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EASY MAGAZINE: The Will to be a vet


EASY MAGAZINE: The Will to be a vet

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In the middle of a steaming hot day, Dr William Huey, beads of perspiration dripping from his face, is down on his knees in a rural pig pen, painstakingly manoeuvring his gloved hand and an instrument far inside the uterus of a sow in labour.
For close to half an hour, he works to extract a dead foetus from the animal, whose delivery of its first litter had started the previous night but was still causing some problems the day after. It is Huey’s second trip to the St George home where the pig’s owner anxiously watches on, breathing a sigh of relief when Huey finally announces, “Okay, that’s it. She is going to be all right.”
Just another day on the job, just another routine call for the Irish-born veterinarian who has been providing veterinary services to Barbados for 50 years.
Driving back to his home he remarked, “There are not too many gaps that I haven’t been in at some time or other, whether day or night”
Showered and taking a break on the porch of his Friendship, St Michael home, with his Norwegian-born wife Liv and their only pet, Duchess, a doberman, Huey looked back on his early days in Barbados when “every backyard had a pig, or a goat or a sheep or something in it”.
Those were the days when it was common to be called out in the wee hours of the morning.
Huey passed up an opportunity to go into a veterinarian partnership in Ireland to come to Barbados to find a busy life awaiting him here. There were only two other vets operating in the island and, as his wife reminded him, he was traversing Barbados “a hundred miles a day” in the absence of a highway to answer calls.
Though his fundamental responsibilities were with the RSPCA, he often filled in for the other two Barbadian vets working for Government, when they went on holiday. “Back then every parish had an agricultural station with animals and there was a big dairy at the Pine. Those were also the days of big hatcheries in Barbados,” he remembered.
An outbreak of Newcastle disease affecting hundreds of chickens, a swine fever outbreak that threatened to decimate the island’s pig population and a tuberculosis epidemic among the cows all drew heavily on his skills at various times in his career.
So busy was he, his reputation for responding to calls at any time became widespread, to the extent that a local telephone operator even referred a caller needing a doctor to him. He laughed once again as he recalled the story related by the caller who told him “I called the telephone company for a doctor and they gave me your number. I told them, ‘He is a vet’ but they told me, ‘That is the only doctor you will get at this time of the morning’.”
This is but one of many funny stories Huey has in his storehouse of memories from five decades in Barbados – like the call he received from an animal owner to come to see a sick animal at “a green house in Bank Hall”.
After half-hour of driving around the neighbourhood, and a call to his own home to double-check the directions he had been given, he did find the brown house and a nonplussed homeowner who told him, “Yeah doc, when I was talking to you I was inside and the inside green.”
“One of the most interesting things that I ever did was take a blood sample from an elephant here participating in a circus.”
Warned by the trainer that he first had to be introduced to the animal before he could begin any procedure, Huey stood up in front of the elephant which proceeded to move the “velvet” tip of its trunk across the vet’s forehead, around his nostrils, around his mouth, the rest of his face, and across his chest before finally enfolding Huey with his trunk and pulling the terrified vet against his body.
“By that time my heart had stopped totally.”  Hearing the words “Okay you are his friend, you can do whatever you like now” returned the heartbeat to normal.
“I took the blood sample and the elephant never blinked,” said Huey.
This was not the only anxious moment for the vet who displays a dry wit.
“It was nerve-racking for a while when there were lots of thefts and lots of dogs were being poisoned” he said. During that period owners of poisoned dogs would be in his office with their guns packed in the waistband of their shorts and sometimes “the gun would fall and be bouncing around on the floor between our feet.”
“I don’t know how I was not shot half of those times,” he said.
For Huey, “it’s never been dull” and there has been some respite with Barbadians becoming more pet-conscious and the pressure to care for those pets now being spread among almost 40 vets currently operating on the island.
Still, it is a 24-hour job. Huey’s wife, sitting beside him holding their pet Duchess, remarked: “If you can reach Will, he is working.”
The couple’s children are grown, and the days of bundling them into the family’s car to drive her husband to a call in some obscure rural district late at night, or nights when she had to forgo a dinner outing and watch her husband shed his “glad rags” for his vet’s “rags” because there was “a cow calving, or pigs coming”, are behind her.
“If it is your dog that’s sick, you don’t want to be told ‘Sorry, we are going out for dinner’,” she reasoned.
And he acknowledged her contribution saying, “This girl here has bundled two babies into the back of the car, driven me into the bushes somewhere up in the middle of St Thomas. I had a broken arm, and I went down into a gully and delivered a calf with one arm.”
His favourite animals are dogs, but he has had a love affair with horses over the years and has rehabilitated them from the race track, like one which was supposed to have been destroyed that he trained to be a polo horse.
“One of the big problems I have been seeing for many years is the business of horses that do not do well. The owner decides the horse is not worth keeping anymore and gives it to children who are being given the horses, who know nothing about taking care of them . . . ”.
He continues to work five and a half days a week at the RSPCA office, now in his mid-seventies and assisted by “a marvellous team, “including an office manager and three vets and assures he has no plans to quit any time soon.
“Up to last night [last Sunday] a lady came up to me and put her arms around me and said ‘I always wanted to thank you for how you looked after me,” he said.
That kind of satisfaction from pet owners, and the joy of seeing animals at the RSPCA find loving homes and sick animals restored to good health have served to make his job worthwhile.