Touring Armenia in a Lada and nearly falling off my (high) horse…..

It slowly dawned on me that I was standing in front of the worst car I had every rented, when I realised that there were no seatbelts on the rear seats.

…..and this came on top of electric windows which only worked if the door was been held wide open ( not easy while driving at the same time……) and which unfortunately was necessary, as the heating was going full blast the whole time. In addition to this the brakes were VERY soft – or better: not to be relied on. The fuel gauge was always on half full regardless of the content in the tank, one of the head lights wasn’t working and the driver’s seat was missing a bolt, which meant that it took the best part of half an hour to get it back into place once it had been pushed forward.

So why stick with it ?!….

Because it was a Lada and it (to some degree) was normal for these sort of cars …..

Admittedly this Russian Off-Road dinosaur is now progressively disappearing from the streets of Yerevan, but when you are traveling in the countryside, you will find that you still blend in nicely. You can also assume that every blacksmith will be used to the somewhat limited technology underneath the bonnet and if something breaks, you can be sure that a spare can be sourced from somewhere around the corner.

And in addition to this, it just felt right while travelling through Armenia!

We – that were Ingrid Hang, a veterinary gastro-enterologist from Estonia, Nick Stuart, the former owner of the Vale Veterinary Group in Kidderminster, but these days mainly at home in his sailing boat in the Baltics and I, as the instigator of this trip – were trialing a new concept: bringing veterinary workshops and lectures (and a couple of donated ultrasound machines) to a remote part of Europe and climbing its highest mountain at the same time, or – to be precise – in the days before the CPD event.

And for something like this Armenia was perfect.

After settling in Yerevan and visiting a number of clinics to get a feel for the working conditions of our Armenian colleagues, we took our hiking equipment, a few gallons of water and some emergency phone numbers and fired up the old Lada, to leave Yerevan as early as possible to avoid the rush hour and the need to make use of our remaining millimeters of brake pads.

Getting used to the frequent potholes and to the livestock crossing the road we were first heading North towards Lake Sevan. Halfway between Yerevan and the lake was Mount Tegenis which – with an altitude of nearly 2900m – I had identified as an ideal preparation for the challenge ahead of us.

Both Estonia and the South of England can hardly be considered as alpine locations, so that my main concern was about the fast gain of height and the risk of altitude sickness. Armenia is a land locked country and its capital is already 1000m above sea level. The mountain we were aiming for was already of the same height as Germany’s or Slovenia’s highest peaks and a couple of days later we wanted to be another 1000m higher on the summit of Aragats…..

To make things a bit more challenging it didn’t help that there are no hiking maps for Armenia, nor were there a great number of way signs. Ingrid had experienced these heights so far only in combination with a good working skilift and Nick had broken his ankle just 3 months earlier (but had re-assured us that he was on the mend…). I am not even going into further details about the warnings we had received about the condition of the road lead to the trail head of Aragats or a recent bear attack on the mountain…

Thankfully Tegenis is a very “forgiving” 3000m mountain – covered with grass right to the top, with a lot of low vegetation and no steep elements you can fall down from. In other words : just like most of the “mountains” in Wales, just a bit higher.

Admittedly it wasn’t just “a walk in the park”, but with a few strategic breaks and helped by GPS navigation and pretty good weather we eventually made it to our first Armenian peak.

Elated by our first successful encounter with the Armenian outdoors, we headed for our over night stay in Garni, to the East of Yerevan and arrived just in time for the sun setting at the nearby world famous temple.

After a brief visit we had a well deserved sun-downer at one of the panorama terraces enjoying the fading light illuminating the canyon below us and the temple on the hill towering above it.

The next day started with 5 tonnes of grapes and nummerous trays of drying plums in front of our bedrooms…….

