All in a day’s work… photographing the Stewartry Vets

I have always liked animals and remember as a young boy going up to the local vet clinic after school. My mum worked there as a part time vet nurse and receptionist. I’d go into the kennel room to see the animals were in and ask the vet what they were in for. I was allowed to watch some operations and even to assist in one or two – only in a very minor way though!

Murray (the vet) would tell me all about the animals: what was wrong with them, how it happened and what needed to be done to make them better. Once he showed me why it was important to worm your pet (a puppy whose intestines were so packed with worms that it had died). I would help to clean out the cages, exercise the dogs and feed the animals that were being kept in overnight. I’d spend ages looking through the veterinary medical books. Occasionally Murray would take me out on farm visits which I found fascinating. In fact, I’m amazed that I ended up a computer programmer!

Unfortunately I wasn’t that interested in photography back then. But I am now, and in late January 2010 I phoned Helen Bell at the Stewartry Veterinary Centre (Castle Douglas, Scotland) to see if I would be able to go along to the clinic and photograph them and their patients. Helen pretty much agreed straight away and the following week I went in for my first day at the Stewartry Veterinary Centre.

4th February 2010 – Clinic – Meg waits for her cage to be cleaned.

Meg was a farm dog who was hit by a vehicle (probably a truck or large van) and suffered severe spinal injuries. After extensive surgery she needed someone to hold a harness around her middle to support her back legs and enable her to stand – she could walk with great difficulty and only with assistance. She went home after a week but her condition was not improving. No function was returning to her back legs – her spinal injuries were obviously greater than previously thought (it is very difficult to assess the extent of spinal injuries) and she had most likely suffered complete severance of the spinal cord. Meg was put to sleep about 3 weeks after her accident.


4th February 2010 – Barnbackle – Testing for BVD.

To test for BVD David takes a blood sample from a prominent vein under the cow’s tail. Only ten cows from the herd were tested as the herd had spent the winter in the barn and if BVD had been present then it would have spread through the herd. The cow is led in to a cattle crush which holds the animal safely while they are examined.

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is a viral disease of cattle caused by a pestivirus (similar to Border Disease virus in sheep and swine fever virus in pigs). It has many different manifestations in a herd, depending on the herd’s immune and reproductive status. Transient diarrhoea, mixed respiratory infection, infertility or abortion and mucosal disease are the most common clinical signs of the disease and can be seen simultaneously in a herd. Due to its varied manifestations and subclinical nature in many herds, the significance of the disease has not been understood until recently, when diagnostic methods improved.


4th February 2010 – Crochmore – Examining a scouring calf.

David examines a scouring calf, checking its heart rate and temperature to ensure that there is nothing else wrong with it. Treatment is adjusted as necessary.

Once a cow has calved the next big challenge is to get the calf through the first few weeks without scouring. Scours are the main cause of death in calves between 2 and 30 days of age. Calf scours is a broad, descriptive term referring to diarrhoea in calves. Calf scours is not a specific disease with a specific cause, but is actually a clinical sign of a disease complex with many possible causes.

On this farm early calves are kept in individual plastic huts with fresh straw as bedding. Keeping the calves separate helps prevent the spread of disease to other calves.


4th February 2010 – Crochmore – Checking for pregnancy.

David uses a portable ultrasound machine to check if a cow is pregnant. He has the scanner in his right hand which he inserts into the cow and the pictures are displayed on the goggles he is wearing. Scanning is performed 4 – 10 weeks after the cow was inseminated to detect if a foetus is present. If the cow is not pregnant then it needs to be established why it isn’t. This could be because the cow was not inseminated at the right time in its cycle, the insemination didn’t taken hold or the cow was not observed to be in season and so was overlooked.


8th February 2010 – Clinic.

A rare quiet moment gives the staff time to catch up on a bit of paperwork, discuss cases or just to relax for a few minutes and have a cup of tea and a chat. That’s Will’s dog, Amber, wanting some attention.


8th February 2010 – Clinic – Scrapie.

This sheep had died overnight and was brought in by the farmer the next morning. As part of a national scheme for scrapie testing David is removing the head so it can be sent to the lab for testing.

The sheep’s head was put in a bucket and then taken to the local lab for analysis.

