Age: 44 | Location: London, UK
There’s a fox on her sofa. He’s called Pumpkin. He’s like every other fox - bright orange fur, pointed ears, bushy tail - except for the fact he’s wearing a yellow collar, as if he were a dog. He sits on the lap of The Vet, quietly, and all of a sudden it is the most ordinary thing in the world.
The Vet herself is also brightly coloured and exuberant. She’s wearing a neon pink jacket and big square-framed glasses, like Velma from Scooby Doo. Her hair is wiry and wild. She tucks it back behind her ears every few minutes.
It’s a Saturday, so she’s got the day off. She has to work one Saturday every three weeks, on rotation, but today is an at-home day.
Monday to Friday she starts at 9:05am.
‘I’m always five mins late,’ she laughs joyfully. ‘My nurses tend to not book the first appointment. They just know that I’m never going to make it, so we start at 9:15, unless there’s an emergency. But I’ll stay until midnight if I have to, and I’ll never complain about it.’
It’s evident that she loves all of her job, but I ask her to choose which is the best part.
‘I can kiss and hug and cuddle my patients without going to jail. If a Doctor did what we did they would probably be prosecuted.’
She laughs, mouth wide open. The fox stirs.
The other highlight? Helping animals who might otherwise die.
‘The other day we had a client come in, they had their cat eleven years and she had never been spayed. If you don’t remove the uterus it can become infected, very painful and life-threatening.’
Her Spanish accent is soft and empathetic.
‘I said, your cat has this disease, but the client said, if it’s going to be expensive we’re going to put it to sleep. My ethics can’t agree with that. At the end of the day, it’s not the animals fault. If people make a mistake, they don’t insure them or they don’t have the money, it’s not the person who loses the life, it’s always the animal that pays for it.’
In this case, the cat survived, but what’s surprising is that sometimes people prefer to lose their animals than to sign over care to the vets, or to those who can afford to look after them.
The Vet sighs.
‘People have this idea that it’s all beautiful. I think they would get surprised by how sometimes painful it gets for us. Whether it is because we don’t find the solution or have the answers.'
‘The worst part is when we know that we can fix the animal but our hands are tied.’
What does the future hold for The Vet?
She blows a raspberry while thinking, pushing air into the room.
‘I want to buy a farm. I saved to buy my campervan, which I did, and now my focus is to buy a farm or land somewhere, so I can live on it.’
I tell her that I visited Hackney City Farm a few weeks earlier. I grew up in the country, so having moved to the city I was missing the sight of animals and the smell of straw and manure. She agrees enthusiastically. It’s one of her favourite smells too.
‘I love the countryside. When I arrived to London, we were big on partying and used to go out Sundays, always to these parties called Secret Sundays, and you would only learn about where the party was about two hours before the party started. As you grow up, I just need the easy life. To me now, a good book is much better than to go to a party. A walk in the woods with my animals and then going with the campervan and just being in silence is something so precious. Silence is nice. Lockdown for me was perfect.’
Where exactly in the countryside does she want to go? Scotland. Why? 'They are big on rewilding. They are trying to bring more wildlife back. The lynx and maybe the wolf will be reintroduced. That would bring the circle of nature and diversity to a better level, and bring nature back.’
Suddenly, a look of concern crosses her face.
‘There’s a list of countries with the biggest level of nature, or wilderness, say, and in England, in Britain, it’s on the lowest. 218 out of 240 or something like that. Yeah, it’s really bad. In a country where we - I talk as we because I feel like I’m from here - are so proud of how much we love animals, nature and wildlife is actually at the worst in Europe.’
‘When I was listening to the book of David Attenborough, A Life On Planet Earth, at some point of the book I had to stop and cry. It’s hard to read. In only about fifty years, we have destroyed more planet than in the previous ten thousand years.’
In an effort to help counter this, The Vet recently founded a charity. Its ultimate aim is to build a wildlife hospital, for animals just like Pumpkin, her fox. She knows it’s a big project, perhaps decades long, but seems determined.
‘Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it’s just difficult. If someone else can do it so can you.’
Outside of her job, what does The Vet believe she excels at?
‘One of the things I think I’m pretty good at is looking at the silver lining of things. I will always say, it doesn’t matter, you have two hands, two feet, the sky is above, the ground is below. It’s just perspective.’
‘I find the idea of death a very romantic one. Because we’re all going to die, it doesn’t really matter does it? I guess this is because we vets have death on a daily basis; we put animals to sleep, animals die, and we can see how it goes from one side to the other. Now you’re here, now you go.’
‘Everyone, whether you’re scared or not, we want to know what is behind. The certainty that at some point we’re going to be able to have this answer, this is great. You don’t have to rush. One day you’ll find out. That’s great. Until then let’s have fun.'
It’s clear that The Vet has lots of good advice at hand. This includes superstitions, like not eating the first biscuit from someone else’s packet, in case they steal your boyfriend later on, and more generic guidance, like not to suffer too much over a broken heart.
‘If somebody breaks my heart, I'll just go - they were not the one. Because if they were supposed to be the one then they would have been. Matthew Hussey said like who likes you. Why would you be wasting your time with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?'
She begins to leak secrets about her own past. I learn that she had to be rescued by a helicopter in South Africa. I learn that she was robbed at gunpoint in New Orleans. I learn that she recently split with a partner.
‘If you let me down, which happened not long ago, if you show me that I cannot trust you, there’s a line that when you cross it, there’s no coming back. I might cry and suffer for a period of time, until I go, that's it, I’m better off. '
'I’m not going to be with someone who’s not going to make my life better.’
I wish that I could chat with The Vet for hours, that I could tell her the things I’m worried about and she could give me my own tailored anecdotes, about how best to live. I notice that over the course of our hour-long conversation, she has recommended five or six separate books to me, all of which she has read herself and learnt something from.
As she puts it:‘If you have a problem, I have a book.’