The 25th FECAVA EuroCongress

When opening the FECAVA EuroCongress in St.Petersburg, I was inwardly smiling to myself and was thinking: “Well, you should have seen me last week in my builder’s overall, cleaning the pipework of our old house in Oxford and hauling rubbish to the local tip…..”

It just showed that the enjoyment of life is often created through contrasts.

The Congress had taken five years of planning and many hours of hard work, mainly by our Russian colleagues, who so desperately wanted to get the event to St.Petersburg. It all had started in fact some 20 years ago when the Russian association joined FECAVA, following an epic trip to Novosibirsk by a mixed team of French, Slovakian and Russian colleagues. Thankfully no limbs were lost due to frostbite and as a result of the trip, the reach of our “European” organisation was extended to Vladivostok…..

Instead of the usual 800 – 1000 delegates, the event this time had attracted over 3000 participants, including circa 1000 delegates from outside of Russia and a fair amount of national and international veterinary students. This I made to the key message in my brief opening presentation: that rather then just gaining knowledge (very important – no question), delegates should take the opportunity to communicate and to network with each other, which at least on an international level appears to be in a decline these days.

A great start was, that the main award at the opening ceremony went to Alexandru Vitalaru, a very entertaining and enthusiastic lecturer from Romania, who had inspired a large number of colleagues – not only in his home country – with his fresh approach towards veterinary nephrology and dialysis.

The scientific programme was arranged by David Senior and featured both European and American speakers. David had to explain the secret of his success at a concurrently held meeting of the prestigious Baltic Forum, sufficiently steadied by the odd water glass of Calvados (!) on the insistence of our Russian hosts and he exhausted not less than three interpreters.

The presence of a large number of veterinary students was so encouraging at this event and the broad spectrum of universities involved was helped by our Student Travel Scholarship programme. But more about that later…..

Among many guests I was able to welcome Geoff Chen

the President of FASAVA, the Federation of Asian Small Animal Veterinary Associations, who had traveled to St.Petersburg from China, following the invitation we extended last year at the WSAVA Congress in Singapure.

The Congress saw also the end of my tenure as FECAVA President,

when I handed over the responsibility for this unique group of amazing people from nearly forty different nations (!) to my friend and colleague Denis Novak.

The veterinary profession at work in St.Petersburg

Calling in a favour from my friend Alexander Tchakov, I took the opportunity to visit a couple of veterinary clinics in St.Petersburg ahead of the FECAVA EuroCongress which opening the next day.

Right after breakfast I was collected by Sasha, one of the clinics’ administrators and we were heading first for the impressive Kalininskaya Clinic which is managed by Ludmila Pavlovna.

My first impression was that I hadn’t seen such a spotless clinic for long time.

The clinic has 8(?) veterinarians and features both an MRI and a CT

They have their own in-house laboratory and by the look of it a managable case load.

Everyone was extremely welcoming and accommodating. Not at least Madame Pavlovna who decided that I looked undernourished and so treated me to a customary Russian lunch with a lot of home cooked food

Sufficiently strengthened we headed off for Promorski District Veterinary Clinic.

Here too a spotless building and a few more patients.

I was informed that the clinic has specialists for surgery,internal medicine and feline medicine and the state funded vaccination clinics had ensured that the St.Petersburg region had stayed rabies free for 30(?) years.

Interesting in comparison to our clinics in the UK was the “infusion room” where clients can stay with their pets while i/v medication is been administered.

Apparently this is something most pet owners are expecting in Russia and the clinic is meeting this demand.

Both clinics were truly an impressive sight and they showed what a big step forward Russian companion animal veterinary medicine has made over the last 20 years.

So – time to attend the first European Small Animal Veterinary Congress in Russia….

Cat Cafe St.Petersburg

Ok, why not try to combine two things I like ?……

Shortly after my arrival in St.Petersburg, I gave the obligatory stroll along Nevsky Prospect a defined endpoint, which I had planned to visit for a long time – a cat cafe!

