Country Matters Feb 22: Who´s Your Valentine?

A vet at work

We might soon get close enough to kiss! And do more than clap everyone who’s helped us through all the rough times we hope are behind us. And there are some other folks we mustn’t forget to thank. Of course, we owe loads to the NHS and the essential workers who’ve supplied our needs, but we shouldn’t leave out the professionals who ensure the healthcare of animals. 

It’s pretty obvious – without vets – livestock and poultry can fall victim to pandemics of their own.  Last month a poultry worker in the Southwest became infected by the H5N1 bird ‘flu’ virus, which doesn’t usually transfer to humans. It’s foolish to ignore: some viruses which affect humans originally mutated from animal diseases. So, vets worldwide are key workers in global human healthcare.

During the last couple of years, dog ownership has increased.  An estimated rise of around 3.2 million pets has taken place since the March 2020 ‘lockdown’.  Vets – already facing high levels of stress in their work – have faced an extra burden, had to take on extra staff and increase their working hours.  Unfortunately, a consequence of inexperienced owners exercising untrained dogs in rural areas has been a rise in attacks on sheep and other livestock. And sadly, as people return to office work, abandoned dogs are on the increase.

Pairing swans

Apart from treating people’s own animals, some vets also care for wild birds and animals, often without being paid for their attention. Some specialists also conduct scientific research into the relationship between animals and the environment.  This can extend into the actions of insect life and arable farming, protecting food plants and trees from pests and parasites and encouraging pollinators, which means vets are just as important to vegetarians and vegans as to omnivores!

Vets are just as much lovers of humans as they are of animals.  That’s one of the things that hasn’t changed since Alf Wight wrote his James Herriot books. What does seem to have changed is the respect that vets used to have amongst the rest of us.  Nobody can deny they study hard, nor that they now leave university with an average of £100,000 of debt.  What probably would surprise many people is that their take-home pay has dropped considerably.  The average pay for a qualified vet is £31,000.  If their actual working hours are taken into account, many earn less than the National Minimum Wage.  Their costs are high, because the equipment and medicines they use are very expensive, not to mention what they must pay for professional insurances and other fees. And vets don’t have the benefit of government funding. So, vets’ bills can be an unwelcome surprise for anyone whose animals need attention.

It’s true: respect for many professionals – including NHS consultant physicians and surgeons – has declined since the start of the NHS.  NHS doctors are twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population.  They are much more prone to mental health problems.  But vets are four times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of us.  The life they lead – antisocial hours, often harsh working conditions, and the emotional stress of the times they suffer when they have to euthanise an animal and conceal their own feelings so as to offer comfort to the owners whose animals had to be ‘put down’. And they also see the results of cruelty to animals by humans.

Vets are key workers.  They do something for us all.  Their work helps keep the ducks, swans and Hank, the goose on the Abbey Lake. As a profession they do a lot for human health and happiness.  They deserve to be appreciated. To get a Valentine from us all.

Meteorologically, Spring is supposed to start on March 1st.   Let’s see! Time to clear the weeds ready for new crops.

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