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Some of you may be aware from an earlier review that I have a dog. Actually, to call Neelix a dog manages to do a great disservice both to dogs as a species and Neelix as an individual. If you were quite into eugenics and woke up one morning with the burning desire to splice an Alsatian, a terrier, Wile E. Coyote, a Tasmanian Devil and Jade Goody, well, you'd get Neelix. (Although Neelix isn't racist. Well, actually, a bit. Truth be told, he despises Chinese people, cyclists, people in wheelchairs, helicopters, all flying and crawling insects, cement lorries, postmen and children. It's like having Enoch Powell as a pet).
Anyway, should you find yourself with a dog like Neelix, or, indeed, a normal pet, one of the first things you should do is go and register with a vet. If you have a puppy or a kitten this really is imperative: as both will need a series of inoculations before they mix with other animals or roam further than their own back garden.
Braemar is pretty handy for South and East Belfast, but is going to be a wearying trek from the North or East of the city, particularly in rush hour. It's on the Lisburn Road, close to the King's Hall. If you're coming from Finaghy, it's on the left hand side, just after the pedestrian entrance to Musgrave Park Hospital and is on the same site as Rascals' nursery. Coming from Belfast city centre take the Lisburn Road out of Shaftesbury Square, and go straight on for about 3 miles. Go over the flyover at Balmoral and it's on the right just after the Shell garage. (People who live in England, wasn't that just the most useless information ever? Never mind, though, I expect you probably loved reading directions to get to a service you are unlikely to need in a city you probably won't visit.)
Braemar is a small animal veterinary practice and will happy to see you if you have a cat, dog, hamster, guinea pig, etc. If you have a massive collection of tarantulas, snakes and lizards you might want to phone first and check that they have the necessary expertise (and perhaps devote some time to wondering if the menagerie goes some way to explaining why you're still single and friends don't seem to call as much as they used to). For new or returning clients you will need to phone and make an appointment for your initial consultation and they rarely keep you waiting more than 5 or 10 minutes.
Pictures of Braemar Veterinary Clinic
The expression on his face tells you how much he loves wearing the wig.
This is generally the time when the veterinary nurses come over and make a massive fuss of Neelix (whom they refer to as 'ASBO dog'. I'll explain that at the end), on one occasion actually picking the ham out of their lunches to feed him because Neelix is a tart and knows no shame when it comes to looking cute and shamelessly begging for food.
While waiting there's a well-maintained aquarium to look at, and the usual displays of dog food. You're also likely to be asked to weigh your pet at this stage for their records. You can then either idly peruse all the different types of dog food, or watch as your pet saunters across to the biggest fecking dog since the Hound of the Baskervilles, does the canine equivalent of headbutting it and giving it the fingers before retreating to a distance just further away than the length of the other dog's lead to watch as all hell breaks loose. If there is more than one other dog in the waiting room a maelstrom of epic proportions will occur while your pet looks up at you with an expression that says 'Look! Look Mum! Look what I did! Are you proud? Well, are you? Are you proud of me? Go on; tell me I'm a good dog.'
By the time you have apologised to all the other owners you will be relieved beyond belief that it's your turn to segue into the relative calm of the…
This tends to take place in the room opposite the waiting room, which like all areas of the practice, is always scrupulously clean. I've always had appointments with Shane the vet, although I have spoken to Claire the vet on a few occasions. Shane is youngish, easygoing and obviously loves dogs and cats without being overly sentimental about it. At my last vet's my dog used to plant his feet firmly on the sides of the front door and refuse to walk a step further, such was his fear of the place. Here, however, Neelix is positively agog with excitement at getting to see Shane and actually pulls on the lead to get into the consultation room.
Neelix's appointments tend to be for yearly booster injections and check ups, and the vaccination is administered quickly and without fuss, after which Shane spends a reasonable amount of time getting feedback from me on Neelix's overall health and examining his ears, eyes, teeth, heart, lungs and coat.