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the nervous systems of sheep and goats. It is one of several transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which are related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”) and chronic wasting disease of deer. Like other spongiform encephalopathies, scrapie is caused by a prion (an infectious agent that is composed primarily of protein). Scrapie has been known since the 18th century (1732) and does not appear to be transmissible to humans.
The name scrapie is derived from one of the clinical signs of the condition, wherein affected animals will compulsively scrape off their fleece against rocks, trees or fences. The disease apparently causes an itching sensation in the animals. Other clinical signs include excessive lip-smacking, altered gaits, and convulsive collapse.

Since 1993, by law, any animal suspected of having scrapie must be reported to the local Animal Health Divisional Office (AHDO).

8th February 2010 – Clinic – Calf with Septicaemia.

This 1 week old calf was brought in suffering from dehydration and septicaemia (a blood infection that probably got in through its naval at birth).

The calf was put in an enclosure with straw and a heat lamp. Will and Jennifer gave the calf antibiotics to combat the septicaemia and put it on a drip to help rehydrate it. Despite the treatment the calf died during the night.

8th February 2010 – Clinic – Dog with mange.

Will washes a spaniel with mange while Ally checks a skin scraping under the microscope to see if the parasite is still present.

8th February 2010 – Clinic – Clipping a cat’s claws.

Jennifer clips the back claws while the owner keeps the cat still. Sometimes it is a lot easier to get a vet to clip your cat’s claws.

8th February 2010 – Caenloch – X-Raying a ponies hoof.

Will and Ally x-ray Peaches hoof to ascertain the position of the pedal bone.

Peaches the pony suffers from laminitis – a painful inflammatory condition of the tissues (laminae) that bond the hoof wall to the pedal (coffin) bone in the hoof. This can cause the pedal bone to grow downwards and eventually, if not treated, push through the bottom of the hoof.

8th February 2010 – Clinic – French Mastiff suffering from GDV.

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus is a life threatening condition affecting mainly large breed dogs of any age. It is the result of accumulation of gas, fluid, or a combination of the two in the stomach. In this case it was caused by the dog exercising too vigorously after eating, causing the stomach to twist around the longitudinal axis of the digestive tract (this twisting is also known as volvulus). As the volvulus was greater than 180° the esophagus was closed off, thereby preventing the dog from relieving the condition by belching or vomiting.

Helen untwists the stomach of Tia (a French Mastiff) while Will holds a tube that has been passed down the dog’s throat to her stomach enabling any gas or liquid to escape.

The results of this condition include hypotension (low blood pressure), decreased return of blood to the heart, ischemia (loss of blood supply) of the stomach, and shock. Pressure on the portal vein decreases blood flow to liver and decreases the ability of that organ to remove toxins and absorbed bacteria from the blood. At the other end of the stomach, the spleen may be damaged if the twisting interrupts its blood supply. Tia’s spleen was engorged and had to be removed.

Helen closes Tia while Ally monitors the IV drip.

Tia made a full recovery and was back home in a few days.

11th February 2010 – Clinic – Neutering a Greyhound.

Helen holds the greyhound while Jennifer sedates him.

Helen lifts the greyhound onto the operating table.

Post op before the greyhound is put back in his cage to recover.

11th February 2010 – Clinic – Neutering a Collie.

Jennifer looks to see if the airway is clear before inserting an anaesthetic tube.

Jennifer clamps and ties off the blood supply and vas deferens (spermatic cord) after removing the dog’s testicles.

11th February 2010 – Clinic – Checking the teeth of a miniature Poodle.

Jennifer holds the mask over the dog’s face to administer the anaesthetic.

Helen assists Jennifer to insert a tube down the sedated dog’s trachea.

After the sedative has had time to work, general anaesthesia will be induced and this usually involves an intravenous injection which is administered slowly usually into one of the veins of the front. Once consciousness is lost an endotracheal tube is placed into the windpipe through the larynx. This is then connected via tubing to an anaesthetic machine and maintenance of anaesthesia begins. This is a gaseous anaesthetic used together with oxygen. This ensures that while unconscious sufficient oxygen reaches the brain and tissues and at the same time allows controlled amounts of the selected anaesthetic agent to be administered.

