Vets Simon and Cathie Orr have announced that they are going to be retiring from Castle Vets at the end of the month. All of the staff are very sad to see them go, especially as they have both been working at Castle Vets for over 30 years.
We thought we would ask them a few questions before they leave to get a bit of history about their careers as veterinary surgeons
What inspired you both to become veterinary surgeons?
My father’s first cousin was married to a vet in Devon and from the age of 10 I used to go out with him when we were on holiday in the area. From the first time I went out with him, I was hooked and never thought about doing anything else!
I have always loved animals and have wanted to be able to help any unwell or injured creatures. There are innumerable photos of me as a child cuddling some dog or cat we met on our travels as well as the cats we ‘owned’ or at least, deigned to live with us!
What year did you qualify and from where?
Cath and I met on the veterinary course at the University of Bristol, when we started together in October 1971. Cath had already done the 1st year of the Veterinary Degree Course at the University of Brisbane, Australia before returning with her parents to the UK. We were married as students in 1974 and qualified in 1976
Where was your first veterinary job?
After qualifying, we stayed on at the University of Bristol for 3 years. I was studying for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Diploma in Veterinary Radiology and carrying out clinical research into the correlation of the radiographic image of diseased lungs with the pathology found post-mortem. My first job in practice was in 1979 at a horse and small animal practice in Hampshire, where I was asked to develop the small animal practice. I ended up doing a lot more horse work that expected, which was interesting but not where my real interests lay. That practice evolved into the Barn Animal Hospital in Basingstoke.
Immediately after qualifying, I undertook some research for a year into the first cat ‘flu vaccines to be introduced to the UK and then was very fortunate to become a Feline Advisory Bureau Scholar at Bristol University for two years seeing referred feline cases from vets in practice. I gained a vast amount of knowledge in Feline Medicine which to this day, is my principal interest.
When did you join Castle Vets?
I joined Castle Vets in 1979 after I left the Bristol university
Towards the end of 1980, I knew that the Basingstoke practice was not a long-term prospect for me. I therefore went to talk to the Partners at Castle Vets, Harry Barber and Robin Edgar, where Cath had been working happily since 1979. They were very helpful and said they would be happy to offer me a job when a vacancy arose “because they don’t want to lose Cath as she is already a valued member of the practice team.” I had to wait patiently until November 1981 for that vacancy to appear.
When did you become a partner at Castle Vets?
In 1984, a practice in Wokingham was put up for sale (which evolved in to the Nine Mile Ride Veterinary Hospital). As it would have been an opportunity to develop my career in practice, I went to talk to Harry and Robin, to say that I was very happy at Castle Vets and to ask if there was any prospect of a partnership if I stayed? I discovered, much to my delight, that they were already actively preparing a proposal to offer me a partnership. The rest is history!
Do you have any special veterinary interests?
My main interest has always been feline medicine and I still love working with cats.
Veterinary Radiology and also Ophthalmology. Practice Management had to be addressed as the needs of running a business have become more and more onerous over time and continue to do so. It was a steep learning curve as the veterinary degree course was not designed to teach you how to run a business.
In addition, I have had a parallel existence as a veterinary politician, starting in the mid 1980’s when I became active within the British Small Animal Veterinary Association. I became President of BSAVA for the association year 1996-97, culminating in the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) /FECAVA (Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Association) /BSAVA Congress in Birmingham in April 1997, when I had the honour of entertaining Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, who opened the Congress. I became President of FECAVA in 2011 for a period of 2 years, which will finish in October 2013 at the FECAVA Congress in Dublin. As luck would have it, this meant that I was President of FECAVA at the WSAVA/FECAVA/BSAVA Congress in Birmingham in April 2012, 15 years after I was President of BSAVA the last time BSAVA hosted the World Congress. I have also been involved as a Board Member of the Veterinary Defence Society Limited for nearly 17 years.
What are your most memorable moments as vets?
This would be easy if I had a good memory!
There have been a few cases that would grace the pages of a James Herriot story and we have our own share of “Tricky Woo’s”. It is true to say that any case that one works hard on and in which one makes a real contribution to its survival is immensely gratifying. However, those cases are not always the ones that lead to recognition and thanks from the client. One case that will always bring a smile to my face was the dog that was being looked after by the client’s son and was presented with an intestinal obstruction. There were embarrassed faces in abundance when a pair of the girlfriend’s knickers was found to be the cause of the obstruction.