Not an unusual sight considering that our B&B for the night was a working farm run by an amazing diaspora Armenian couple with an American background. The place was famous for its cherry and plum vodka and it also featured a traditional restaurant, a sculpture garden and a large number of domestic animals enjoying themselves in a garden Eden underneath a forest of fruit trees. Understandably we found it difficult to leave this place in a hurry and after checking out a couple of the owner’s dogs and diagnosing my first torn cruciate ligament case in Armenia, we decided to drop our initial plan to scale the top of Mount Azhdahak at 3797m and to limit our efforts to a gentle hike at about 2500m in the foothills of the volcano, which still made for some great photo opportunities.

Having put our trusted Lada through its first off-road challenges, we were then heading for our base camp near the South face of Aragats, while the sun was setting over the Lesser Caucasus. After a few miles we came across a herd of cattle that were heading for their homes, with an old man and a young boy on a horse nearby.

It made for a great photo opportunity and after taking a few shots of the cattle in front of the sunset , the old man allowed me to take a shot of them as well. When returning to the others in the waiting car, the old man even invited me to ride the horse, which I politely declined.

What happened next is possibly difficult to understand for some (or most ?) of my readers, but in some way it is the essence of my thinking at this time in my life……

While walking back I thought to myself : “Actually – why not ?!……”

I have never been a rider and I usually prefer to rely on my own two legs, but I can usually hold myself on the back of a horse and in front of me was a ploughed field and the opportunity to ride a horse on the silk road in a beautiful sunset – would I ever get a chance like that again?….

I turned around and a few moments later the imagination had become reality and I was riding into the sunset……

Ok, not very far and not very dramatic and surely somewhat to the surprise and amusement of my fellow travellers, but without falling off or (hopefully) without hurting the horse. When returning my trusted mount, the old man not only refused to accept any payment, he even invited us into his house for a coffee or something stronger. The unbelievable kindness of strangers……..

I will always regret that we – with a heavy heart – had to decline his offer, as the light was fading fast and because of the considerable shortcomings of our vehicle, we wanted to limited the driving at night as much as possible.

Much later than planned we arrived at our base camp in Aragatsotn and finished the day with an excellent bottle of red on the terrace in front of our rooms with an unforgettable view of Yerevan and its valley below us.

Shortly after the sun had risen the next day – which was also Ingrid’s birthday – we were for the first time greeted by clouds and some rain. We made a hasty start for the trail head and despite all warnings we progressed well on an all the way tarmacked road without a bear in sight and arrived an hour later at Lake Kari.

Here however the conditions had deteriorated further, with the temperature just above freezing and with a steady Northerly wind. Right from the start we had to wrap up warm and without any official way markings, we were scouting constantly for signs of an official track. After hiking for a couple of hours this became progressively challenging, when it started to snow and the vision went below 20 meters. Consulting with my GPS it also turned out that we had strayed considerably from the suggested route and we were heading straight for the steepest part of the mountain….. When changing our course was not enough and moral in the team was starting to wear thin, I decided that it was time to get the fun factor back into our trip and I gathered everyone underneath the emergency bivouac which I thankfully carried with me.

It is amazing to see how much fun there is to be had underneath a large plastic bag with a little bit of food, a few jokes, a slight rise of the temperature and without the constant wind…..

Shortly after this break we not only hit the path again, the weather also cleared somewhat and the Southern peak of Aragats was just a few hundred altitude meters ahead of us. Invigorated by the fact that our goal was now in reach, we pressed on and summited just 1/2 hour later with a glorious view of all the four summits of Aragats and the crater in front of us.

After a small sip of champagne ( a bottle had mysteriously found its way into my backpack) to celebrate our achievement and a few photos, we started to descend again and with steadily improving weather conditions we not only made it back without any incidents to the car, but shortly later we were able to celebrate Ingrid’s birthday with a cake, organised by our landlady, and some more champagne and even a brief visit to the – admittedly freezing – swimming pool !

With the expedition concluded successfully, the CPD part of our trip could start…..

