We’re thrilled that Dr Jo Paul, a practicing small animal veterinarian and blogger at Creature Clinic is joining the Puppy Tales team in 2015. Jo is passionate about for helping four-legged family members live happy, healthy lives.
As well as caring for animals in the clinic, Jo is mum to two small humans – Liam and Cameron – and two canine furkids – Anika and Billy – foster mum to lots of kittens and wife to Darren, who displays extraordinary tolerance to her tendency to bring work home.
Introduce us to your dogs.
Anika is my 12 year old Border Collie. She’s my best buddy and has been in the picture longer than my husband has (don’t worry, he knows the pecking order at our place!) In true working dog fashion, she’s always been utterly obsessed with chasing things. She loves nothing more than running along the beach, tail in the air, leaping for a Frisbee or ball. Even though she’s a senior lady now, she hasn’t slowed down much and her ears prick up if I mention ‘walk’ or ‘park’ or even just spell it out – ‘W A L K.’ She’s terrified of thunderstorms but manages okay if she’s snuggled by my side.
Billy is a Border Collie x I adopted from an animal shelter. He’s special. I love him to bits, but he came with a few quirks. He finds the big wide world a little bit scary, and shrieks when he sees other dogs, so walks can be problematic. At home he is the most loving, sweet, cuddly companion I could ever ask for though. He has the puppy dog eyes down to a fine art and can basically get anything he wants.
What influenced you to become a vet?
There’s no doubt I have always been a little bit crazy about animals. As a child I think I drove my parents completely mad with never ending requests for a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a rat – it was always something. I really, really wanted a ferret for a while. Never got one though *shakes fist at cruel parents*
Becoming a vet, however, was not something I always knew I wanted. In my early teens I was the science-loving nerd for sure, but I was really fascinated by planes and wanted to be a pilot. My dad has always travelled a lot for work so I probably thought about planes all the time as a kid while I wondered when he was coming home and whether maybe he was bringing us presents. One time he brought me home a Mickey Mouse hand puppet from Disneyland. I still have it. I was SO excited and loved it SO much, but maybe wasn’t the brightest kid, because just now as I’m writing this, it’s hit my like a ton of bricks: HE WENT TO DISNEYLAND WITHOUT ME. Anyway, flying big jumbos around was what I wanted to do with my life. Until work experience.
I couldn’t decide whether to choose somewhere that would help me pick a career or somewhere that might land me a part time job, so I left it until the last minute and then panicked. Luckily, my clever mum suggested that my uncle, a rural veterinarian, might let me tag along for a week. He did, and it changed my life. I was SO painfully shy back then that I mostly just watched everything with eyes like saucers, drinking it all in. From cow to rabbit to dog to horse, I knew. This was what I needed to do, and I was not going to stop until I got there. And look at me, I made it, Dr. Jo!
What do you love most about being a Vet?
The answer to this question is easy. At least it’s easy to feel deep down inside my heart, but maybe a little more tricky to articulate. For me it’s ultimately about helping animals and helping their people. I love connecting with my patients, gaining their trust. I get the most satisfaction from the ones who are obviously worried or anxious about visiting who I am able to quietly and patiently win over.
Seeing the special bonds between families and their pets day after day makes my heart happy. If there’s something I can do to strengthen this bond, or keep it going a little bit longer, my job is done. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.
What does a typical day as a Vet entail?
As a small animal vet, I spend my days in the clinic. There’s a lot of variety in the caseload I get to see, but basically it boils down to consulting, surgery and other procedures like dentistry, taking x-rays, blood testing, cytology (examining tiny things down a microscope), caring for hospitalised patients, sometimes chemotherapy, and a whole load of other things. It’s never boring!
Patients throughout the day might include dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, birds, or local wildlife. Their reasons for visiting range from the cute and adorable first puppy vaccination appointments, to diseases and mishaps as they grow up and grow old, through to caring for them in their twilight years.
Some of the surgeries we do are most frequently include desexing, removal of cancerous lumps and bumps, stitch ups after trauma and knee surgery following cruciate ligament rupture. There are heaps of other things too – too many to list here!
Do you have a funny vet tale to share?
Do I ever! Well actually, my sense of humour is occasionally, sometimes, ok, mostly always, wildly inappropriate, so I need to give this one careful consideration! There are, of course, the unwell dogs who vomit up various undergarments much to their owners’ horror. Then there is my friend Yoshi the Labrador who has found and ingested soiled nappies down at the dog park not one not two but THREE times.
