Should practices accept more wildlife cases? - Veterinary Practice
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Should practices accept more wildlife cases?

Working in a wildlife-friendly practice, Richard Edwards describes the benefits of treating a great range of species, from badgers to whales

Richard Edwards qualified in 1989 at Cambridge after fulfilling his childhood dream. “It was a bit of a
struggle getting there – but in the end, I made it,” he said with a smile. “From the start I wanted to be a practice
owner so I could forge my own interests. In the early days I
made a concerted effort to gain as much experience as possible in what was involved in running a practice by working
for several small practices in Kent and Sussex.”

Richard, together with Sandra Leatherdale (VN and
wife-to-be) and fellow vet Katie Rook, came across a closed
video shop in Bognor Regis in a small out of town shopping
mall, along with another property in Birdham, near
Chichester. After securing financial support from several sources including family and locum work, both practices
opened in September 1993. “It was also a learning curve in
‘do it yourself’ – we did everything from painting to building
extensions and fitting out the surgeries. Passers-by were
interested and little did we know at the time it was free
advertising as there was a nice park next door where dog
walkers came every day. We had a queue of new clients at
our opening day event!”

Twenty-five years later as writer of this feature I am
sitting with Richard in his practice office at AlphaPet Veterinary Hospital (it achieved accreditation as a Small Animal
Veterinary Hospital from the RCVS in 2016). There are 13
vets in all at the three practices, plus a dedicated nursing,
reception and admin team. The Birdham and Chichester
surgeries are rural and have two vets working in each.
They like to make sure there is regular continuity, so clients
see the same vets each time. The practice also encourages
new graduates in training, and several have returned to join
the team.

“There is a current trend in the profession for corporate
development of practices. We set this practice up from day
one, and we want to retain it as our own – it’s all about staff
loyalty – their future and, most important of all, the way we want to run our practice. Since I qualified I have had an
interest in wildlife, and it is something I want to encourage
a lot more in the veterinary profession. Having my own
practice has given me this wonderful opportunity to turn
my interest into reality.”

It all started with the RSPCA bringing two badgers to
them in the 1990s and asking if they could do a post mortem to see what caused their deaths – it was an horrific
baiting issue, which Richard still remembers to this day.

“After that I decided the practice would take in more
wildlife cases. I was my own boss so there were no issues. I’ve proved that it does not use a lot
of practice resources or funds. Yes, it will take up some of our time but the results are well
worth it. I refer to a case where a fox had been
rescued from a hunt and was brought to me
one Saturday afternoon, when I was on duty.

For some reason the media got hold of the
story and we got the most amazing amount of
publicity as a result. I try to steer away from personal publicity, but this really helped
the practice and changed my views on fox hunting.

“We can see anything, from birds caught by cats, bats, feral cats, urban foxes, hedgehogs, deer right up to stranded seals and dolphins.” Richard recalls a situation where a deer was taken to another rural practice. “They were not interested and
contacted a local wildlife trust who, knowing us, brought it
over – a journey of some 50 miles, all told. We did an X-ray
and sadly it had a broken back so little could be done. Had
the other practice shown more interest – time, money and,
dare I say it, unnecessary stress for the animal would have
been saved. There is still this perception by many that wildlife is somehow a different veterinary discipline. That’s not
really the case – most that we deal with are simply smaller
versions of small animals that we see on a daily basis – and
our assessments and treatments would run along the same

Richard went on to say, “The practice works closely with the
local Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital, and we call to see them
on a weekly basis. Reciprocal arrangements are made and
they send us clinical cases which are charged at cost. They
then take recuperating cases back so we are not overburdened with wildlife patients. We also have links to other
wildlife organisations including the RSPCA, which often
involves us with injured swans.”

The practice is closely associated with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR). “We have helped rescue stranded seals, porpoises, dolphins and even whales. A few years ago, I was involved with a northern bottlenose whale that had stranded on dangerous mudflats in Langstone Harbour in Hampshire. One of my most memorable personal achievements was that I was able to get a blood sample
from its dorsal n. The sample was whisked back to our
surgery in Bognor Regis where it was run on our in-house
blood machines. Sadly, it showed that the whale had renal
failure and it had to be euthanised.

“The next day we had a tiny pipistrelle bat in for treatment weighing less than 7 grams! Such can be the diversity
of patients for practices that decide to deal with wildlife.”

For Richard and his team at AlphaPet it is professionally
rewarding to be able to look after wildlife, despite the fact
that only around 35 percent of casualties are suitable to be
returned to the wild. However, they will have prevented a huge amount of unnecessary suffering.
As I found out today, there is something
very special for a nurse to be able to
treat a pair of baby hedgehogs that
would not have survived if Richard had
not taken them in. “Having them did not
interfere with our daily routines and
certainly did not cause us any financial

The practice is one of only two local
independent practices continuing to offer
a genuine 24/7 out of hours service as
part of their Veterinary Hospital Accreditation. This of course means many
referrals come their way, which include
wildlife cases.

Richard truly believes that wildlife work
pays for itself. He went on to say, “PR
value alone for a profession that is all
too often seen as being ‘only interested in money’ helps to show us more in our
true light and the reasons why we really
became vets and nurses in the first place
– to treat animals, paying or not. Perhaps
that is also the reason why, at one point,
my wife and I had 18 cats and six dogs –
all originally waifs and strays that did not
deserve to be euthanised simply because
they didn’t have owners who could pay for
the treatments they needed.”

This was proven to me again on my
visit when I met Woody, a stray cat, who had been run over. His pelvis was badly damaged but Richard felt it could heal naturally, given time. He was now on
his 104th day there and able to walk and looking forward to
a future he certainly would not have had before.

“What I would like to see are more practices taking on the
added role of looking after wildlife. We have proved that it
can be done and in the process, have gained the respect of
our clients who like to be kept up to date regarding any un-
usual cases in our reception area. Along with our colleagues
at AlphaPet we can wake up in the morning feeling we have
given just that little bit more back to the veterinary profession. It is not a lot to ask. Why not consider opening the door
that little bit wider to let these new-found friends in?”

John Periam

John is a photojournalist; he worked as a veterinary salesman in the 1960s and still has strong links to the profession through his equestrian work. John is also a regional correspondent for a trade paper for the UK fishing industry.

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