The Street Cats of Istanbul

It was 3 am in the morning and although I felt completely spend following a whole week of late nights out with both Russian and other international friends at the FECAVA EuroCongress, usually followed by early morning runs through the city, I had to catch a flight….

Together with my Estonian friend and colleague, Tiina Toomet, who as a travel companion is in my opinion on par with Michael Palin, I had planned to attend a wedding in Istanbul.

Tiina, multilingual – like most Estonians – and well travelled, is my trusted counsel and advisor in all Eastern European matters and I am always calling on her before setting out to a new destination in this part of the globe, because Tiina has probably been there already….

At this occasion we had been invited by Gizem Taktak, our Turkish colleague, who owns a clinic on the Asian side of the mega-city, to join her on her big day and the only way to get there in time was the first flight out of St.Petersburg.

For various reasons I had been reluctant to visit my probably favourite city in Europe for a while (actually for the last 8 years…), but this was just too great an opportunity to miss.

And sure enough – after changing planes in Moscow and a two hours taxi ride including a crossing of the Bosporus, we found ourselves at an outdoor banquet, just when the sun was setting over the Sea of Marmaris.

The weeding was truly unforgetable and the celebrations were complimented by a nocturnal cruise underneath the colourfully illuminated bridges of the Bosporus following the official celebrations.

While staying in Istanbul – and this time finally finding the time to visit the Hagia Sophia

– I noticed the considerable number of stray dogs and especially cats on the streets on both the European and the Asian sides of Istanbul.

Thankfully they all appeared to be reasonably healthy and quite a few of them were tagged which indicated that someone was keeping an eye on them.

Stray pets are never an ideal scenario and although making for great photo opportunities especially in a Mediterranean setting, they remain both a public health and an animal welfare issue. That said, it was interesting to learn from Gizem that the municipality of Istanbul appears to run a catch – neuter – release programme and that efforts are made to have these animals vaccinated against rabies.

A lot of local residents are not only feeding stray pets on a regular basis (which might not necessarily be helpful to improve the problem….), they quite frequently take them to the local private clinics where they also fund their treatment if necessary.

Admittedly as desirable as the life of a sleeping cat in the sun in this part of the world might appear at times, let’s hope that it in the nearer future will feature only pets with a home and – ideally – with a caring owner.

Gizem and her colleagues on the Bosporus are working on it……

Sergey Sereda

(Image by Jaak Jöks)

It was in April 2011 when I attended my first Russian Small Animal Veterinary Congress in Moscow. We were staying in Hotel Gamma or Delta on the outskirts of the city, a cluster of not very inviting Soviet style high rise buildings next to a Disney style Russian utopia village and in walking distance to Stalin’s bunker.

The restaurants had closed and the only place offering some entertainment was the brightly lid hotel lobby which had the charme of the waiting room of a railway station…..and yet, there was one person who was filling the room with his presence: surrounded by a group of friends and colleagues, keeping a busker with a Balalaika well fed and watered and making sure that no-one else was without a drink ( mainly vodka of course….) Sergey Sereda was holding court…..

Sergey Sereda is the President of the Russian Small Animal Veterinary Association.

Getting to know this man, you soon realize that there is no place for “normal” – surrounded by high rise buildings inside the Garden Ring in the center of Moscow, Sergey‘s clinic had a garden with sculptures of animals both around and on the building.

When entering his clinic the view immediately fell on the waiting room walls which were covered with photos of the rich and famous (or infamous…) visitors who had passed through the door before me.

When the Rolling Stones toured Russia and Keith Richard decided to adopt a street dog, surev enough the person to see was Sergey.

Progressing through the well equipped small animal clinic, one finally reached a small circular staircase leading to the study of the great man, right underneath the roof of the building.