The idea is not new and although it is a controversial concept, it appears that a lot of people seem to like it, considering the fast growing number of similar places all over the globe.

The cafe close to St.Isaac’s Cathedral was not easy to miss with its unique feline sculpture guarding the entrance

Once inside you find yourself in a stylish coffee place with a lot of feline themed decorative items – most of which are for sale – , but with no “real” cat in sight. The cat inspired Menue

doesn’t get you any further, until the eyes settles on the door of a rather large wardrobe……

And sure enough :

After parting with another 400 rubels, washing your hands and covering the soles of your shoes

the door of the wardrobe opens and you step inside the area that is giving the cafe its name, just that coffee is no longer allowed here….

A tribe of 18 cats of various sizes and breeds controls the area and the individual cats appear to be not too interested in their two legged visitors. Up to 15 people per hour can enjoy this feeling and are not allowed to pick any of the cats up. As humans are so common visitors, most cats ignore them and regard them mainly as moving obstacles and as twice daily provider of food ( which is not a great difference to my own cat…..)

Feeding time clearly is the highlight of the day for most cats.

Speaking to the supervisor/carer, I learn that although all cats appear pretty relaxed, the group is in constant change with some cats being adopted or leave the colony due to illness.

To avoid the introduction of germs all visitors have to cover their shoes and have to wash their hands before entering from the cafe. There is also a regular vet visit once weekly.

Visiting shortly before closing time in the evening had the advantage that only a few other visitors were there and that I could take my time, just sitting down and observing the feline interaction.

Cat cafes like this one are controversial, but I have to admit that I found it an entertaining and calming experience and I walked away with my loyalty card

– just in case that I happen to return for another visit……

The difference of four weeks or “Patient 58”…

This morning I am again sitting in a plane with a coffee in my hand crossing the North Sea heading for Russia via Stockholm.

Behind me (and at times the whole family) are four weeks of a very different life with at times fourteen hour working days, filled with plastering, plumbing, rewiring, painting, flooring and all sorts of other forms of physical labour at a house we bought in the center of Oxford – my “Patient 58″…..

Many years ago I did a somewhat similar thing when I interrupted my vet course at university after a couple of years and worked for three months in an iron factory. Not only did it pay for a trip to Australia, it also focused my mind and showed me how lucky I was, being able to sit in a lecturing theatre and looking forward to a life of treating animals, rather than to standing on the factory floor at 6 am drilling holes into turbines and greasing engines.

With my “Oxfordian (bricks and mortar) Patient” I took the opportunity to apply my veterinary skills to a completely different task and to transform a pretty run down Victorian townhouse into a pleasant place to live in while studying in this beautiful town. Also thrown into be deal was the probably unique opportunity of working on a project together with my sons and some of their friends and learning more about the things that matter in their lifes.

As you can see “Number 58” needed help and rather a lot of it……

Still being jetlagged from our return trip from the Americas, we set up camp on the old mattresses in the basement and set to work – all the time in the knowledge that the first tenants were due to move in on 1st of September.

In the four weeks that followed, I don’t think that we made too bad a job – judging by the before and after images:

Four weeks later, with me having lost 3 kg of weight and being in desperate need for a shave, the patient was “discharged” with the first student moving in a day earlier than planned and me looking forward to the next adventure the life as a vet has to offer….

The Oxford Cat Clinic

As the Oxfordian bricks and mortar patient is steadily improving (at least until I drilled holes in a couple of heating pipes underneath the floor boards….), I decided to remind myself of my “real” profession and to pay the local (exclusively) cat clinic a visit.

This was something I had planned for many years, but I was always too busy to get around to it – with hindsight I have to say, it was a big mistake that I didn’t do it sooner…..

