I was lurking in the staff nook, a couple of hard and uncomfortable chairs, lonely in a bare little room. A library of mostly old and worn text books adorned the wall, and one of them lay on my lap, protective camouflage against the disapproving gaze of the boss’s wife, our inestimable practice manager. I wasn’t actually reading it, just whiling away the dead time before the next small animal consult came in, and I had to head out for a bite to eat, and go around on large animal calls. I bent my head to the page, just before her face popped around the door to check on me, wrinkles set in a map of misery and woe. Her face brightened as much as it humanly could to see me reading the textbook, then a car crunched to a halt on the gravel, and she vanished. I could hear a scuffle, panting, a few excited yelps, and before long I was handed the patient card. A brand new, fresh one! Fresh, white, unsullied by the foul and undecipherable scratchings of veterinarians, or at least for a few more minutes…
I walked out to the waiting room. A half grown staffy puppy saw me, and bounced out to the end of his lead, straining to get to me, eyes bugging out with joy, feet churning on the slippery floor, whimpering and yelping. His mum hang onto the lead tightly, eyes wide, arms nearly being pulled out of their sockets.
“Would you like to bring him in?” I asked, with a smile.
“Sure,” she said.
Her dog towed her in it’s wake as we went into the consult room, and I closed the door. I had to endure the crazy onslaught, a tsunami of jumping, licking, waggling frenzy! I squatted down and collared him, and did a little quick and dirty training around respecting my personal space. Before long he’d chilled out a bit, and was only moderately insane. He still ran around the room, sniffing, tail lashing, and occasionally throwing himself on one or the other of us for a pat.
“What’s up with him?” I asked.
“Well, as you can see, he’s pretty lively, but he seems to be looking a bit moth eaten, patchy in the coat,” she explained. “I was wondering if he had mange or something?”
“I did see that,” I replied. “I’ll give him a good check all over, then I’ll take a skin scraping to check for mange mites.”
He thought me examining him was a play wrestle, so it took a while to get him up on the table, let alone examine him, and I was panting a bit (though not as much as him) and sweating gently by the time I’d finished.
“He certainly seems rudely healthy except for the hair loss,” I said. “I just need to nip out to get what I need to take the skin scraping, and also to recruit a bit of help to hold him still while I do it!”
I collected a scalpel blade, some microscope slides, and a little bottle of paraffin oil. I also asked the boss’s wife to come and help hold him. She bustled in, and got him in a vice like grip. He was going nowhere, and it was the matter of a moment’s work to scrape the skin and hair off two or three tiny spots where he was looking a bit threadbare. I carefully scraped the results onto a slide, and dropped a bit of oil onto it all before gently spreading it out. I left her with the dog, and popped out to the microscope. I placed the slide on the platform, turned the light on, and clicked the lowest magnification lens into place before peering down and rotating the focus knob until everything leapt into sharp focus. The hairs were like big black sticks, and in among them were the squat, grub like forms of many, many, demodex mites.
“He is mangy!” I told her. “Heaps and heaps of the little devils. We’ll have to treat him with some medicine every day for a while, and have him back in for a skin scraping every two weeks until we get two clear ones. Staffies seem a bit prone to this, and they often get a bit of it when they are young. It should clear up pretty easily though.”
“Thanks so much,” she said. “I was worried about him. He’s such a dear little fellow.”
I scribbled my notes on the card as neatly as I could, and saw them out to the waiting room. I handed the card to the bosses wife, who was wearing a friendly smile for the client, veneered over the unhappy foundation of her normal state of being. I had my list of visits for the day, and I took my chance to escape while she was talking to the client. Freedom! Into the truck and away from the oppressive presence, free to be my own master for a few hours…