Despite being generally fit and well, Neelix does have ongoing problems with his teeth. After seeing him for the first time Shane warned me that this would be a persistent problem and booked him in for a dental. By the time the anaesthetic, painkiller, extractions and antibiotics had been factored in, the bill was almost two hundred pounds (meaning that, yes, it would have in fact been cheaper to bring Neelix to my dentist). However, we weren't charged for four of the extractions because the teeth were so rotten that they came out very easily.
For his last major visit Neelix had to have another few teeth removed (making him the doggy Shane MacGowan) as well as a lump on his gum biopsied. On this occasion Shane warned me that the pre-anaesthetic was likely to sting and make Neelix whine. Well, Neelix didn't so much whine as go utterly berserk and ricochet around the room, biting, snapping and knocking over as much stuff as he could. At this stage I offered to hold him down but Shane was adamant that he didn't want to risk me getting hurt. Eventually it took 3 members of staff to hold Neelix down and administer the injection (which is impressive for a dog that only weights 13kg). After this Shane asked his next appointment to wait and spent 15 minutes giving Neelix treats, stroking him and throwing a ball for him so he wouldn't have negative associations.
The staff that I tend to interact with (or, put another way, those that are brave enough to engage with the curious mixture of spackerdom, affection and aggression that is Neelix) are Shane, one of the vets, and Roisin and Jaime, the veterinary nurses. Every time I've been Shane greets Neelix with genuine delight and affection, despite Neelix having made several concerted attempts over the years to savage him to death. The nurses absolutely adore Neelix and will leave their desk to make a big fuss of him.
Veterinary care is expensive, particularly if there's a general anaesthetic involved, and Braemar is much the same as everywhere else in this regard. Most operations are going to cost over a hundred pounds, with complex procedures costing more.
Neelix has had to have a few operations; two on his teeth and once to be castrated and have 2 teeth out in the same op (man, did I feel guilty about that one). I'm not really prone to massive weeping fits, but the nurses are considerate, sympathetic but also briskly efficient, which I would imagine would head any histrionics off at the pass at the check in stage. They will ask for a disclaimer to be signed, but this is now standard in the majority of practices. On every occasion they've been really helpful about letting me drop him off before work and pick him up as soon as I'm finished, even though it doesn't strictly comply with their opening hours. When picking him up, one of the nurses will always sit down with me and explain exactly what was done during the op, go through the after care procedures and medication and arrange a follow-up appointment. They then take payment (cash or debit/credit card) before bringing Neelix out.
On the last occasion Neelix had a lump in his mouth which had to be biopsied. The nurse was tremendously sympathetic and asked the lab to rush the results through because I was so worried. Within a week Braemar had phoned to say the lump was nothing to worry about (incidentally, even though I had an appointment scheduled for the following day they still phoned because the nurses said they didn't want me to spend another day worrying. You may think that sounds daft, but anyone with pets will, I suspect, appreciate what a nice gesture that was).
It's a fitting name, and stems from events that took place on one of the first occasions that Neelix visited the practice. Neelix was being booked in for an operation on his teeth, and happened to be on an extendable lead that day. In the waiting room was a lady with a beautifully behaved Rottweiler and a very upper-class lady with a small, fluffy Chihuahua in a wire cage. As I was signing the disclaimer form and chatting to the nurse Neelix sauntered nonchalantly over to the Chihuahua's owner, wagged his tail and allowed her to pet him. He then sniffed at the Chihuahua's cage for a moment, paused briefly to ponder his options before cocking his leg and peeing all over it, after which he trotted back to me with an expression of smug self-satisfaction on his face. The nurse hurriedly left the room, but could clearly be heard relaying the stories to other before collapsing into laughter in the hall, leaving me to try and apologise to the rat-on-a-string dog and its owner.
Lessons were learnt: 1. Neelix is capable of humiliating me in any situation. 2. Neelix is never, never allowed on an extendable lead.
NB. Again, Ciao seems to have given this the maddest of specific criteria. Shane the vet would probably object to being rubbed onto your skin, especially as I think he's married. He tends to smell of cleansing gel and antiseptic fluid. He's not easily absorbed at all and his packaging tends to be trousers and a checked shirt.