ShapeShapeauthorShapecrossShapeShapeShapeGrouphamburgerhomeGroupmagnifyShapeShapeShapeShape

What are the rules of engagement that matter most?

by
01 May 2015, at 12:00am

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

LAST week I did something rather different and, having shared the organisation with two other friends, we hosted a reunion for a group of school friends, most of whom had not seen each other for almost 50 years.

That sounds all rather grand but the moral of my tale is that it wasn’t grand at all; if anything it was remarkably relaxed and stress-free.

My two co-conspirators, both far more digitally adept than I am, managed to trace all but six of the original cohort of 60 in our school year from Canterbury, using the amazing reach of the internet.

Sadly, six of our number have died in the intervening years, including Roger Baker, the vet from Whitstable who sadly died at the end of last year, and it could be that, of the remaining six whom we were unable to trace, others may also have passed on but we’re currently unsure.

Many of our number now live abroad and we were amazed to see that four had made the effort to fly back from the US, using our reunion as a platform for other activities while they were here – perhaps the three who live in Australasia can be forgiven for not showing up!

If I am brutally honest, there were several of the 32 who did attend whose names I recall but whose faces or personalities had been scrubbed from my ailing memory bank, but it was reassuring to find that several others experienced the very same thing.

Perhaps what I had feared to be the prodromal signs of incipient dementia were little more than the end game of the fragmentation of playground friendships half a century ago and, even when we were all gathered together in a lovely private room above a restaurant in London’s West End, we mostly gathered together in the same groups that we had done so many years ago.

All my apprehension and worry soon dissipated when we were together and, at that moment, I can genuinely say that it was both gratifying and rewarding to be back among this group of friends.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes from our protestations of intent to maintain these newly revived friendships and how well used will be the excellent website set up by one of our number prior to the reunion.

I suspect that, within a month, activity will dry up completely until someone takes it upon themselves to organise another event, but for most of us, genuine aspirations are often let down by the interference of everyday life.

In reality, this has provided a fascinating and really enjoyable snapshot of normal human relationships where people thrown together through expediency find enjoyment and reward on common ground and with shared experiences.

Perhaps this isn’t a million miles from how small animal practice works best, when the practice can provide a focal point for not just their immediate needs but the operating platform for shared experiences among animal owners.

To give an example, I was fortunate recently to visit a practice near Brands Hatch where the community feel and the level of care and compassion expressed for animals was palpably evident the moment one crossed the threshold.

True, this is a relatively new, purpose-built building which can make things easier but it wasn’t always like that and the current owners, a vet and his VN wife who also acts as one of the two practice managers, have transformed the practice since they took it over seven years ago.

I wish I could express some way of quantifying this feeling of care and commitment that was so evident there but it was clear that the owners’ ethos of providing a community focus and rejecting the throwaway element in society’s treatment of animals was demonstrably shared by the entire practice team of 24 staff.

This is a practice where cat consults are booked for longer than dog consults because they recognise that cats need time to settle and overcome their natural anticipation of impending doom and where real thought has been given to the way the hospitalisation cages for cats have been sited and positioned to reduce opportunities for additional stress in their patients.

Social media to the rescue

When, recently, a litter of kittens suffering from flea allergy dermatitis were brought in, a practice Facebook page appeal for a blood donor cat was answered within hours and three of the highly anaemic litter were saved, adopted by a local charity and subsequently rehomed through a remarkable joint effort between the practice staff and their local community.

Of course this type of story isn’t unique to this practice; hundreds of practices have similar heroic tales to tell where veterinary staff and clients have gone the extra mile to do something special and rewarding in a world where self-interest threatens to become the order of the day.

What does make it special, however, are the lengths to which the owners and staff have gone to make their practice a beacon of care and compassion within their community – even to the extent of investing in a private crematorium for pets from both their own and neighbouring communities, together with a specially designed bereavement room for anyone who needs to use it.

Pulling together

In the end, whether we are thrown together through pet ownership, a pressing need to treat injury or disease in our animals or even because we once knew each other long ago, the rules of engagement that matter are those which allow people to feel that they are of central importance to the moment, to minimise stress and worry, to feel that they are among friends who will not judge them and to know that everyone is pulling in the same direction without any sense of oneupmanship or personal gain.

These are all basic human values which underpin successful relationships and which should be in the background of any business which is dealing with the public.

However, what a difference it makes when these values are so evidently in the foreground of a business dealing with the public and their animals and how much the local community values and appreciates it has been evident in the spectacular growth of this highly unusual practice.