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Kathleen Robertson: Give thanks to our pets – and their vets

Tarka the dog.
Tarka the dog.

As I write this, there is a soft, scruffy little shadow lying at my feet, letting out quiet sighs in her dream-filled post-walk nap, oblivious to the world around.

As for me, I find myself in a reflective mood as we near the end of 2020 and what has been, to quote Her Majesty the Queen, an ‘annus horribilis’ for so many of us. I think I’d be right in saying that every one of us across the world has been affected in ways big or small by the pandemic.

Kathleen Robertson

For me, I had to make the difficult decision to move my elderly dad into a care home and help rehome his two dogs earlier this year. I’ve not been able to see him since September thanks to Covid restrictions, which has been extremely tough. Through talking to my vet colleagues in Scotland, I know that the pandemic has similarly impacted many on both personal and professional levels.

But Covid has also given rise to some wonderful stories of humanity against a backdrop of suffering and loss – from the immense show of support for our NHS and frontline workers in the initial months of the lockdown, to communities coming together to help each other. Vets have also been doing their bit to help the NHS, keep the food chain going and volunteering their skills in diverse ways. I have myself been doing track and trace work for Public Health England since October, alongside my veterinary commitments.

Through these months, what has shone through is the veterinary profession’s commitment to animal health and welfare. Practices have remained open to provide the best possible care and treatment to animals while keeping the safety of their staff and clients front and centre. Please continue to bear with vets and vet nurses as they work hard to comply with Covid regulations.

This year we have also seen other huge issues come to the fore on the world stage, not least important discussions around diversity. The veterinary profession here in the UK has done so much work on that front this year, examining attitudes to diversity and looking at ways to make veterinary workplaces welcoming and inclusive for all, and it’s something I’m proud to say will continue to be a focus in the future too.

As the festive season draws closer, I’ll be thinking about all my colleagues across small animal and farm practice who will be on call over the holidays, in tough winter conditions, to ensure animals and their owners have access to care. If you see your vet or vet nurse over Christmas, please take a moment to acknowledge their work and say ‘thank you’ if you can – I know from personal experience that these two simple words can lift flagging spirits this season.

On the home front, that important role of spirit lifter has been played by the funny and naughty little Border Terrier asleep at my feet, Tarka, who has been my family’s shining light and joy for 2020. Pets are invaluable companions at the best of times, but I think this year they have played an especially important role for so many people. I’ve enjoyed reading about how people’s dogs, cats and even rabbits have provided both companionship and distraction during lockdown.

With Christmas around the corner, I’m being extra careful in pet-proofing my house, making sure all the chocolate treats, mince pies and even festive decor are kept well out of reach of her inquisitive little nose. Every year at this time of the year, vets see a spike in emergency cases of dogs, cats or even rabbits that have eaten something they shouldn’t have – from edible treats like chocolates, raisins, onion and garlic to decorations like holly, mistletoe and even tinsel. This year in particular, with Christmas bubbles in place, it’s important to plan in advance if you’re travelling away from home, as you may need to access emergency care in a practice that isn’t your local vets.

As I sign off my last column of 2020, I do so with hope and optimism that the new year will bring better tidings, with a return to pre-Covid levels of normality and to once again seeing and embracing our friends and families.

Seasons’ greetings from Tarka and me to you and yours (including four paws).

Kathleen Robertson is Scottish president of the British Veterinary Association