Another case that springs to mind is when, as a vet newly in practice in Old Basing, I was presented with a dog that walked into my consulting room, looking neither to the left nor to the right, and bearing a very anxious expression to match that of the client. The client and her canine chum had been having a lovely day out walking and were enjoying a game of fetch the stick. After one long distance throw, the dog had cried out and come back in the rigid pose to which we were now witnesses. The end of the stick was visible in the mouth at the level of the front teeth. When I had him anaesthetised, I started to withdraw the stick, which just kept coming and coming. The stick was 33cm long (that’s 13 inches in old money). In his enthusiasm to get the stick, he run on to it as it landed and driven it through the back of his throat into the tissues of the neck, splinting the neck in the forward facing pose described. Remarkably, the stick had not damaged any of the many very important structures in the back of the throat. Over the next couple of months, he developed two foreign body abscesses from which I removed some splinters from the original stick and then made a complete recovery. Needless to say, the owner didn’t throw sticks for her dog from that day on!
I suppose that the two significant building projects must rank among the memorable moments, if moment is the right word. In 1991, we completed a major extension programme on Castle Vets, that saw the original flat roofed building extended at both ends and the addition of a pitched roof. It was amusing that one of the planning committee at Reading Borough Council commented that after 20 years (the original building was purpose built in 1971), we were finally getting round to putting a proper roof on the building! Then, between 2002 and 2004, we had the second major extension and refurbishment that meant we had to move into temporary accommodation – the bungalow at 1B Tilehurst Road and several added portacabins. This relocation was meant to be for 6 months but lasted a full year largely due to the poor performance of one of the building consultants. The programme was not necessarily memorable for the right reasons but was worth all the hassle in the end and I am proud of what we achieved in developing Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Centre.
The outstanding one is, not long after I joined the practice, I was sent to do visit to a lady with a poorly dog. I duly turned up to be met at the door by a middle aged lady wearing only a transparent black negligee and subdued lighting in the house! I think she thought Robin Edgar, who did most of the visits in those days, would be attending. I suspect he had a lucky escape as we usually did visits alone in those days. Never the less, I examined the dog and left with a smile on my face (I don’t think the dog was at all unwell).
It is always a satisfying feeling to find out that some very difficult cases have a successful outcome, and that you have been able to assist in their recovery. I have seen many patients over the years with ongoing, long-term conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes or hyperthyroidism, and it is very hard when you see an animal on a very regular basis not to become emotionally attached to them.
One of my more memorable cases was when one of our own cats swallowed a needle and thread. I think our daughter had been doing some sewing and had dropped the needle and thread on the floor inadvertently and Paddy, for some reason or other, picked up the thread with the needle too and all I saw was the end of the needle disappearing down his throat. I rushed him off to the surgery to perform an exploratory laparotomy to remove said items. It was a long and complicated operation but was thankfully successful. He lived to 14 years old when sadly, lung cancer was the cause of his demise.
I do find it hard when I see injured wild animals by the roadside and I have been known to bring in wounded swans and deer to the surgery to help in their recovery.
What comes next for you both?
Retirement but not inactivity! At the beginning of March, we fly to Auckland, New Zealand, to attend the WSAVA Congress and will then spend a month exploring North Island and the area round Melbourne and Sydney in Australia. On our return, we will be working hard to de-clutter our home of 27 years to make it presentable for sale. We plan to rent and then buy a home in France because we want some sunshine, which has been sadly lacking in the UK for the last 3 years and of course, we will enjoy the good food and wine and the laid back pace of life.
What’s next for Castle Vets?
The last two years have been a period of transition for Castle Vets, starting with the retirement and then untimely death of Kate Holland, who had been a partner since 1989 and now with Simon and Cathie leaving at the end of March.
The faces may be changing but Castle Vets has always had a very stable staff structure and we are confident that the ethos of the practice, one of service to our clients and to the local community, will continue down a similar path – it will be business as usual!
Simon is delighted that Peter Jackman, who joined the veterinary team in 1988, is replacing him as a partner, joining David Terry who came to the practice in 1990 and became a partner in 2001. They will be ably assisted by the full time veterinary team comprising: Clare Hepher, who arrived in 1997, Christel Robbins, who joined us in 2002 and Alice Frankum who joined us early this year, and our part timers, Ruth Terry, Karen Phillipson and Miranda O’Hara, all of whom have a long relationship with Castle Vets, occasionally interrupted by raising families.
The dedicated team of vets, veterinary nurses, receptionists and administrative staff that make Castle Vets what it is today will continue to offer our clients excellence in veterinary care and a level of case continuity that can be difficult for smaller practices to emulate.
Castle Vets has a history that can be traced back to the 19th century (yes, that is not a misprint!) and we trust that it will continue to make history for a long time to come.