In 2008 SA Magazine did a feature article on "A day in the life of Dr Ken Robinson VET ON WHEELS", this is an extract from that article.
THE PHONE STARTS RINGING AT 8AM, setting the tone for the rest of Dr Ken Robinson’s day - busy. Ken is the vet on wheels, one of few Adelaide vets who will visit your ailing pet in the comfort of its own home. He does a quick check of his booked appointments in the computer, punches the address details
into his GPS, then goes through all the medications and equipment in his car. making sure he has what he needs for today’s patient list.
"I've just changed to a bigger car and it’s much more spacious,” he says. "I keep a pharmacy on board, along with all my instruments, sutures, whatever I might need to treat minor injuries.”
The next job is to take care of his very own patient, Lizzie the Staffordshire terrier cross. “I got her when some people brought her in as a puppy to be put down. I couldn’t resist her,” says Ken. “She’s very talkative and she goes everywhere with me in the car.” But at 14 she needs to start her day with a dose of vitamins to ensure she can keep up with her energetic owner. “She has arthritis too,” says Ken, 'but now she does daily hydrotherapy in the pool and she’s fine.”
The laptop computer is a constant companion, too, holding files on all of Ken's 3500 patients. The mobile business appears to rely heavily on technology and modern communication devices but Ken says it is not so different from what he was doing as a country vet when he first came to Australia from the US state of Arkansas 17 years ago. “We used radios back then and had a receptionist based at the surgery to take calls,” he says, “but being a mobile vet in the city is really just an extension of country vetting.”
However, he does concede that his job can be very “fire brigade” at times, as he races to the rescue of injured pets that cannot be transported to a surgery or veterinary hospital. “I always weigh up when I get an emergency phone call,” he explains. “If the person can get the animal to a clinic or vet hospital quicker than I can get to them. I give them the details of the nearest facility and encourage them to go straight there.” Sometimes, it is just not possible for the owner to move a pet. and that is when Ken’s mobile service really comes into its own. "I've rescued dogs stuck under houses, some that have fallen down holes, even a dog that fell off a cliff,” he says.
But he adds that many of his clients choose his service because they have “big dogs or smart cats” that are a challenge to transport. Elderly people also prefer to avoid the stress of bundling up their beloved pet and travelling to a surgery. An added benefit of house calls is a more relaxed atmosphere. “Dogs watch their owners,” says Ken. “If the owner is nervous the dog thinks, ‘what’s mummy doing?’.”
Arriving for an appointment to see a dog, Ken first greets the owner with a handshake where the pet can see them. He then introduces himself to the dog and gets down on the floor to “give them a cuddle”. In this way, he says, he can often unobtrusively find out what he needs to know, with the animal thinking it is just getting an extra good pat. He points out that, especially when dealing with large, potentially aggressive dogs, “if they’re not going to do something, you can’t make them”. His technique obviously works and he modestly admits customers frequently comment that their pet has “never been like that before at the vet”.
With his days spent visiting people and their animals at home, Ken has an endless supply of entertaining stories to tell. A recent favourite was a visit to a breeder of bichon frise dogs. “I was on the floor treating one of the dogs when an Indian ring neck parrot walked right up to me. ‘That’s Edwina,’ said the owner. Then the bird just walked straight up my arm,” he laughs. He has also looked after a bird that didn’t exist. “A lady called me and asked me to come and treat her bird. When I arrived there was a beautifully maintained cage with food and water but no bird. Once I realised the bird was imaginary, I just reassured her that it was fine and went on my way.”
Rushing to yet another appointment, Ken concedes that his is not the job for everyone. “You have to be versatile and you must be able to improvise ...” he says. Unlike with clinic visits, Ken allows a full hour for each home visit so he can spend some time in the animal’s environment. This technique has often led him to a diagnosis that may have been elusive if the pet had come to him. “I was treating a bull terrier for a skin condition, quite common in this breed. While I was at the house, the owners mentioned they had just moved in. It turns out there was a rhus tree in the garden and they are highly allergenic. Once the tree was removed, the dog was fine.”
In between appointments, Ken's car is his mobile office. He uses the travelling time to think about current cases, make phone calls to check on patients or confirm new appointments and clear up administrative work. His mobile business even led to his meeting his fiancee. A registered nurse, she was caring for an elderly man who had a cat in need of attention. She called Ken and the relationship took off from there.
The day races by and, as usual, lunch is not a feature. “I never realise I'm hungry 'til I get home,” says Ken. But then he admits that some of the people he visits are very generous with the home baked goodies. “Especially the Greek nannas,” he grins.