It shouldn’t happen to a vet

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(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 20th June, & the Gazette & Herald on 22nd June 2018).

As I write this, I’m recovering from the emotional turmoil of watching the final episode of the latest series of The Yorkshire Vet. One of the main protagonists, Peter Wright, lost his beloved canine companion, 10-year-old Alf. Peter’s sadness was tangible, and hankies were a must.

I absolutely love the programme, love witnessing the ups and downs of life as a country vet, the trials and tribulations of treating the agricultural animal community, the roller-coaster of emotions every family experiences when a cherished pet is sick.

The stories are so engaging, and the compassion that Peter and his (then) colleague Julian Norton so obviously feel shines through and is reflected by the staff at their practice in Thirsk. Not only that, but the way it is filmed celebrates the rural beauty of North Yorkshire in a way that makes you feel proud and truly blessed to live here. What an asset for our tourism industry.

The programme ends on a positive note when Peter and his wife take home a kitten in need. It made me think about my dad, and how much he loved animals. Like Peter Wright, he wasn’t a cat ‘or’ dog person, but rather a cat ‘and’ dog person. He loved both equally, although we just had cats for the practical reason that they were easier to look after (and the fact that stray cats chose to adopt us, which had nothing to do with us kids bribing them to stay with food).

Dad was insistent that he never wanted a dog himself, which used to baffle me whenever I saw how he fussed over other people’s. And despite me pleading with him at least once every few months for the best part of the twenty years or so that I lived at home, he never caved in.

I must have inherited that side of his character, for I love both cats and dogs, and had two lovely rescue cats for about ten years. When they grew old and had to be put to sleep, I didn’t feel the need to replace them as by then I had my own litter of very energetic young puppies (known more commonly as ‘children’).

Just like the young me, they have pleaded to get a dog. Unlike my dad though, I eventually (sort of) caved in, but in a way that suits us all. Instead of having our own dog, we now look after other people’s. It means we get all the pleasure, but less of the pain of things like vets’ fees, kennel fees and, worst of all, of losing them. I’ve experienced a whole variety of breeds and temperaments and can honestly say I adore them all, and yet still enjoy the liberation of my dog-free days. Best of both worlds, I’d say.

Dad genuinely loved most animals, and had been fascinated by our bird population since childhood, so that by the time he started his columns, he was arguably a self-taught expert. In his column from June 24th 1978, he talks with clear passion about the songs of the warbler family, particularly the willow warbler that is so active at this time of year. He writes that he would find it difficult to describe the tune, but that an ornithologist he knew captured it perfectly: “The song of the willow warbler was like a sixpence spinning on a china plate, and being allowed to slowly come to rest.”

I had a go with a five pence piece on a saucer, but found it hard to recognise it as birdsong. However, I also have access to a trusty ornithological friend, also known as the RSPB website, and you can look up just about any native bird. Within seconds I’d found a video of the willow warbler in full song. I then understood where the reference to the sixpence came in, but to my mind it is more like the sound of a loose hub cap spiralling off and gradually spinning to rest in the middle of the road. Look it up, have a listen, and see if you agree.

(This is my 53rd column, so it means I’ve completed a full year! Thank you so much for reading them and for all the encouraging comments, letters and messages to date.)

Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

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