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Practice manager in the South Atlantic
  1. Sarah Bowles

Abstract

Sarah Bowles began work with the Falkland Islands Government Department of Agriculture in 1998 as an agricultural assistant, before moving to the veterinary section to become practice manager/animal nurse

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I GREW up on a 13,000 acre farm (small by Falkland Island standards), running approximately 4600 polwarth sheep and 80 Aberdeen angus cattle. I began work with the Falkland Islands Government Department of Agriculture in 1998, initially as an agricultural assistant, but for two mornings each week, I worked with the veterinary section. Here, I nursed, helped with operations, and generally learnt the ropes. I loved the work and always stretched the amount of time I spent there to the limit, often to the frustration of the people I was meant to be working for elsewhere! I eventually moved into the role of Veterinary Services Officer (receptionist, nurse and general assistant) and since then, my job has evolved into that of practice manager/nurse. I work alongside two full-time vets, one part-time vet (whose time is split between the clinic and the EU-approved abattoir), and a receptionist/assistant.

This hernia repair procedure, on a tiny island where some horses were spending the winter, sums up veterinary life on the Falkland Islands

I have worked alongside various vets, enjoying learning skills from each one and seeing how their techniques vary both in surgery and in their approach to treatments. One of my most memorable times in surgery was the day a dog was presented with regurgitation rapidly after eating. An x-ray showed a sharp chop bone lodged almost level with her heart, which she had apparently eaten five days previously. I had a swift verbal crash course in intermittent positive pressure ventilation from the vet, Joe Hollins, and 30 minutes later found myself breathing for the dog while she lay on the table with her chest open. I don't think I blinked for the entire operation, and when the last stitch went in and she inflated the oxygen bag herself I nearly collapsed with relief.

The small animal side of the job forms the majority of our clinical workload, but we also see a few horses and farm animals. In addition, we work alongside Falklands Conservation when necessary, responding to wildlife emergencies. It's not uncommon to have wildlife coming through the practice doors; anything from a young black browed albatross to birds of prey.

Cats are the most common pets, and most households have at least one, so along with the usual cat bites, dental problems and road traffic accidents, we also see a high number of behavioural problems. As a result of an increase in the number of clients bringing their cats in with urinary spraying issues, I enrolled in a feline behavioural course run by the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE). I found it incredibly interesting and of definite benefit for me, the practice and the clients.

The clinic doesn't have its own x-ray facilities, so radiography work is carried out at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, a five-minute car ride away. Although it's not ideal, the staff are great, they produce fantastic images for us and, over the years, have radiographed everything from horses to goslings. Embedded Image Embedded Image

One of the more bizarre cases I've been involved with was a 78 kg goat with kidney problems, which was flown into Stanley from an outer island, transported by Landrover to the hospital where it was x-rayed. I escorted the goat on the 50-minute flight back to Saunders Island on board a 10-seater Britten-Norman Islander – a row of seats was removed, and the goat and I hopped in the back for the trip. Most of our patients coming from West Falkland and the outer islands travel this way to the clinic.

We occasionally see oiled seabirds, usually penguins, brought to the clinic and we have a rehabilitation programme for washing, rehydrating and feeding them until they have regained their waterproofing and can be released back into the wild. Several years ago I played foster-mum to four king penguins, three rockhoppers, one gentoo and one (slightly off-course) chinstrap in one batch. I spent several weeks with bruised legs from flipper-slaps and pecks because they got so tame and were very pushy at feeding time. Releasing them after a long rehabilitation was enormously rewarding and more than made up for the hard work involved.

We're lucky to be free from many common diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, leptospirosis infection and kennel cough. None of the dogs island-wide are routinely vaccinated and we're also free from fleas and ticks. A trial run in 2001/2 indicated that we are feline leukaemia virus- and feline infectious peritonitis-free but some cats have feline immunodeficiency virus.

There are times when remoteness can be frustrating, especially when we have a critically ill patient. We run haematology/biochemistry samples, but most other samples are sent to Finn Pathology in the UK, and the earliest we can hope to receive results is three weeks later. There are times when we are limited with what we can do, especially in terms of orthopaedic work, and it would be useful to have somewhere to refer animals to.

One of my roles is to ensure that all dog owners in the Falklands comply with our hydatid eradication programme, where the main aim is to ensure that dogs do not have access to sheep offal leading ultimately to the eradication of the adult and larval stages of Echinococcus granulosus from the definitive host (dogs) and intermediate host (sheep).

We have been attempting to eradicate hydatid disease for many years and the incidence of the disease in sheep has been reduced from a level of almost 30 per cent in the 1970s, when compulsory worming was introduced, to the current level of 0.008 per cent. All dogs in the islands are wormed every six weeks and owners must confirm when dosing has been completed.

As well as being a mixed practice, we are also the competent authority (regulatory body) for the red meat and fishing industry, which export products to the EU. Our role is to ensure that all products meet EU standards. We have one red meat plant, 21 Falkland flagged vessels and one land-based cold store plant; our vets inspect these plants to ensure compliance with relevant food-producing legislation. After inspection, fishing companies and the abattoir apply to me for health certification, which I produce using the EU's TRACES system. In 2012, I produced certification for 75,267,478 kgs of fishery exports to the EU.

For me one of the highlights of the job is seeing cases from start to finish – working at the only clinic means I really do know every pet (and their owners) in the islands. The job is hugely varied, very rewarding and at times challenging, but it's certainly something I do not plan to be changing any time soon.

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