The note written in our appointments diary made alarming reading. ‘Cat — been stuck in washing machine,’ it said. I didn’t need to do my usual ‘So, what seems to be the problem?’ as a distraught young woman came rushing into the surgery carrying a kitten in a box.
‘Oh my God!’ she gasped. ‘She’s been in the washing machine! I didn’t notice till too late! She’s been in the washing machine for half-an-hour!’
This was very bad news. The little creature must have clambered into the drum looking for a cosy bed, or sniffing socks (a surprisingly popular activity among my feline clients), before the door was closed and the appliance switched on.
Woolly jumpers: Julian gets to grips with some lambs... but often has to deal with more exotic creatures
‘Luckily, it was only set for a half load, so it didn’t fill right up to the top,’ continued the pale and shaking owner. ‘I managed to stop it before it went through the spin cycle.’
Just as well, I thought. No animal, especially a tiny one like this, is going to be feeling its best after being whizzed round at 1,200 revolutions per minute.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when the kitten emerged from its box. It was very wet (having missed the spin cycle, obviously) and small, as are most animals after a thorough soaking. Its feet were splayed out and — this was very odd — its body and head were moving rhythmically round and round, as if still in the washing machine.
The kitten’s face was staring forward and it was intently trying to focus straight ahead, presumably searching for anything that was stationary. On closer inspection, its eyes were going round and round, too, rather in the style of a Tom And Jerry cartoon. This was one dizzy little cat.
Miraculously, though, it had not inhaled any water. And I had just the thing to treat it: a brand-new injection for motion sickness and nausea in animals.
By the next morning, after a towel-dry and a long sleep, it was good as new again. And on the plus side, it was lovely and clean.
That little kitten is typical of the small domestic animals that make up the bulk of the workload at our beautiful practice in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.
A kitten survived half an hour in a washing machine after its frantic owner stopped it before spin and brought it in
As a result of the ravages of BSE and foot and mouth disease in the past 20 years or so, where once we had between 90 and 100 farms on our books, there are now just two or three. James Herriot, the most famous vet of all (real name Alf Wight), who inspired a generation of young practitioners and put our surgery on the map with his phenomenally successful tales of cows and sheep, pigs and horses, would truly be astonished.
Instead, our waiting room has filled with pets of every kind: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, rats and many more. And the day book contains exotic newcomers such as alpaca and even — in one of my more memorable cases — a Burmese python.
Now, I don’t mind admitting it: I am scared of snakes. They are, in fact, the only animal of which I am genuinely nervous. Not only that, but I know relatively little about them.
So when I heard that the RSPCA needed my services to help them assess a case of possible neglect involving a 10ft python, I was less than enthusiastic.
The story was this: the RSPCA had been called to a house where the owners had been away for a week and the neighbours were worried.
Julian admits his fear of snakes as he was confronted with a Burmese python out on a job with RSPCA animal charity
There were rabbits in a hutch in the garden and other animals in the house that hadn’t been looked after for several days.
My job was to check up on the health of these pets, even though the owners had now returned.
On the day in question I pulled up outside the house and took a deep breath. The RSPCA inspector, whom I knew well, briefed me, and I had a look at the rabbits.
They appeared healthy and had a large pile of food in their clean hutch. Although it’s never a good idea to leave any animal unattended, they were well-fed and comfortable.
Not so, though, the python, which we found curled up and looking ominously still in a large glass tank in the main bedroom of the house.
We couldn’t see it well enough to make a proper decision, as its heat lamp and light had been turned off, but the outline of its numerous coils was obvious enough. All eyes were on me: two inspectors and the owners, to give my expert veterinary opinion. Trouble was, I didn’t have one.
Just as the silence was threatening to go on a bit, I remembered some advice from an old colleague: ‘If in doubt, plug your stethoscope in your ears. It makes it look as if you know what you’re doing, and you don’t have to listen to what anybody else is saying.’
