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A life well lived


The Vet's View
Conal Finnerty

Normally in this column, I often discuss different conditions or other issues relating to pets in a general way, but I simply could not let this month go by without relaying a truly remarkable story of a life well lived.
Friday, June 11, 2004, was a date we will always remember in Skeldale Vet Clinic, it being the first day we opened our doors. Our very very first patient arrived just after opening at 10.30am, all the way from Westport. He was brought in to the waiting room by his owner, a lovely lady with an even lovelier manner.
Soon he was called into the consultation room and I was introduced by his owner Mary, to Max, a West Highland Terrier puppy with an attitude and swagger to rival Napoleon Bonaparte. He had come for his booster vaccination and a health check, and to put it mildly, was not very impressed with having to visit the vet. This, I learned over the years, was to be his outstanding personality trait, though he had many others. This guy had a fire in his belly unlike anything I had seen previously, nor since!
His owner Mary was besotted with him and he her, but his love did not extend to myself or any of the staff he met over the years. His attitude always was, you can look at me, admire my fantastic coat (which was always impeccable and brilliantly white) and converse with me, but under no circumstances are you to touch, examine or prod me with a needle.
You were indeed risking, if not your life, certainly your hands and fingers if you dared even approach Max to pick him up, examine him or inject him for any reason.
It was a battle royal even for Mary to try to get a muzzle on him in the car, not to mention the waiting room – and you could forget about trying to do the same in the consult room, which I learned to my cost on the few occasions I tried. I still bear the scars of battle to this day.
Thankfully, throughout his early years and into middle age, his health was good, despite being spoilt red rotten by Mary. But as we all know, as the years mount up, things start to ‘creek and rattle’, and Max had his fair share of problems, from a bit of arthritis to bouts of hepatitis, skin conditions and so on.
These ailments posed a significant problem for ourselves and Mary, as he was such a grumpy old goat. It was impossible to get to grips with him, to examine him or indeed take a blood or other sample if needed to come to a diagnosis. Max truly was the original Jekyll and Hyde character, a beautiful well-mannered dog at home (or so Mary always told me – she really doesn’t mind me saying this) who turned into Jack the Ripper in Skeldale.
On one particular visit, I had made numerous attempts to muzzle him without success, when Mary said to me, ‘Here, let me have a go’. Poor Mary ended up on the receiving end of a particularly bad bite form Max – the poor guy thought it was me he was attacking!
Mary and I had reason to recall this and many other stories about Max and his visits to the clinic, on Monday, April 15, when after nearly sixteen years visiting us on so many occasions, I had the unenviable task of having to call to Mary’s home to help Max on his final journey, his huge (loving) and hardened (towards me) heart finally failing.
I always called Max ‘Hero’ because truly he was one. Towards the end of his life, he had so many issues, but he dealt with them stoically and battled against them with little complaint. His only complaint ever was, ‘Oh Mary not the vet again, please!’.
A word about Max’s owner. Mary was indeed the most fantastic owner, and she spoilt Max terribly (I know she did, even though she wouldn’t always admit to the treats he got!). She made many a trip to us with Max, hail, rain or shine, all the way from Westport, always wanting the best for him, although often times, receiving not only no thanks, but indeed a bite for her efforts.
There aren’t too many as loving or as dedicated to dog ownership as this lady. We learned a lot from these two throughout the years. Mary got to know my family and would always arrive at Easter and Christmas with gifts for my two girls and tokens of appreciation for me. A lady in the simplest and best sense of the word.
We will miss the visits from Mary and ‘Hero’ here in Skeldale. Truly two great characters.  And Max certainly had a life well lived.

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.