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All creatures great and small

The Interview
Typography
Vet interview
PET VET John and Mairead Corrigan examining ‘Twinkle’ in the Veterinary Hospital and Pet Shop on the Lodge Road Westport. Pic: Frank Dolan

All creatures great and small


THE INTERVIEW
ANTON MCNULTY


IT is a sign of the times we are living in when you walk into a veterinary clinic and are greeted with more toys for cats and dogs than medicines.
Rubber footballs, bones, novelty collars and cushioned baskets take pride of place alongside shampoos and vaccines in most clinics. With affluence, the perception of pets in Ireland has changed greatly, and  nowhere is this more true than in the west.
In the past the most common domestic animals in rural Ireland  were always  cats and dogs. Many dogs were used as working animals. However, cats and dogs have become more pampered and have been joined by exotic animals such as tropical birds, snakes and lizards.
It is one of the new challenges facing vets in Mayo who have traditionally been used to dealing with cattle and sheep. However, it is a challenge being taken up by young vets like 27-year-old John Paul Corrigan. The Achill native has recently opened up a new practice on the Lodge Road in Westport. Since opening he has noticed how pets have become treated as well as members of the family.
“There is better awareness among pet owners with better care being taken of animals. There has been a huge attitude change in the last ten years and at this stage we are probably on par with the rest of Europe in terms of pet care. Pets have a special place in some families and are sometimes treated better than kids. In the run-up to Christmas there was a lot of toys bought but people in general are treating pets a lot better,” he said.
Many of the new vets qualifying from university have been influenced by the popular television series ‘Vets on Call’. For John Paul it was an insight into what he always wanted to do.
“We had the farm at home which gave me the initial interest in it, we had dogs and cats, cows and sheep and I suppose the natural interest was always there. Once the choice came as to what I wanted to be, it was really the only choice at the time. I used to watch the shows and some of them are quite interesting and well done and would appeal to me, but they would never put me off; nothing I have seen since would put me off.”
During his five-year course in UCD, John Paul did work experience in Ireland, Britain and also in the US. When he worked abroad he saw the different attitudes from people towards pets. Some of the clinics were like hospitals, a trend he feels will become more popular in Ireland.
After qualifying in 2002, he worked in Dublin and Meath before he decided to come back west to set up a practice in Mayo. Last October he  established the Lodge Veterinary Clinic in Westport.
Despite growing up on a farm, he has chosen to deal predominantly with pets, which he says provides more scope for the job and is a lot more stimulating.
“I started in a mixed practice but the preference has always been for small animals. I found the work more interesting and basically you have to bring economics into your farm animal work.
“You are curtailed by what the farmer can afford to spend, which sometimes is economically driven, whereas with companion animals there is that emotional attachment and people generally will follow up a case a little bit better. It allows you to do a bit more, diagnostically and surgically, and there is more reward for doing that type of work,” he explained.
The clinic has an x-ray unit, surgical instrumentation and laboratory equipment including blood testing machines which allows analysis at the clinic and has the results on the same day. Road traffic injuries are still the most common injuries among pets in the west of Ireland, and some of the animals have to be put down. John Paul was trained in university to deal with such situations, but he was not expecting to also be the one to comfort the owners, who can be emotional about injuries to their pets.
Since opening, John Paul has found that cats and dogs have swallowed unusual objects. Among the items he has found in pets are Christmas decorations, a sewing needle and ball of thread, ball bearings and prescription drugs.
But one incident really put John Paul to the test - something he admits he was not taught to deal with in university.
“The funniest thing I encountered was when a dog ate some marijuana and got totally stoned. The owners were reluctant to tell me for at least a day and then they eventually revealed to me what was going on. Basically he went comatose and I tried to keep him alive. I had to flush the drugs out of him but he gradually made a recovery, he was just a bit comatose and very hungry,” he said.
In the last ten years, because of work pressures,  dogs and cats are left in houses all day on their own. Often the animals suffer emotional problems which leads to them barking all day or scratching furniture and chewing clothes.
This has resulted in a number of people buying animals which are easier to handle and this has led to an increase in the choice of reptiles as pets. John Paul believes this trend will continue, but urged people to research the animal before buying it.
“The reptile area is growing all the time for a number of reasons. One of them is they are probably easier to get their hands on at the moment and another is people do not have time to have a dog in their house. People think reptiles are easier to keep because they live in a tank.
“There is a lot of work with a reptile and people need to research them; they do get problems. We have seen a lot of them and in the next 20 years they will probably become more popular than cats and dogs,” he revealed.
The clinic employs a full-time nurse and John Paul hopes his sister Mairead, who is also training to become a vet, will join the practice when she qualifies. He provides a 24-hour call-out service and he admits the hours can be long and unsociable, but on the whole the clinic has been a sucess.
“We are happy with the way it has gone and we hope to improve the speed and efficiency in the next year. It is a tough life and I work long hours and I’m on call quite a bit. But I have to say, it is very enjoyable work and that outweighs all the long hours you put in because you will always get that bit of enjoyment in getting things right,” he said.