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It's a Vets Life... Dr Heike Dorn

My job here as the islands vet is interesting and allows me to work with a variety of animals, ranging from sea mammals including ; dolphins and seals to land mammals including ; alpacas, reindeer, goats, hedgehogs, a skunk, and many more species, not to mention the more routine livestock, horses, domestic pets and the bird life that inhabits Scilly. But I love it! It makes being a vet here on the Isles of Scilly all that more special.

On one occasion I was called to a rescue to help a steer that had fallen over the side of a cliff edge. It involved climbing down over rocks to get to the animal: once at the bottom I was able to calm the steer with sedation, I was then able to examine the animal for injuries before the rescue crews, including the Coast Guard, were able to hoist the animal (and me!) back to higher ground. The steer was sore for four days after its ordeal, but then recovered pretty quickly; his new name is ‘Miraculous'!

On another occasion I was called to a rescue of a common female dolphin, 152cm long, who had been found beached on Tresco. I was told the animal was in distress and seemed to have problems with its eyes. On closer examination, I was pleased to say the eyes were fine, and that the dolphin didn't have any other injuries. It was vital to get her back in to the water, and with help from kind volunteers we were able to do this, although the dolphin was reluctant to swim off out of the bay. The BDMLR (British Divers Marine Life Rescue) wanted to come and check the dolphin; however it took them almost two and a half hours to get to us. In the meantime we had to catch the dolphin again, and hold it in shallow waters on the Island Hotel's finest table linen! (Thank you to the hotel for all their help with this rescue.) As you can imagine, standing in the water with the dolphin was very cold.

Once the BDMLR team arrived and had also examined the animal, we decided to take it out of the bay, so her sonar system wouldn't get mixed up by rocks anymore. We loaded her on the Hotel rib and took her way out to sea. First she started swimming only at the surface but after 15 minutes she got the hang of it again and swam and dived like a proper dolphin. She disappeared in to the horizon, hopefully looking for her pod - a story with a good ending.

Following on from this I attended a course about dolphins and seals here on Scilly run by the BDMLR. We practised with an inflatable pilot whale on the beach with a weight of approx 10 tons; it was quite difficult to get the beast back into the water. I learnt a lot from their vet, who helped to run the course.

I also attended a course on seals at the Gweek Seal Sanctuary, this was a five day course, and was really beneficial; it will help me enormously in the future with seal rescues here on Scilly. This course including my travel, and accommodation, was funded by the BDMLR, they also funded the travel costs of the locum who covered for me here on the islands. They also funded one other islander to undertake similar training at Gweek, enabling assistance for me during rescues.

BDMLR have more recently funded a dry suit for me to wear during rescues, plus funding for a seal holding facility when the new surgery is built. All of this training is really beneficial, I am very grateful to the BDMLR for all their support.

I took up the post of Animal Health Inspector back in October 2009 employed by the Council. I dedicate 8 hours per week to this role, checking farming/livestock documentation, ear tagging etc. Not only does it help boost my income but also allows me to be in regular contact with our farming community here.

I am truly grateful to the IOSVSG for supporting this practice. It's reassuring to have their support, in practical terms: having the x-ray is a great thing to feel sure about a diagnosis, as with the blood testing facility: it now takes 15 minutes to get a result and then you know which way you have to go..

Having the new surgery is so much better to work in, not just for me but for the locums that come here and cover, and for the practice's future vets. But mostly this new surgery is benefitting the animals that need medical care, in many cases the animals won't have to be sent to the mainland for treatment, less pain and suffering, less time lost and last but not least less time wasted waiting for a diagnosis.

Thank you to all the IOSVSG‘s members, on behalf of me your island vet Dr Dorn, and all my patients for helping to make all of these developments happen.