Deputy manager of our emergency and specialty hospital in Glasgow looks back on the company’s formative years

 Cheryl Cockburn remembers it as though it was yesterday, the moment she first had a conversation about what would become Vets Now. 

It was a Saturday afternoon in the late 1990s and the veterinary practice she worked in as a nurse hosted rota weekend on-call cover for local vets. 

She was on duty with a vet, Richard Dixon, who did locum work there. 

“We were just sitting waiting for emergencies to arrive when Richard asked me if I thought vet practices would pay for what we were doing,” said Cheryl, deputy manager of Vets Now’s Glasgow hospital. 

“He meant providing a proper out-of-hours service for them and I said that they absolutely would. It basically all came from there. 

“For the first 18 months or so it was just Richard and me, providing the cover every weekend. 

“They were very different days. We had no sat-nav, just A to Zs and there was a lot of driving around and getting lost.” 

Cheryl Cockburn Headshot
“I loved being a vet nurse and I couldn't get enough of it,” said Cheryl.

The cover was initially in the south side of Glasgow but practices all over the city also wanted to share in the huge benefits. 

So, Richard founded Vets Now in December 2001, operating from the PDSA premises near the city centre. 

Cheryl, who qualified as a vet nurse in 1996 and has worked in general practice and at Glasgow University as well as at the PDSA, was with Richard for those earliest of days. 

“I loved being a vet nurse and I couldn’t get enough of it,” said Cheryl.  

“They were really exciting times, but we could never have imagined how it would take off. Initially, there were few cases and the on-call system back then discouraged all but those that sounded like they really couldn’t wait. 

“I’d be on from 6pm until midnight alongside another nurse who’d work all night alongside the vet. When we weren’t answering phones, we’d play practical jokes on one another and could even go for a sleep.” 

When we weren't answering phones, we'd play practical jokes on one another and could even go for a sleep.

Cheryl Cockburn

They were memorable times for Cheryl at the PDSA with some colourful characters and interesting cases coming through the doors. 

“We had a man come in who was a bit intoxicated and someone had stabbed his dog during an argument in the street,” recalled Cheryl. 

“The dog had two or three wounds which were quite clean cuts and it wasn’t too distressed. I was triaging it when I noticed spots of blood all over the floor. 

“I thought I must have missed something, and I was re-examining the dog when I realised the blood was coming from the owner – who’d been stabbed too. 

“He hadn’t mentioned it as he’d been worried about his dog, but his injuries were actually much more significant and we had to call an ambulance and start giving him first aid until it arrived.” 

As word about the ground-breaking out-of-hours cover spread, quiet shifts quickly became a thing of the past as more and more cases arrived. 

And that good word spread far beyond Glasgow as other PDSA branches throughout the country wanted to have Vets Now operating from their premises, too. 

The growth was enormous as the veterinary profession all over the UK were also excited to be a part of it. 

Vets Now 20th Birthday Slate

And the Vets Now service was to shape the expectations of owners. 

“I can clearly remember the sort of calls we got changing as owners realised the service we offered,” said Cheryl. “Rather than maybe just bandaging up a cut paw and the owner then having to wait to go back to their own practice during the day, we could stitch it up and do many other treatments. 

“It was just so much more convenient as well as the reassurance of the immediate emergency care.” 

Looking to extend the care offered ever further, the state-of-the-art Vets Now Glasgow hospital opened in North Street in 2009, with Cheryl as one of the head nurses. 

It was also to meet the increasing demand for referral cases – animals sent for expert treatment by other veterinary practices – in addition to the evening and weekend emergencies. 

“There was an existing out-of-hours team that moved from the PDSA, and I looked after the new daytime team for the referrals,” said Cheryl. 

“We had three referral clinicians and four referral nurses including myself. But it just grew and grew. 

“Now we’ll have around 20 referral clinicians and probably 50 referral nurses.   

“Out-of-hours has grown hugely, too, and overall we employ about 175 staff in Glasgow.” 

It's been an incredible 20 years. I'm really proud to have been a part of it and to have come so far.

Cheryl Cockburn

Initially only the ground floor of the impressive building in the city’s Charing Cross area was occupied. In 2018 two additional floors were utilised to expand the offering and the specialisation. 

There are now departments for each of the services provided, all with multiple clinicians, nurses and animal care assistants. They include soft tissue surgery, orthopaedic surgery, internal medicine, oncology and Emergency and Critical Care (ECC). 

There has also been massive investment in all the equipment required to provide the very best of care. 

For Cheryl, the past two decades have been every bit as exceptional on a personal level. 

“It’s been an incredible 20 years and I’m really proud to have been a part of it and to have come so far,” said Cheryl. “I don’t think there’s another veterinary company in the industry with so many vet nurses in significant senior positions as there are at Vets Now. 

“We have been allowed to use all the skills we trained for and to progress our careers. I have had so much support and when I needed a change, I was given that opportunity when so many would have felt they would have needed to look elsewhere. 

“I spent nine months helping out as a senior nurse during the peak of Covid-19 when we needed everyone to lend a hand. But while I’m not working clinically now, I think I have the best of both worlds as I’m still in the hospital environment. 

“And because I’m not wearing clinical uniform, the animals seem to trust me – so I can just go and give them a cuddle!”