In the minutes that followed, I pondered my options. I remembered from vet school that snakes can go ages without food and that, when cold, they can go into a deep torpor. Measure its heartbeat? It dawned on me that I didn’t really have any clear idea where a snake’s heartbeat was.
After being warned off by the owners when he wanted to find the snake's heartbeat it was finally uncovered it had died prior to Julian's visit
To this day, I still don’t know — because, as I finally plucked up the courage to plunge my stethoscope into the tank, there was a loud shout from the creature’s owner. ‘Stop!’ he yelled. ‘He’s really dangerous with people he doesn’t know!’ Great. Huge, and dangerous to boot.
At last, I came up with a plan. I would suggest re-warming the python by turning on its heat lamp. Then I would return in a few days’ time to see it happy, awake and slithering about and I wouldn’t need to handle it at all. Job done. Everyone seemed satisfied and, with a cheery goodbye, I drove off.
A week later, my plan didn’t look quite so great. It turned out that the snake had been dead all along, and that turning on the lamp had merely hastened the process of decomposition — a distinctly malodorous affair.
The owners (had they known it was dead before they went on holiday?) received a stern reprimand from the RSPCA, and a lesson in animal management. As for me, it had been one of my less auspicious cases, confirming in my mind once and for all that I definitely like my patients to have legs. Preferably four.
The Yorkshire Vet team (l-r): Zoe Laycock, Kate Fleetman. Third row: Marion Baldini. Second row (l-r): India Grewal, Sylvia Binks, Zoe Logan, Rachael Cook, Helen Blackburn. First row (l-r): Haddie Mills, Esme Telfer, Julian Norton, Peter Wright, Helen Quartermaine
One of my favourite four-legged customers is Harvey, a labrador who belongs firmly to the ‘act first, think later’ school of thought. He is one of life’s enthusiasts, and unfussy about what goes in his mouth.
I first met him at the surgery when he was just a pup. He’d spent the afternoon indulging his passion for investigating bees, one of which had retaliated by stinging him hard on the nose. The result was a very swollen face and eyes so puffy he could barely see out.
But Harvey didn’t seem a bit bothered. His tail continued to wag vigorously as I gave him a steroid injection to make the swelling go down, and I thought what a lovely dog he was. I felt sure it wouldn’t be long before I was seeing him again.
The next time we met, Harvey had been out for his morning walk around Sowerby Flatts, a lovely area of common land on either side of Cod Beck, the small river that flows through Thirsk on its way to the River Swale. It is a great place for dogs, and clients often walk across the fields on their way to the surgery.
On this Saturday morning, Harvey had spent his walk pouncing on molehills. After several attempts, he had managed to catch a mole before it scuttled underground, flipping it in the air with his nose, catching it in his jaws — and swallowing it whole.
Harvey’s owner, Anne, had rushed him to the practice. There was great urgency in her voice as she told me: ‘Julian — it’s Harvey! He’s swallowed a mole. Whole!’
I could tell from Harvey’s carefree expression and his ever-wagging tail that, as always, he was absolutely fine. He remained eminently cheerful as I placed a stethoscope on his abdomen and listened intently.
‘Oh, my word! Anne, I can hear the mole squeaking in there!’
Obviously, this wasn’t true, but I knew I could have a joke with Anne. After a brief moment, during which a look of utter horror crossed her face, she burst out laughing.
Julian with a new born Alpaca at its mother farm, Thirsk
Harvey was none the worse for his ordeal and, after a bottle of laxative to smooth the mole’s passage through his long-suffering insides, all was well. His entertaining exploits paled into insignificance, however, compared with the activities of one of the Great Danes on our client list.
It never ceases to amaze me that people are surprised when their dogs, left on their own for long periods of time and bored, seek comfort by chewing the furniture, or their absent owners’ lovely smelly footwear.
This animal was a dramatic case in point. ‘Great Dane. Eaten sofa. Please call.’ It was another of those dire messages from one of our receptionists.
A sofa? Surely not? I couldn’t believe it was entirely true. But when my colleague, Jon, and I arrived at the animal’s home, we found it had indeed made impressive inroads into its owners’ soft furnishings — so much so that it took the two of us the best part of a night to extract three cushions’ worth of foam and fabric from its vast intestinal tract.