Jennifer cleans tartar from the dog’s teeth. The teeth are then polished to smooth the tooth after tartar removal, as the tartar pits the tooth. A smooth tooth will not encourage tartar formation as easily as a roughened tooth.

11th February 2010 – Clinic – Labrador that had been in a fight.

Jennifer sedates a Labrador that had been in a fight with another dog.

Jennifer sutures a 3cm wound under the dog’s eye.

18th February 2010 – Clinic – X-Raying a cat.

Jennifer positions a lightly sedated Millie under the x-ray machine.

Millie was brought in suffering from unexplained weight loss. There can be many reasons why a cat is losing weight and it is a good idea to initially x-ray the cat.

Jennifer examines the x-ray of Millie’s abdomen. Nothing was found physically wrong with her so the weight loss could have been more psychological. Millie was sent home and has since started putting on weight.

18th February 2010 – Clinic – Spaying two kittens.

Two young cats (sisters) wait in their cage before being sedated.

Lisa looks on while Jennifer begins spaying the cat. Cats should be around 6 months old before they are spayed.

Will looks on while Helen shows Jennifer how to find the ovaries of a cat. Spaying involves removal of both ovaries and the uterus.

After the operation Jennifer takes one of the cats back to its cage.

2nd March 2010 – Finlay Black Craig – Testing cattle before exporting.

Helen takes a blood sample from a Galloway to test for IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis) and TB (Tuberculosis) before it can be exported.

8th April 2010 – Crofthead – Internal surgery.

Will internally suturing a cow’s vagina that was torn due to giving birth to a particularly large calf. The cow was given an IV after she had been stitched up.

After the operation Will administers an IV.

For me, this was never going to be a long term project – I spent only six days with the Stewartry Vets but that enabled me to tag along on farm and home visits, sit in on consultations and observe surgery. I hope you found the resulting photographs interesting – they show scenes that most people don’t get to see.

I’d like to thank all the staff at the Stewartry Veterinary Centre – Helen (vet), Graham (vet), David (vet), Will (vet), Jennifer (vet – now working near Loch Lomond), Ally (student vet), Lisa (senior vet nurse), Audrey (vet nurse), Karen (student vet nurse), Aislinn (reception/student vet nurse), Anne (receptionist) and Pippa (senior receptionist).

Thanks also go to the farmers, farm workers and pet owners that allowed me to photograph their animals and also allowed me to show the photographs to the public.

About sarphoto

Simon is a short, balding photographer from Raumati Beach, New Zealand. He now lives in Scotland and likes vegemite on toast, cats, hats, cities, sunny days in Kirkcudbrightshire and taking photographs.
This entry was posted in Animals, Documentary, Stewartry Vets and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to All in a day’s work… photographing the Stewartry Vets

  1. John Smith says:

    You set yourself quite a challenge in working in some situations that many would have turned away from, and in doing so have made an incredible record of something that is far removed from the idyllic pastoral view that most of us have of life on a farm. In some ways your images are quite confrontational and yet endlessly fascinating and the text pulls no punches either. There was some relief to see just the rear view of the vet!

    The world as it is! ….. and not idealised in any way. Excellent reportage.

    As photographs they stand up to the best with some satisfying compositions and some nicely caught human interaction as well. A strong exhibition which has raised my appreciation of the work that vets have to undertake.

  2. Pamela Van Nest says:

    Fascinating. And a great job. Impressive the way you showed all aspects from the cuter to the more serious, from the little to the large. As I said….GREAT JOB!

  3. Anton Caro says:

    Nice photos.
    You tell us an interesting story.

  4. Jenie Athie says:

    I knew of your exhibition via mum and dad but spotted what it was actually about from the advert on the village hall. I was so surprised to see that it was about vets. Nobody, including myself, really gets to see the real day to day calls/consults of mixed practice vets.

    I especially loved the one of the staff and the dog on its belly. A rare glimpse of vets having a break, it doesn’t happen alot at PDSA.

    I really like seeing photo’s of people and their animals.

    Loved it. Thanks.

  5. Amazing documentary. Thank you. Peace.

  6. deborah blum says:

    Wonderful visual account of the many talented and dedicated people who care for our beloved animal family members. thank you! :)

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