Our new practice in Thirsk is situated at the Rural Business Centre and Auction Mart, so I see farmers every Thursday as they queue up to sell cattle and sheep. Or, more frequently, as they queue up to buy pie and mash at the café next door.
Some look older, shorter, or more lame, but most look just the same. Some carry on as they have done for decades; some have retired, but can’t give up the habits of a lifetime and still come down to the auction mart each week.
One farmer, Richard, who I’ve known for over 25 years, has been into the practice a few times recently. In the past, I have delivered lambs and calved cows for him, at weekends, in the evenings and late at night.
I’ve done his TB test countless times and dehorned and disbudded calves each autumn after housing. And I’ve treated many of his army of cats, each one just as precious to him as any ewe.
I saw his name on my list of appointments. Next to his name it said Little Dead Cat. Second opinion.
“What’s this cat all about?” I asked Sue, our receptionist-cum-admin guru. “I’m a good vet, but I’m not that good. I don’t think I can help a little cat which is already dead!”
“I think that’s its name,” Sue explained.
I decided, for the avoidance of confusion, to simplify the cat’s name on our computer records to “L.D.C”.
I called Richard in, and wasted no time catching up on the trials and tribulations and changes of circumstances since we’d last seen each other, which I think was at about two o’clock in the morning on a cold night in winter; I’d calved his favourite cow.
Eventually, we turned our attention to the contents of the cat box.
“So, this little cat. It’s not actually dead is it?” I asked.
“If so, there’s not much I can do for it I’m afraid.”
Richard smiled quietly and explained that she had been given that name shortly after she was born, many years previously, because she was little and so weak. She was presumed to be dead. A neonatal miracle unfolded and the little dead cat survived but the name stuck, as the pragmatic farmer had seen no need to alter it.
This morning, the now elderly tortoiseshell was anything but dead. But there was a challenging, smelly and infected problem with her ear, which is why the farmer wanted another set of eyes to make an assessment.
The first vet he’d seen had offered a grave prognosis and recommended immediate euthanasia. Once upon a time, it was very unusual for clients to ask for a second veterinary opinion from another practice. Now it is quite common and clients often move and change vets depending on the differential levels of ability, skills and experience available.
I could see some hope though, and knew that having survived being “dead” in the first few hours of life, L.D.C. was strong.
I offered some trial treatment, in reality it would probably be mainly palliative, but everyone (including the cat) wanted to try something. A week later, L.D.C was back for a check-up. The nasty infected smell had disappeared, the discharge abated and L.D.C. was eating again.
“L.D.C., V.M.B”, I typed on the clinical notes, VMB standing for “very much better”.
Richard headed back to the Land Rover clutching his cat basket, but before he left for his farm, he couldn’t resist popping into the mart for a quick catch up. Old habits die hard. Old cats, of course, do die but, thankfully not today.
The final episode in this series of The Yorkshire Vet is on at 8pm on Channel 5 on Tuesday.