By around 3.30am, we had learned, or had reinforced, this valuable lesson: a sofa may be enormous — but so is a Great Dane’s stomach.
Underestimate dogs’ ability to swallow inappropriate items at your peril — and lock up your furniture!
As our busy waiting room bears testimony, pets are, more than ever, integral to family life, with their owners expecting them to receive veterinary care on a par with that offered by the medical profession.
The popular TV vet talks about his love for a Labrador called Harvey who often acted before thinking and after being discharged was rushed in when he ate a mole - whole!
This, and the advent of extraordinary technological advances, provides us with some fantastic opportunities to push the boundaries of veterinary medicine that James Herriot would never have dreamed possible.
Which is why when a Leeds-based TV company approached us in March 2015 with the idea of filming a series based around our practice, we decided to go ahead. It would be a boost for the local community and a real chance to show the world how the town has evolved since Herriot’s days.
One of the first cases I filmed with Izzy, the director and camerawoman, was that of Lothario, the stud alpaca. As I’ve said, these creatures are newcomers to our practice, and I have greatly enjoyed getting to understand their mysteries.
I had received a call from Jackie, who owned a beautiful herd of these delightful animals.
She asked if I could perform a fertility examination on Lothario, who wasn’t performing quite as expected. I agreed, with a large amount of trepidation. I had performed fertility tests on countless bulls and rams, but alpacas were altogether more sensitive creatures, and I would be in unfamiliar territory.
Having a camera crew following me as I tried to extract a semen sample from a reluctant participant only added to my anxiety.
Great Dane: Julain said it took two of them the best part of a night to extract three cushions’ worth of foam and fabric from a Great Dane's vast intestinal tract after it literally ate its owner's sofa
I greeted Jackie as usual, but knowing that every moment of our conversation was being caught on film felt very odd. What was to follow was even more peculiar.
I assembled my equipment and set up the microscope ready to examine the semen sample I was hoping to collect from Lothario. In bulls and rams, a probe is used to provide the necessary stimulation in the animals’ nether regions. But this was not appropriate in alpacas, and our research had told us that we needed some enthusiastic females to tempt Lothario into action.
Optimistically, Jackie was on standby with a sandwich bag. The plan was to tempt Lothario with the female, then intervene at the correct moment to capture a sample of semen, which I would then analyse. How simple it all sounded.
A female was marched in to the large pen where the alpaca date was to take place. Head held high and eyes wide open with excitement, she was obviously game and up for action this morning. Lothario, on the other hand, was very much less enthusiastic.
After several half-hearted attempts to climb on top of the female, it became clear that he was not living up to his name. Jackie knew that some alpacas were more selective than others, so a second female was brought into the pen, closely followed by a third. Some casual flirting continued but, again, no real action.
The Yorkshire Vet returns to Channel 5 tomorrow
Glancing between Izzy, who was meticulously capturing all of this on film, Laura, the associate producer and fluffy boom holder, and Jackie and her helpers, revealed a steadily rising level of mirth. The final straw came when Jackie decided to introduce another male to the mix, declaring: ‘I’ll bring in another boy. Sometimes, another boy gets things going.’
Izzy looked expectantly at me to make a comment. The first thing that popped into my head was: ‘This is turning into a proper alpaca orgy.’ We all fell about laughing and the camera stopped rolling. In medical terms, the morning had been a complete disaster. As an introduction to the filming process, on the other hand, it had been entertaining and great fun.
Some things never change. Technology may have moved on and veterinary practice reinvented itself, but those wonderful characters at the heart of it all, the animals themselves — in all their gloriously hilarious, exasperating and endearing forms — are exactly the same as those depicted by the incomparable James Herriot all those years ago. As he once so memorably said: if only they could talk!
This news has been published by title The Most Pampered Pets In The World? Two Rabbits Live Life Of Luxury In A £10,000 HUTCH
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