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David Knight: A dog is for life – not just to comfort families through pandemic turmoil

Beautiful beagle dog posing as a reindeer sits near a Christmas tree.
Beautiful beagle dog posing as a reindeer sits near a Christmas tree.

I asked my vet to repeat what she had just said because I could not quite believe it. We were in a dark, windswept car park and rain was falling steadily. Pets were going in, but owners had to wait outside the practice for updates due to social distancing.

It would have been weird before the pandemic to find vets more wary of owners than their pets – though, come to think of it, maybe they were.

I was still trying to comprehend that my beautiful pooch faced having one of her legs amputated. I was so shocked I forgot momentarily the names of the days of the week.

David Knight

In my panic I could not remember when Friday was, even although it was tomorrow, after our vet explained she wanted us back at 8am for an operation. It was all happening so fast.

A swelling on the back of our dog’s leg – possibly from an infected cut, we thought – had turned more sinister. I was also stunned by something else I learned about vets recently from a very good source.

One north-east practice has seen its client list soar, with 1,000 new registrations since the first Covid-19 lockdown in March.

It was a mind-boggling figure and made up mainly of people with newly-acquired puppies. Adorable pups are irresistible comfort blankets to help families through emotional turmoil in the pandemic.

That is OK – as long as people go into dog ownership with open eyes and clear heads. I’d like to think north-east folk did.

This upsurge is mirrored elsewhere and, across the UK, animal welfare campaigners are fearful of what happens when the novelty wears off or challenges and costs of dog ownership become too much.

In a year or two, will we see an explosion of unwanted pets filling up dogs’ homes, or worse – dumped and abandoned to their fate?

Recent research revealed one million pets across the UK were at risk at Christmas, with a third of new lockdown owners admitting they’d made a mistake.

Animal welfare legislation has been tightened in the UK, with emphasis on unscrupulous breeders and middle men in the sales chain. But what about cruel, feckless owners who still slip through the net and abandon their pets?

Fees of £600 for our poor pooch’s treatment was not exactly what we wanted for Christmas. But it was worth every penny to keep her in the privileged, pampered position she has become accustomed to in our household.

I thought back to that moment in the car park a week earlier after we found out drugs had not stemmed the infected lump’s growth.

“It’s getting worse. Her leg is at risk if we don’t operate now,” our vet warned as she cradled the canine love of our lives in her arms. It was going to be a tricky operation, too, due to the lump’s position and an uncertain recovery period.

After surgery it felt like we had the best Christmas present ever. Her leg was safe and the operation wound was healing beautifully – thanks to the skill of our wonderful vet.

The experience reminded me of a celebrity vet who claimed his colleagues were smarter than surgeons who operate on humans because they had to be experts on multiple species, and their patients were unable to tell them anything. I am sure that if a nine-year-old boy said his pet worm had a headache, a vet would have a comforting solution.

Our story was not to have a totally happy ending, unfortunately.

On the day before Christmas Eve, laboratory analysis of the lump revealed something nastier was lurking, which won’t go away. We have to take each month as it comes now.

I think you have to put a brave face on in stressful times like these and try to raise a smile.

For example, when our beloved pet was under anaesthetic we asked them to clean her teeth while they were at it. Less stress, you see.

Now her teeth almost glow in the dark. I was so impressed I asked our vet if she would do mine – don’t tell my dentist.

She laughed off my little joke, of course, but added that our “beautiful, sweet” little dog was not short of admirers at the practice.

This warmed our hearts and reminded me of something our dog carer says when she looks after her while we are on holiday.

She always jokes that she would like to run off with her one day. At least I think she was joking.

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