Vets reach with their hearts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 1994, 12:00am

DR KATRIONA Bradley's day begins with animals. They could be puppies, mongrels, poodles, Great Danes, Siamese cats, or at times, owls, chickens and lizards.

By 5.30 pm, 50 to 60 pets could have been examined under her experienced hands, with sometimes 20 to 30 operations performed.

Dr Bradley is one of Hong Kong's small group of 50 veterinarians and has worked for four years at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

'I love animals. As soon as I knew what a vet was I wanted to be one,' said Dr Bradley who, not surprisingly, has two cats, two dogs and two tortoises at home.

She said a good vet needed to be very patient and kind with both the animals and their owners, especially in explaining to the worried owners what was wrong with their pets.

'Animals are silly. They eat rubbish like strings, screw drivers, and get their guts all tied up. I once had to perform a long operation on a Dalmatian who had eaten a plastic hose, pipes and pieces of rocks and metal!' Incidents like this, however, are not the norm. Routine work at the RSPCA clinic involves relatively easier jobs like cleaning up animals' ears, doing vaccinations and curing colds.

The more demanding job is the hospital duty that alternates with clinical work. By hospital, Dr Bradley means a special room with cages of sick animals.

'We have hospital work a week at a time. It's very tiring, but very challenging sometimes because the animals could be very sick and you have to do blood tests, X-rays, put them on drips (insert tubes inside them) and perform operations.' Another tough order is doing night shifts, which is necessary because some dogs get run over in the middle of the night. Sometimes it means working both day and night duties in one day and then having the next day off.

Dr Bradley said a typical heavy operation was fixing a broken leg. 'With a badly broken leg and a big dog, it can take us two to three hours. But castrating a cat is easy, it takes only five minutes.' Three times a week Dr Bradley and her colleagues would go on a RSPCA mobile clinic to provide service for sick animals in more distant corners like Sha Tin, Sai Kung, Hong Lok Yuen, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun and Cheung Chau.

With a tender heart for animals like any other vet, Dr Bradley finds one job horrible - pending.

There is a box outside the RSPCA office for people to drop off unwanted animals. The vets have to put down any animals the society find not suitable for homing (finding them a home), and they can number 20 a day.

'It still makes me cry after doing it for four years,' said Dr Bradley. 'But that's an RSPCA job, somebody has to do it and we try to do it nicely by using anaesthesia so animals don't suffer.

'It is very important for a vet that he doesn't mind getting dirty,' Dr Bradley said, as she recalled her days at Glasgow University in Scotland where she studied veterinary science for five years.

Students have to do 40 weeks of field work, working with big animals like cows, horses, and smaller ones like pigs and sheep. It could get real messy.

For Dr Bradley, who is a vegetarian, the worst was having to help slaughter animals for two weeks. 'That's part of my qualification, I had to do it. The job of some vets is inspecting meat at slaughter house to see whether it is healthy or not.' A good memory is also essential. 'How many diseases do you think a dog or a cat can get? Remember you have to also learn about cows, pigs, horses, sheep, chickens besides medicine and all the operations. Those five or six years can be lots of work!' But whether you want to be a vet or not, you can always learn to care for animals and even play with them by volunteering to help at the kennel or the hospital at RSPCA during school holidays. The RSPCA also has an office in Kowloon. Write to Ms Doreen Davies at 5, Wan Shing Street, Wan Chai, for information.