Entering this place felt a bit like visiting London or Istanbul – you will never grow tired of it and there would always be an item you had not spoted before: on the walls and on his desk were decorations, sculptures and all sorts of membrobilia, posters and medals, stuffed animals (hopefully no patients….) and more pictures of Sergey and his famous visitors. One could imagine that the whole room was to some degree a reflection of the coloujrful personality of the man himself.

When writing my “unusual request” e-mail to Sergey, I knew, without knowing him personally too much, that it probably would meet the mind of a kindred spirit, also bearing in mind that the last time I had seen him was two years ago when he entered the stage at the Moscow State Circus (he was looking after the animals there as well…) as master of Ceremonies in a convertible vintage car!…..

Meeting Sergey again in St.Petersburg and sharing the stage with him was not only a great privilege, it was also great fun.

This was – of course – extended into the night, when Sergey entertained – as his English had at this point miraculously improved – his friends with stories about his colourful life at the hotel bar.

On the last night though, he and some of his friends took me aside and before I knew what was happening, something light blue was dangling from my jacket : a Sergey the 1st medal which – as far as I understood it – assures me from now on always a full glass when wearing it in his presence while on Russian soil.

Excellent I thought – a great thing to have indeed, especially as it came along together with an invitation to join Sergey at some point in the future on a trip to Sibiria.

I might just take him up on the offer……..

PS: At the conference in St.Petersburg Sergey released his memoires, which must be a brilliant read, but until now they are only available in Russian.

You bet though that I can not wait to have my hands on the first English version…..    

How to deliver a helmet

Two months ago I wrote an e- mail to Sergey Sereda, the President of the Russian Small Animal Veterinary Association under the subject: An “unusual request” …..

“Dear Sergey” it read, “ for a somewhat unusual performance at the Banquet in St.Petersburg I will need:

– a DJ who can play a couple of songs which I will provide

– a spotlight

– a large dark cloth under which one can hide a body

– a Russian lady who can dance a Waltz

Can you help me ? (And I would be grateful if you could keep this confidential…..)”

For three days I didn’t receive a reply ( which is not so unusual as Sergey doesn’t communicate much in English) – then an e-mail arrived:

“ Hello,

My name is Maia Vakoulenko, I am 40 years old and I am Assistant Professor at the university in Rostov-on-Don and I can dance a Waltz. Sergey said that you would need my help – I am completely at your disposal!”

”Excellent !” I though,” I have found my Russian partner in crime…..”

So, what was this all about?!…..

FECAVA has – partially due to my fault….. – the probably most unusual decoration a vet in Europe can receive – the “Athenian Helmet”

which is a somewhat striking head attire which is occasionally presented to not necessarily the colleague with the highest professional achievements in the room, but to someone who is just a nice person, a great colleague, someone you is supporting other colleagues and someone we respect and love. The difficult thing with the helmet is that nobody knows when it will be awarded again and when this happens, it is usually as a part of a performance.

This year my plan was simple :

In form of a “Beauty and the Beast’” number, where the room would suddenly fall pitch dark, the first piece of music would start and I would wear the helmet while hiding myself underneath a cloth, while the spotlight would be on my partner. She would then move closer to me through the room ( of roughly 500 guests) as if she would walk through a dark forest. She would then come across the cloth which she would pull away (as one does when alone in the woods….) and would then be confronted with the slowly rising Beast ( I am talking about myself here…..). She would then run away, slowly followed by myself until the music suddenly changes to a Waltz , which the Beast indicates to want to dance with her….. Well, of course, dancing a Waltz she can not resist and once it had been danced, we would stop and announce the winner of the helmet ( which I had worn myself until then)……simple !

All had been been arranged when I arrived in St.Petersburg (helmet, music, cloth etc), but a day before the event Maia called me in a state of panic: apparently she had tried to dance a Waltz with Sergey Sereda the previous night on the street and it turned out that according to Sergey she couldn’t dance a Waltz….

