Nigel Gittins - Veterinary surgeon

Nigel GittinsAsk a Brit where he went to school and, usually, you learn something about his wider background. Nigel Gittins’ education was split between Summerhill and Dartington Hall, two establishments once famed for their blend of moral and pedagogic anarchy. “My parents were what used to be called ‘progressive’ and they believed in that kind of libertarian schooling. You didn’t have to work, you didn’t have to do anything, really. Actually, Summerhill wasn’t much fun—quite a lot of bullying went on—but I’ve got fond memories of Dartington and I eventually got decent ‘A’ levels.”

“Tarantulas weren’t on the syllabus”

And how did he become a vet? “About the time I left school, my parents got divorced. I became fed up with the hassle and so I left home and decided to go round the world. In the event I got no further than Paris. I met a girl, it turned serious and she became my wife. I’d always liked animals and I was increasingly drawn to the idea of being a vet. I was lucky enough to get into Maisons Alfort, France’s top vet school. It was tough but stimulating—and I even had Giscard’s daughter as a classmate.” Is French training different from British? “Well, essentially you cover the same ground but I think that here there’s probably rather more theory than in the U.K.”

And once he’d qualified? “You have to decide what sort of veterinary medicine you want to do. There’s quite a range—from rural work to food hygiene. A country practice can have all sorts of problems so I went for work with small animals—that means cats and dogs, for the most part. I was in Paris for 15 years and now we’ve moved to the Coast. I opened my cabinet here just 8 months ago and things are picking up well.” Dogs and cats, yes, but does he get any of those nouveaux animaux de compagnie we sometimes hear about—monkeys, iguanas, tarantulas and suchlike? “I got monkeys sometimes in Paris but a lot of these exotic beasts need to see a vet who’s working in a zoo. Tarantulas weren’t on the syllabus at Maisons Alfort!”

When should people take their animal to the vet? “I’d say whenever there’s a problem which lasts longer than 24 hours—lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, for example. It’s also useful to keep a thermometer for your pet. It’s done rectally but it’s quite easy. Anything over 39°—that’s valid for both cats and dogs—means the animal needs looking at.” What, I have to ask, of the Irish folk wisdom of my childhood which held that a dog with a hot nose was a sick dog? “That’s a useless idea—canine noses can be hot and cold, wet and dry, for a variety of reasons. By itself, that means nothing.” What about check-ups? “Of course, they’re useful, though how often you bring in your dog or cat depends on his or her age and medical history. I’d say as a rule of thumb that once a year is sensible—that’s for an overall check-up, vaccinations and, I’d always advise, blood tests to pick up on likely future problems.”

“Petside manner”

What do people expect from their vet? “Odd you ask that. I’ve just been to a seminar on exactly that topic. It emerged that four things come into play. First of all, there’s what we call ‘petside manner’—how you get on with animals when they’re brought in. It helps if you like animals and have your own—we’ve got cats and a Westy, Donald (pictured). After that, there’s availability, price and, of course, competence.” And what does a vet expect from his (human) clients? “Basically, to give the fullest possible account of the symptoms observed and then to follow the treatment prescribed. Cats and dogs can’t do any of that for themselves!”

And, finally, how is Nigel Gittins settling in on the Côte d’Azur? “It’s another country. In a way I’m a Parisian first and I’ve got to get used to a different style of living. I must say, though, my confrères have been very welcoming and helpful. I’m finding my way round the English-speaking community and I’ve already been able to help people with the Passports for Pets formalities. Not always so simple, even now. And Donald seems very happy here…”

From Reporter Issue 94
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