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Ten-minute chat
  1. John Bower


John Bower, a former BVA President, was presented with his MBE for services to the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation on April 13, having been a trustee for 15 years. He retired from practice in 2007. He has also written a number of veterinary books for pet owners.

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What made you become a vet?

Although my best subjects at O level were French, maths and Latin, I was unable to resist the biology field trips promised in the sixth form and opted for biology, chemistry and physics at A level. Then, one afternoon, our biology master sprung on us that we had to apply for university! I had given this no thought – mainly due to sport and field trips – and a fellow student, Pat DeVille, said ‘Why don't you apply to become a vet like me?’

How did you get to where you are today?

I graduated from Liverpool university in 1965, only three months late (along with one-third of our year!). It was a great time to be living and studying in Liverpool. Lots of good groups (like the Beatles) played at our union and in the Cavern, and as I was the vet students' social secretary it was up to me to book them. Thus it was that John Lennon told me that they had just made a record (‘Love Me Do’) and if it was a hit, they might not be available for the next dance. It was, and they weren't!

I opted for small animal practice, and my first job was in a pleasant practice where I learned a lot about client and staff welfare, which was followed by one where I learned how not to treat clients and staff, but did learn about business. After that, I vowed never to work for anyone again, found a single-handed small animal practice in Plymouth, borrowed the money and moved in. The practice grew rapidly, adding one extra vet a year for three years, until 1980, when I built The Veterinary Hospital in a developing area of the city. Over 38 years in practice, I took on four partners who all helped considerably to build up the practice. When I retired in 2007, it comprised some 12 vets, 50 support staff and a dedicated night team looking after almost all the out-of-hours work in the city.

How did you get involved in veterinary politics?

In the early 1970s, Tony Bradley and Roger Green asked if I would join the BSAVA congress committee. ‘It will only take four days a year,’ they said. I ended up running the trade exhibition, chairing the congress committee, and then becoming BSAVA president. Soon afterwards, I was asked to become BVA President, and I am grateful for the support of my wife Boony and my practice partners for accepting the time this would take. By then, association tasks could take four days a week.

How did you spend a typical day in the practice?

In the early days, surgery was my great love, but my involvement in the BSAVA and the BVA meant I was leaving the operating theatre to answer ‘phone calls. That wasn't going to work, so the last 20 years of my practice life were spent in the consulting room – and I loved it.

What did you like about your job?

I enjoyed the communication with the owners and examining animals all day.

What did you not like?

Out-of-hours work! My main driving force to build up the practice was to get more time off, especially nights and weekends. Once we had expanded to eight vets, I came out of all the antisocial rotas.

What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?

Accept that in the early days after graduation, there may be long days, nights and weekends to work. And the income, even if not on a par with other professions, is enough to lead a good standard of life. Get involved with the profession after a few years – it's much better if working vets are those dealing with government, universities and other interested groups.

What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Jack Hoare, from our year at uni, advised me to look at and buy a ‘great little practice in Plymouth’.

Jack, Boony, John, Becky and Tom Bower at Windsor Castle on April 13

What was your proudest moment?

Not one but several! Apart from the births of my five wonderful children, the survival of my first enterectomy patient (during my first two months in practice), being elected president of the BSAVA, then of the BVA, and of course receiving the MBE in this year's New Year Honours List.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

As BVA President, I was a guest (along with Boony and Becky – our then two-year-old) at the Irish Veterinary Association (IVA) conference. On the tiny plane from Plymouth, Becky, who was being potty-trained, needed to pee. There was no toilet on board, but the resourceful hostess produced a paper coffee mug for Becky – who was suspended by Boony while I held the mug – to the amusement of the other passengers. I have no idea what the air hostess then did with it!

Then, on the way into the conference dinner, the IVA president confided to me that I was the after-dinner speaker, and halfway through my rapidly-prepared speech, there was a power cut!

Back in our hotel room, I tried to draw the curtains without realising they were only for show, and the huge curtain rail came down, along with lots of plaster. During the night, Becky had a nightmare so we lifted her cot closer to us and it came apart, leaving Becky on the floor among all the spindles. Despite all that, it was a great weekend in a beautiful area.

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