Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dr Liz's Gratitude Project - Animal Lovers are the Best Kind of people

This is the final Gratitude for 2014 for me - but it is not the final one ever.  It is important to be grateful for what we have, and what is around us, for if we forget, then we can not truly appreciate.

"I am grateful for the animal lovers in our community, as they are the best kind of people. "

 Dr Liz

"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
Ref: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/mahatmagan150700.html

In Wollongong, this year we saw a nasty element within our community - some of it was for the anti-animal side (at the extreme view believed pets should not be part of our community), and some was from the animal side (who believed their pets had the right to everything).   Like any extreme view, neither was right, and both extreme sides missed the point of tolerance, understanding, cooperation and kindness. 

However, I may be biased, I do believe that those who are kinder to animals, are more likely to show kindness and compassion to their fellow man too. Those who are nasty or cruel to animals, are more likely (IMHO), to equally be violent or aggressive to their fellow human being. 

Dr Liz (me) with Maya - who is telling me exactly what she thinks

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi.  Thank you for being part of the animalclinic family and bellambivet blog for 2014. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Five things Vets Say that Aren't True

Anyone who knows me, know that I have a quirky sense of humour.  As many like to poke fun at me or my profession, I to can do my own bit of poking - at my profession, myself and at pet owners too!  I usually keep the most intimate of  poking in private though, but there are situations (like now), where I can't stay quiet and not share what I am really thinking. 

I'm all heart with an Aussie sense of humour... honestly!
There are many online articles out there claiming the multiple things that vets say that aren't true. In other words, the procedures or actions of vets which are downright lies. I have come across so many comments and articles, that it isn't a specific one that has got me angry.

Frankly, enough is enough!

You see, veterinarians are an amazing group of people.  They are highly skilled, highly trained, hard working and extremely devoted to what is truly a life calling.  It has been shown that for most of us, the decision to become a vet occurred by the time we were 10 years old - it was an emotional decision based on a passion for all animals, rather than a practical understanding of the work load, income, lifestyle, and what the general population may end up thinking of us.

For an intelligent group of people, we made a massive life choice based on pure emotion - really really stupid in retrospect.  But it explains why vet bashing comments hurts so much.
And what would otherwise be random comments or articles are painful for us to read.
Many vets will admit that they decided to be vet by the time
they were 10 years old. For me, I was only 8.

I take any unjustified attack on my colleagues or my profession as personally as I would an attack on myself
" A Ha" (imagine me in martial arts pose ready to defend myself against an attack!)

I can guarantee you that there are a lot of blog posts, articles in magazines, or emails where people often write about the things that vets say that aren't true. Virtually every one of these "articles" I have read are really "anti-vet" or "vet bashing" or worse, advertorials for products that a vet would never recommend or use.

When I read these articles,   I know better, as do my colleagues, and those within the veterinary profession.  These writers smatter a smidge of fact, with a lot of opinion, and call it "The Truth". 

Unfortunately, it is with "The Truth" that pet owners get themselves unstuck.

There is as much truth in these articles as there is meat in meat pies (this is an Australian analogy that may be lost on some of you.... Australian meat pies are not really required to have meat in  them).

This sort of "vet bashing"  really isn't new, but with the advent of social media outlets, it hits a whole new level.  There are Facebook pages and websites devoted to hating veterinarians.  Sadly, such campaigns have resulted in the suicide of the target.  Often, the comments are just generally hating anything remotely associated with vets - anybody who is  a vet is the target - whether justified or not!

But I have no doubt that these anti-vet articles do gel with some people who just want to believe in a veterinary conspiracy theory.  (i.e we are all money hungry, rich vets who sit by our fires drinking port swirling our moustaches relishing in the  victims we have scammed  that day for money for unnecessary tests, procedures, medications or whatever we are supposed to do in the scamming process according to "The Truth").

So, in the spirit of  common online or published magazine titles
 " Five things Vet's say that Aren't true",
I thought I would write, as a vet
 "Five things Vets Say that Aren't true"

What Vets Say that Aren't True - Number One: " I can see that you love your pet very much" 

 I have only said this line once as a lie. Probably many of my colleagues have never lied when they used this line, but I have no doubt that many other colleagues have been in a similar situation, where they had to say platitudes to the owner, but really feeling something different.
"I can see you love your pet" (not)!

