

‘Notice from your vets’ said the email subject. I clicked and there was a letter telling me that my vet was sacking me as a client with two weeks’ notice, even though I had a sick dog. This was because I had asked to see my dog’s notes and discovered they had been discussing me, not just the dog, behind my back – because I had pointed out a mistake. The more astonishing thing is that the mistake was not made by them, but by another vet who had missed an infection my spaniel was suffering from, which was why I took the poor pooch to this other vet, who

My mare has had a ‘misalliance’ with a pint-sized stallion

My favourite vet came to see Darcy and immediately put his finger on the problem. Dusk was falling when he climbed out of his battered 4×4 in khaki shorts and crumpled T-shirt, sun-burned, muddy and sweaty from the day’s call-outs. He is a victim of his own brilliance, and the decades of experience that have made him invaluable. Everyone asks for him, and he tries to get to his favourite clients even though he ought to be retired. It was 7.45 p.m. and after me he was heading for a traveller site in Croydon. He does not discriminate. He’s my kind of hero. We had Darcy standing ready by the

An extraordinary fracas at the vet

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

Real life – 17 October 2019

Just before Tara left us, the old chestnut mare used to enjoy standing at the bottom gate watching the sun go down. So when I caught Gracie the skewbald pony doing the same thing one evening, a look of complete serenity on her face, I felt a shiver through my spine. I’m used to my cheeky pony being full of herself, shrugging me off as I attempt to pet her. ‘What have you got?’ is her refrain, accompanied by a brazen nuzzling of pockets. Standing peacefully watching the sunset, perfectly still, the breeze blowing her mane, was not like her at all. When she did it again a few evenings

Pet health insurance is a scam

‘The reason vets are so expensive now,’ explained the vet in her snazzy green uniform, ‘is because we can do so much more.’ I was standing in the waiting room of the veterinary practice with the silly name: the corporate, expensively branded chain vet I said I would never go to, but have to when the sensible Israeli chap I prefer is booked up. I tried to say nothing but sadly this wasn’t possible. ‘Yes, but that doesn’t make doing more right, does it? I mean, putting wheels on a dog, is that right?’ She looked back at me askance. She had her RSPCA magazine on the coffee table. I

Real life | 19 July 2018

Instead of carpeting the upstairs of the house, I had grass fragments removed from the dogs’ ears. I can’t say I enjoyed the grass removals as much as I might have enjoyed having carpet to walk on. I had picked out a lovely stripy pattern that wouldn’t show the dirt, and was really looking forward to not slashing my feet with splinters every time I stepped out of bed on to bare floorboards. But then Cydney and Poppy managed to coordinate the shoving of razor-sharp pieces of vegetation down their lugholes, hospitalising themselves just a week apart. Cydney was first, dashing around the green outside the house and diving headlong

Real life | 25 January 2018

The vet who is unhappy that I cracked a joke about vets has received the backing of the British Veterinary Association. This strangely brittle organisation, having nothing better to do, apparently, has put out a fantastically pious statement denouncing me for daring to joke that vets are expensive and that some seem keen to diagnose the worst-case scenario. The BVA posted its statement on social media, an action that inevitably led to the usual snowflakestorm: how very dare I make fun of (fill in offended group)… Fine, asI said last week I’m happy to do away with humour if that’s what people want. Let’s just deal with the facts. A

Is pet insurance a worthwhile investment?

We are famously a nation of animal lovers, so I suppose it’s not too surprising that one in two British households owning some form of pet. There are an estimated £20 million pets in the UK, so pet-related industries are not a bad area to be involved in. (This number, by the way, doesn’t include horses; there are around a million of those, too). And, as one of the nation’s pet-owners, I suppose I do my fair share of contributing to the pet industry. But there’s one area in particular I’ve been thinking about recently: the area of pet insurance. I recently acquired a puppy, but the question was, should

Real life | 30 November 2017

After a week of cold hosing, I decided I would have to get the vet to the small swelling on Gracie’s leg. ‘Dear Lord, be merciful,’ I prayed. But I knew that the quantity of mercy I would be shown would very much depend on the vet who came. My usual vet is the last good vet in the world — the only vet in the western hemisphere who will make a realistic appraisal of a horse’s condition and give a quote for what can be realistically mended at a morally defensible price, by which I mean a price that will fix the horse without breaking the human owner. Consequently,