Once I had a client come in with their (thankfully very placid) dog for a routine checkup. They also had their three year old daughter with them. I love kids, and enjoy including them and explaining what’s going on. I let her listen to the heart with my stethoscope, and showed her his shiny clean teeth. I took his temperature then turned my back momentarily to wash the thermometer. I heard the father gasp and turned around to see her taking his temperature herself. With her finger. In case there’s any confusion, we take temperatures rectally!
You’ve no doubt treated many adorable dogs, are any particularly memorable?
One of my absolute favourite patients of all time was a beautiful, gentle little Chihuahua called Romeo who wriggled his way right into my heart. His gorgeous owners had a whole pack of Chihuahuas and other scrumptious little dogs, and while I was initially skeptical and a little bit wary about dealing with this breed, who are sometimes known as ‘land sharks,’ every single one of them was amazing and greeted me with enthusiasm at every visit. Romeo though. He was something special. While on maternity leave I received the awful news that he had been fatally bitten by a tiger snake while trying to protect one of the other dogs at his home. It makes me emotional even just thinking about it now.
What kind of skills and personality are necessary to be a vet?
Tricky question. There are so many different vets who think and do things differently to each other. There are vets I have worked with, who I have a huge amount of respect for, but who are the polar opposite of me in pretty much every possible way. Clients tend to gravitate towards the vet they feel most comfortable with, and of course that varies from person to person. My observation is that the choice someone makes about who will care for their pet often depends more on the veterinarian’s interpersonal skills and ability to connect than anything else. They say people need to know how much you care before they care how much you know, and I think there’s truth in this.
I personally believe (just my opinion!) that being a great vet actually comes down to physical attributes.
- Big ears: Listen to the owners, listen to your patients. Then listen some more. Then maybe speak.
- Sharp eyes: While those big flappy ears are listening, the eyes are quietly, inconspicuously observing, taking note of the patient’s demeanor, how they look and move, all before laying a finger on them.
- An elephant’s trunk: Google tells me elephants have the best sense of smell of any animal. Gross alert, but many illnesses have associated smells. The sweet perfume of a festering abscess, the delightful poo-mixed-with-rotting-fish smell of anal gland secretions, or the fruity aroma of a diabetic’s breath. I particularly enjoy the yeasty goodness of a ripe old ear infection… and this leads onto number four.
- A cast iron stomach: The only times I’ve vomited at work were during pregnancy, but I’m not gonna lie, there have been some incidents that have brought me close.
- Gentle hands: It goes without saying really – treat your patients with kindness and respect. This should come in at number one, as compassion really is so essential in a vet.
Now that I’ve written all of that I realize it could’ve been much more easily described with a delightful diagram. Oh well, next time!
What advice would you offer future veterinarians?
My main piece of advice would be to spend time with vets. Get some work placements in veterinary clinics and see what it’s actually like. The reality may surprise you, put you off forever, or completely seal the deal that it’s what you want to do with your life.
What are some of the common misconceptions about Vets?
Sadly, the rise of social media has made me realize that there are some people out there who think vets are greedy. I’ve even seen people say we exploit peoples’ love for their animals in order to earn more money! This isn’t just untrue, it’s downright offensive. Vets and veterinary nurses choose this path because it’s what we love. And we do it for about half what our counterparts in human medicine earn. Just ask my butler or my personal chef – I don’t pay them nearly enough.
I also find that a lot of people equate veterinarians with a James Herriot, country vet sort of image. I’ve been asked many times if I spend my days putting my arm up cows’ bums. Well no, I don’t. I mean, only if it’s a really cold day…
Have you always been a big animal lover?
What are your favourite ways to spend time with your dogs?
Oh let me count the ways! It’s mostly active stuff. We love just hanging out together in the backyard, heading out for a walk, and strolling down to the park to smell the smells. The beach would have to be our absolute favourite though. The dogs must feel really good running along the sand and splashing in and out of the water, because the look on their faces is pure doggy joy. Anika gets to bolt up and down the beach after a frisbee too which I think is her idea of heaven.
Mostly my dogs prefer the great outdoors to lounging around inside, but occasionally we have cuddle time on the couch which is pretty awesome as well.