 I remember my situation clearly.  It was a very sick, very very thin, Pomeranian.  She was literally skin on bone.  She was only 5 years old.  The owner was wailing and crying on how much they loved "the dog" , but now it was too old, and therefore not worth it,  money wise, to do anything to help it.

"The dog" had a name but they never used it.

They wanted "it " euthenased.  In fact, it took alot to convince them to let me at least examine this little one first.  For me, I cannot euthenase anything without knowing that it is the right thing to do for that animal.   That rule is unbreakable!

When I saw the physical state that poor baby was in, the rotting teeth in her  head, the sores over the abdomen from the million and one fleas crawling through the coat.....

Even many years on, tears well up in my eyes at the state that beautiful dog was in.  The eyes told me of the pain she  was in.  To this day, I remember her name too.... as a vet I have euthenased many loved animals, and all haunt me in one way or another.  This one haunts me in a special way.  I told a lie to a pet owner (one of my rare situations when I have).

Letting this little girl go to Doggie Heaven was the kindest thing I could've done. Seeing the state that she was in, and hearing the tears and wailing of the pet owner, claiming to love their pet so much, and that they could never live without it. 

Telling the owner what I truly thought of their version of love, was not going to change anything for this poor suffering girl.. The best I could do was give her the gift of a painfree death. And this is what I did.

  As for the owner, I don't know what happened to them.  That day was the first and last time I saw them.

What Vets Say that Aren't True - Number Two:  "Sure, I am happy to come in after hours to see your pet" or another version is "Sure, I am happy to stay back late  to see your pet "

 Vets are people with spouses, family, outside hobbies... and all they want is a happy work/life balance like everyone else. I am happy to stay back later than our closing time to see a pet, if that is truly necessary, and it is a genuine emergency.
It's a mystery!

 We  (Dirk and I) have stayed back to 9 or 10 or later at night, and weekends also, to do what needs to be done.  But I am not happy when I find out that the pet has been sick on/off for a few weeks, and has been going down hill for the three days before the owner decides to bring it in.

Especially if it has a condition that is not immediately life threatening (like an ear infection or a rash)

It won't die overnight, so it could be seen the following morning easily.

 Except, according to the owner,  it can't. The owner is often due to fly out for a two week holiday the following morning, and suddenly,  the pet's medical problem becomes an emergency.   Or they can't because they are working that day.

As a solo vet, I work Monday to Fridays 9 to 6, and Saturday 9 - 12.  I rarely leave at 6 pm on a weeknight, and leaving at 12 on a Saturday is just a dream! So I am looking at a 50+ hour week easy!  Except I am not paid an hourly rate, so more hours do not mean more pay!

I rarely get a day off, and I am not going to apologise when I do take a break or an early mark.  I am certainly not going to apologise for attending my children's school functions, presentations or helping with canteen.  I am a mother of four beautiful children, who are more important to me than anything else in the world.

But, if a pet is seriously ill and needs me, then if I can help, I will.  No quibble, no argument. I am happy to do it, and my family understand. In fact they often help out.  I always say, 'If I can I will, if I can't there is a good reason for that. " and I sometimes say "If this is not good enough for you, then you need to find another vet."

We will stay back to suture up wounds (we do know that if any wound is sutured within the first three hours of the injury, the infection rate drops dramatically), and we also know that dogs with uterine infections need to be operated on sooner rather than later.

My family know that, and they understand.   

I am not happy about taking time away from my own family all because of the pet owner's poor time management or poor prioritizing. It is unfair to my family and to me.

So, yes, it is a lie if you hear a vet say "I am happy to stay back to whatever time to see your dog" as most times they are sacrificing their own family time to stay back to see your pet. So  they when they do, be thankful as they are sacrificing their time to help you.

Just think about how you feel about doing overtime at short notice.