Great – that was a challenge and I had wished that Christ Udell, a cat owner and a friend of mine and a former Austrian dance champion would have been around at that moment… The problem with the Waltz is – at least I find this – that as the lead you are moving often towards your partner when initiating a turn, which means that your partner needs to know the dance, otherwise you are bumping into each other…..I don’t find this with a Foxtrot where I can pull my partner towards me and where I often dance alongside my partner.

So what to do?….well, thankfully Sergey had asked me to attend a meeting of the “Baltic Forum” which was a very prestigous gathering of Russian veterinarians circa an hours drive away from the congress, so I asked Maia to come along to the same meeting, which was held in a restaurant with a large terasse.

So while the Russian guests arrived, they were wondering about the Russian-German couple speaking English and trying to dance without music while everyone was enjoying their aperitifs. Unfortunately Sergey was right…Maia couldn’t dance a Waltz and we struggled with the first few right turns, but she certainly had a great sense of coordination and she was a much quicker learner than I would have been in the same situation, so that I was confident that we could pull it off….

The following night a few people were wondering who the mystery lady was, who was sitting next to me at the banquet and when the light went off and I found myself lying on the floor underneath a dark cloth in the middle of a gathering of some of the most prominent members of our profession I thought to myself : “This is probably one of the most embarrassing ways to blow my reputation if this one goes wrong……”

Then suddenly the cloth was pulled away….

(image courtesy of Jaak Joeks)

Well, it wasn’t really a Waltz in the end, but it appears that it worked out and it was nice to be able to add a joint Western European – Russian co-production to the event….

Thanks Maia and Sergey and Iva from the congress organisers for your help and cooperation with this idea.

The helmet was awarded this year to our colleague and friend Kaethi Brunner from Switzerland

who is expected to wear the helmet on her forthcoming trip to Bhutan…..

Veterinary Students

A couple of years ago, FECAVA started a student travel scholarship program. The program enables 10 students with not more than 2 students studying in the same country, to attend our annual EuroCongress. The idea is to enable our forthcoming colleagues to benefit from the experience of attending an international veterinary conference. The students are given free entrance and FECAVA helps each student with 300 Euros to cover their travel and accommodation expenses.

Over the last 20 years I have been consistently impressed with the enthusiam and the knowledge of the vet students who saw practice at my clinic in Virginia Water – they were so much better than I was at that time during my education…… – and a lot of them are now good friends and some of them are leaders in their own national organizations.

The students we met in St.Petersburg were even better……

When applying for the scholarship they had to submit a motivational letter (in English, which is for most of them not their native language) and their English CV. As part of the decision making committee I spent a whole extremely entertaining evening going through the applications of the twenty shortlisted candidates. To say the least, it blew me away….:

Most of them were not only academically high achievers, they had also found time to be student leaders at their faculties, most of them were multilingual, often studying not in their native country or in their native language. Several of the applicants had done charitable work, had organized continuing education events for their fellow students and had seen practice in centers of clinical excellence which even I could just dream of visiting. To top it all, most of them are super fit and/or have managed to entertain a hobby or have other completely no-veterinary related skills.

There is no better example for this, than the current International Veterinary Student Association (IVSA) President Elwin van Oldenborgh.

Elwin is studying veterinary medicine in Utrecht and we had met already at the World Congress in July in Toronto where we had an epic battle at the now well established 5k (sometimes not so) Fun Run – a great start !

Elwin is a keen learner and very dedicated to his studies and he was attending all the lectures he could muster, alongside his oficiall meetings.

In St.Petersburg he was not only the first one to encourage his fellow students to savour the nightlife, he also turned out to be the last one to leave – a privilege which I had thought was reserved for me…..

Not enough with that – without speaking more than a couple of words Russian, he invaded the stage and took over the music (rather good I thought…..).

This was even more impressive considering that virtually no alcohol was involved…..

I had to admit that I clearly had found my match and I am sure that we need not to worry about the future leaders at least in our profession…..

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.