It’s Christmas morning and vet Claire Hill has brought her dog Maisie to work.
The super-friendly Australian Kelpie cross is a regular at the Vets Now Hospital in Whitefield, Manchester, but this visit has an extra special dash of festive sparkle.
A tiny Chihuahua had been in a coma for days after hitting his head from taking a tumble off the back of the sofa. But, in a little Christmas miracle, he woke up on the big morning and Claire called the owners to come in and see him.
“I had Maisie in her Christmas outfit and bandana to bring a bit more cheer and it was such a special moment to see the owners reunited with their dog,” says Claire, lead out-of-hours vet at the busy hospital.
“The little thing wasn’t out of the woods yet, but we hadn’t known if he was ever going to wake up. The owners’ faces of relief and joy will always stay with me.”
Claire has been a vet for almost 10 years, spending seven of them in the frontline of drama at Vets Now, the UK’s leading pet emergency service. Every one of them has seen her clock in for festive shifts, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I honestly look forward to being in at Christmas – they are like normal shifts zoomed up,” says Claire. “There are more patients and an awful lot more emotions.
“Nobody wants to be at the vets at Christmas, so you get the sicker patients and it’s full of highs and lows. They are definitely the most rewarding shifts.”
The Manchester Hospital is one of more than 60 Vets Now hospitals and clinics open to deal with festive emergencies when vet practices across the country shut up shop for Christmas for a much-needed break.
There are now 20 million pet cats and dogs in the UK and a third of them will experience an emergency this festive season, with Vets Now seeing a 79% rise in cases around Christmas and New Year.
They include all the “usual” accidents and illnesses, but the frontline vets, nurses and animal care assistants are, as ever, bracing themselves for the festive fallout.
Last year 958 dogs ate chocolate, lovely to us, poisonous to them, while another 667 scoffed similarly hazardous mince pies.
Then there were the emergency dashes after too-close encounters with tinsel, advent calendars and Christmas puddings.
“You absolutely don’t know what will come through the door,” said Claire. “But what I’ve always loved about emergency medicine is that you can get answers quickly, give treatment quickly and really make a difference in one shift.
“You’re there for people in their worst moments and that’s a real privilege.”
Claire will be on shift from 7am on Christmas Day and she knows she’ll have 20 to 30 in-patients to look after.
This year she’ll be one of the two vets caring for them, with another two seeing the constant flow of new arrivals. She’ll be monitoring those in the intensive care unit, checking on treatments and updating the owners.
“I always try and take a little video so they can see their pet,” said Claire. “It’s hard being away from family at Christmas and people obviously see their pets as family.”
With party hats and Christmas music always playing, there’s an undoubted festive feel at the hospital.
But for Claire and the rest of the team, the non-stop action means quick snacks, not a proper Christmas lunch, with their own family get-togethers happening before or after the big day.
While they frequently turn disaster into relief and delight, Claire is also there for the occasions when nothing can be done.
“Doing everything we can to make those tough moments as good as they can be for the owners is the best gift we can give,” she adds.
“At the end of the day, I’ll leave with a smile or maybe a little tear, but either way Christmas is a wonderful time to be a vet.”