Real life | 4 August 2016

One look at Grace when I went to get her in from the field, and I knew she had eaten herself to the verge of oblivion. Leaving the horses kicking their heels up in the field, while we went to France for a break from them, was always going to have mixed results. This is because, like Jack Sprat and his wife, one eats too much while the other eats too little. While Darcy the thoroughbred picks daintily at the grass, the pony is as greedy as Mr Creosote in Monty Python. I have known Gracie to eat so much she has burped. And horses, it is well known, cannot

Real life | 3 March 2016

Darcy trod on a screw. Five little words which, if Darcy was anything other than a thoroughbred horse, might signify nothing more dramatic than a rummage through the medicine cabinet and the application of a plaster. But of course Darcy is a thoroughbred horse. And I did end up mothering equine and not human children. Remind me, please, why I did that? Oh yes, something about me never quite working out how to do life like normal people do it, and finding myself, as middle age bore down on me, only able to commune with creatures possessing four legs. Four very delicate, finely balanced legs in Darcy’s case. An expensive

Real life | 11 February 2016

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

Real life | 28 January 2016

My attempt to have a small cyst removed from the spaniel was always going to be fraught with difficulty. My vets are in a posh area of London and have a name that sounds like a multinational reinsurance broker. This is because similar amounts of money go through their books. To save their blushes, let’s call them Simon Fleece and Associates. When I call, the line rings a few times, then there is a pause before it begins to ring again in a different tone. When it answers, a girl says: ‘Simon Fleece and Associates answering service how may I help?’ My formerly friendly local vet is now so big

The James Herriot of Africa

Great Rift Valley The mare hangs her head; her neck is swollen, her eyes bloody red, crammed by flies. She has horse sickness, a mainly tropical disease transmitted by midges. ‘All OK?’ asks the stud manager. ‘Not at all,’ says Hugh Cran. ‘Horse sickness is very serious, with a high mortality. We shall have to see.’ The manager looks worried, but at least he was able to call out Hugh, who for nearly 50 years has been a farm and family vet in Kenya’s Rift Valley. A dog disembowelled by hippo tusks, snakebite, big wild beasts, sick camels, exotic tropical plagues, mad upcountry ranchers, the perils of the equatorial road.

Real life | 5 November 2015

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.

Real life | 6 August 2015

The vet bill has been sitting on my desk for three weeks. All vet bills are cruel and unusual but this one is even more so than most. It only came about because the owner of the yard where I had the horses until recently kept telling me they were lame. They didn’t look lame to me. ‘Maybe she’s just tweaked herself in the field?’ I said, as we trotted Grace the skewbald pony up and down. ‘She’s lame as ****!’ he declared, in his charming horseman’s patois. The thoroughbred filly, meanwhile, he declared utterly beyond help. ‘She’s club-footed,’ he growled. ‘Well, maybe one front hoof’s a bit taller than

Rule number one for horse-owners: every accident that happens to a horse is a freak accident

Every accident that happens to a horse is a freak accident. Rule number one. Once you grasp that as a horse-owner you are on your way to understanding the nature of the bind you are in. When Gracie went suddenly lame on a routine hack a few years ago, you may remember, it turned out she had trodden on a piece of old animal bone, which pierced the soft part of her foot. The bone fragment travelled upwards, turned right and sliced into her flexor tendon. The head surgeon at Liphook equine hospital emerged from his operating theatre that night to declare that the chance of an injury like that

I need a syringe full of ketamine to survive a visit to the vet

The vet arrived at the stable yard wearing his customary grin. He is the happiest man I know. Of course he is. As he once explained to me, horses may be incredibly badly designed for the purposes of the horse-owner, but they are spectacularly well designed for the purposes of equine veterinary practices. ‘Don’t you dare look smug,’ I told him, as he whistled his way into the thoroughbred filly’s stable. ‘If this is bad, you’d better get a syringe full of sedative ready for me because I am going to go nuts.’ ‘Ha haaa!’ he laughed, ecstatically. ‘I’m serious. I want ketamine.’ ‘Ha haaa! Good one, Mel!’ He sounded