Don’t get me wrong- I think that my team at Virginia Water is and always has been excellent with the handling of sometimes very challenging feline visitors, but the Oxford team put this again on a completely different level. Admittedly it helps having no dogs on the premises,but the calm and throughout the day relaxed, quiet and yet completely committed atmosphere of the whole team was inspiring and was transferred to the patients (and to their owners).

Every detail of the consulting rooms (which were held small with little opportunities for cats to hide) had been thought through and a lot of cats decided to stay in the base of their baskets where they felt safer and more comfortable

A lot of patients had been referred to the cat clinic with the history that they had been very anxious and were difficult to be examined. Taking a “softer” approach in a relaxed environment and if handling was likely to be difficult, electing at an early stage to use sedatives (before or during the consult) made the whole experience for everyone involved (especially the cats and their owners) so much less stressful, so that a lot of clients had traveled considerable distances just to have their cats seen here.

The information I gathered and all the little tips and tricks I picked up from the excellent nursing team will hopefully come handy in a month time in Yerevan in Armenia, where I am planning to give a presentation on this subject.

Needless to say that the day flew by in no time, but taking up Caroline Blundell on her kind offer, you bet that I will return for further visits in the very near future.

Getting students to international congresses

A nice, yet short break from my slowly improving patient in Oxford yesterday:

I took the soon unaffordable train from Farnborough to London (£43 for a return ticket!!…) and met with Independent Vet Care’s Director of HR Richard Parker to sign a sponsorship agreement between FECAVA and IVC to allow ten vet students from different European countries to attend the FECAVA Congress in 2020 and 2021.

This is a great opportunity for our young colleagues and something that was pretty much unthinkable when I was a vet student (even attending our national congress in Germany was unaffordable for us).

Animal welfare and veterinary medicine are issues that are truly international and the best way to understand this, is to communicate directly with fellow students and colleagues from other parts of the world.

It is something I have always enjoyed and I hope that more young colleagues will catch the travel bug……

My next patient…..

Back in the UK I have focused my attention now on a serious case of neglect in Oxford and this is certainly not an easy patient……

With being over 100 years old, a bit long in the teeth and in desperate need of a big dose of TLC.

The work is ranging from some wound drafting

over some issues with the circulatory system

to a serious case of colour blindness …….

I hope that over the next 4 weeks we will manage to stabilize this patient.

However, I already know that I will need all my skills of handling exotic species to dislodge the dorsal fin from the roof tiles…..

Oh yes, after all I had to do it……

For the last 2 weeks I had carried around a can of “Bear Spray” with me and had relied on it in case of a close encounter with one of the larger local predators, without really knowing if it would work if being used and how long the reach would be.

As I could not take it with me on the plane, it was time to try it out (without a bear….)…

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and the Bow Glacier Falls Trail

On our way back South from Jasper to Canmore along the Icefield Parkway we had booked one night at the iconic Num-Ti-Jah (meaning “Pinemarten” in the language of the Stone tribe which used to live here) Lodge on the shores of the Bow Lake.

This self built and by now pretty dated wooden structure was the lifetime work of “Jimmy” Simpson, a UK immigrant, and his family. Jimmy must have been one of these larger than life characters working as an outfitter, a mountain guide to the rich and famous, as a public speaker and as an artist pretty much until his death at the age of 95.

(Images taken from the NTJ Lodge)

He reminded me a bit of a similar character of my childhood, a South Tyrolian mountaineer and globetrotter called Louis Trenker who in the 70th had a television show where he just set behind a desk and told the stories of his colourful life. He too lived far into his nineties and remained a lifelong inspiration.

On our journey along the Icefield Parkway I ceased the opportunity to sit on a fully grown grizzly bear

and I learned my lesson never ever to ask for two scoops of ice cream in America….

We still arrived early enough at the lodge for me to us the wood fired house owned sauna

before enjoying dinner in the atmospheric Elkhorn Dining Room.

Getting up early the next day was rewarded with a blue sky and fabulous views of the lake, the surrounding glaciers and an outstanding hike to the Bow Glacier Falls.