Seeking to serve the interests of all members… - Veterinary Practice
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Seeking to serve the interests of all members…

Veterinary Practice catches up with the soon-to-be president of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, John Chitty

“BUGGINS TURN” IS THE PRINCIPLE governing the selection of candidates for high office in many fields of human activity. Thankfully, that isn’t the case in the major veterinary organisations – where people are generally chosen because of the quality of their input to group endeavours rather than their duration of service.

That is certainly how it was with the next president of the BSAVA, Hampshire practitioner John Chitty. He has made some valuable contributions to the association’s work over the past decade or so, but he hasn’t devoted the whole of his career to the cause.

Indeed, he joined the organisation only after qualifying from the RVC in 1990 and he drifted away for a while during his early years in practice.

As befits someone who can talk with passion and insight about a wide range of subjects, John explored other career paths before setting off down the exotic animal route where he has made his name as a clinician, author and lecturer.

Born in Poole, Dorset, of Cornish parents, the family moved to Salisbury in Wiltshire where he was brought up. Given that his childhood hero was the naturalist Gerald Durrell, wasn’t he destined to work with reptiles and parrots rather than the traditional domestic species?

“Not really. When I qualified, my ambition was to be a small animal dermatologist,” he says. “But I got a job with my home practice in Salisbury and I started off doing mostly farm work.

“One of our clients was the Hawk Conservancy Trust and that’s how I became interested in avian medicine. As the farm work started to shrink, the exotics workload grew and grew and it really caught my imagination.”

When John decided to study for a certificate in zoological medicine, he was fortunate to have Peter Scott, one of Britain’s best known exotic animal vets, living just down the road. Peter became his academic tutor and remains a good friend. But it could have been any one of a number of people who shared their knowledge when he was beginning his career.

“Nigel Harcourt Brown, Martin Lawton, John Cooper, Neil Forbes… they were all remarkably friendly and encouraging. I wouldn’t say there is never any rivalry, but with exotics it is such a small field that we all know each other. You collaborate because that is the only way you are going to make any progress.”

John’s spouse, Kate, set up her plate in Andover in 2010 and John joined the practice two years later. Anton Vets is now a five-vet, two-centre practice with a 70% companion animal, 30% exotics mix.

John completed his certificate in 2000 and his developing reputation as an avian practitioner led to an invitation to work with Nigel Harcourt Brown on the second edition of the BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds. He rejoined the association and threw himself into the world of academic publishing.

“I have always loved books and one of my hobbies is collecting old volumes – on anatomy, Darwin, cricket, all sorts really. I was asked if I’d like to join the BSAVA publications committee and loved it.

“You get to do some blue skies thinking, but the best part is that you get to see those ideas actually get off the ground. It is a real pleasure when one of the volumes you have commissioned is eventually published.”

John chaired the publications committee in succession to Penny Watson and then served on the education committee before being picked as junior vice-president. Assuming there is no unexpected change of fortune, he will succeed Professor Susan Dawson as president of the association at its AGM in Birmingham on 9th April.

So what are his plans for the year? “Well, I certainly won’t be focusing on exotics animal medicine as I do back at the practice. My job is to serve the interests of all members of the BSAVA. But I think I can do that best by co-operating with people outside the association.

“A good example is the work we are doing with Burgess Pet Care, the Rabbit Welfare Association and others in promoting the national rabbit awareness week (17th to 25th June). It has been going for a few years now and this year the theme will be nutrition.”

During that week there will be a number of events to improve understanding of the rabbit’s nutritional needs – i.e. hay or grass rather than energy-rich, muesli-type mixes – at the 50 or so practices around the country that have been recognised as rabbit-friendly by the welfare charities.

The alliance of organisations behind the initiative is keen to get more practitioners on board and improve the veterinary care available for the growing numbers of rabbits being kept by adults as well as children’s pets.

The fact that the BSAVA’s one fairly slim manual on rabbits has now expanded into two very chunky volumes is an indicator of how much our understanding of rabbit medicine has grown over the past decade or so, he says. But there are still gaps in our knowledge that need to be filled if rabbits are to enjoy the same consistently high standards of treatment as the two more established pet animal species.

John is also keen to ensure that his practitioner colleagues get the treatment they deserve. He is hoping to work with the RCVS and the other BVA divisions on Mind Matters and similar initiatives intended to improve the mental and physical health of the profession itself.

“In the BSAVA, we have a really good clinical offering through the congress, regional meetings and the publications, etc., but we need to take a holistic approach to improving the way that vets work.

“If you are not functioning well as a person, then you can’t be functioning properly as a vet. We will see what we can do in these areas, working with the other veterinary organisations, to help our members to develop the knowledge and skills to become happier people and better vets.”

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