What Vets Say that Aren't True - Number Three "Of course I don't  mind that you can't pay now"

There is a funny ad on TV in Australia about the payment of EFTPOS fees to a business' bank account.  Generally, it would take 2-3 days for the EFTPOS transaction to reach the business' account, and the ad is all about showing people taking products and services, and telling the business owner that they will pay them 3 days later.  The ad is promoting a particular bank putting the funds of the transaction into the business account that night.

For some reason, some pet owners feel they have the right to dictate their payment terms to a veterinary business, in the same way that these consumers do at those shops in the advertisement. 

They will say at the time of the consultation " I don't care how much it costs, I just want my pet fixed".  Now, for the more experienced veterinarians, they know exactly what this phrase means.  It translates to " I am not going to pay you a freakin' cent, but I want you to fix my pet"

"Not happy when I have to deal with a small number of thieving lying pet owners. 
You are a tiny tiny minority but you cause so much pain".
In my veterinary practice, 97% of the time this statement  of " Of course I don't mind" is actually true. For the pet owners that I know and see regularly, I do not mind that you can't pay now.  You are family. 

 It is a bond that I have with my pet owners, that I know that they will pay when they can, as they know that I will do the best I can for their pet, always. 

So, we are now talking about the 3% of loser clients, usually it is the client who has been once or twice only - where this statement by the vet becomes untrue.  Even though the owners are told of what the costs are going to be before we start, they say at the time of discharge of the pet from hospital  " I'll pay you $200 now, and then $50 a month".

 Say what?  You are dictating terms of doing business with me?

"Of course I don't mind that you were dishonest with me in the whole transaction process, and that I took time away from people who wanted my services, but I had to send elsewhere because I was dealing with your pet (that you are now not paying me for). "

Seriously, I do mind.    

What Vets Say that Aren't True - Number Four "All I care about is the money"

Well, actually I have never said that, and I have never met a vet who has said that to someone. 

Virtually every vet though has had the line said to them that " All you care about is the money", so I suppose it is feasible for a vet to say that.  If other people think it, then it must be what we must say (or think).

But if we did say it, it would be a lie, as I don't care about the money.

I do not see anything wrong with being paid for the work that I offer as a veterinarian.  It is my job, my life, my vocation and my passion. Unfortunately, the last three do not pay my bills, but my job does.

I find it strange that a philanthropist who earned his/her  money selling computers or real estate or whatever, garners more respect donating money to animal causes, than vets who do more for animal causes than anybody.

Just think about it.

My advice to anyone who truly wishes to help animals, is to  enter a high paying profession, earn lots and lots of money, and then work with animals in your spare time.  You will get more satisfaction,  and you will truly make a difference in an animal's life.

Obviously being a vet isn't enough, as we are just in it for one thing only.

What Vets Say that Aren't True - Number Five: A Microchip means your pet will make it home!

Councils in NSW and governments elsewhere push the rhetoric that a pet's microchip is the only way it is going to make it back home.

They make a law saying that all pets must be microchipped at point of sale.  Unfortunately, at the point of sale, the microchip in the pet is in the breeders name usually.  

How, on God's Earth, is a microchip in a pet that is not going to reside with the breeder where it came from,  is going to ensure its reunion with its final forever family, I have no idea. 

Especially if that breeder has to go through multiple years of records of different tan/black puppies with a white spot on the left foot, to find the right owner (if we are lucky).

If microchipping truly meant reunion, then the microchip would be implanted in the presence of the forever family, and registered automatically in their name.   If microchipping truly meant reunion, then the details would need to be updated each year. Pets change owners, people change mobiles and addresses. 

It's not the vets fault however, as we had no input into the initial legislation, and have had little impact on any changes since. 

At my vet hospital, we have been scanning and checking microchips for over 10 years now, and we find so many that are out of date.  We tell owners, and most of them understand and appreciate what we are doing.

To my surprise, many think that updating the database when you move is my responsibility.  It's not.  It is yours, as the owner of your pet to double check, and update all of the details.  Under privacy laws in Australia, I cannot change anything on the NSW Companion Animals Database.  

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi.  As a vet, I love seeing happy healthy pets, as this is why I entered the veterinary profession.  To keep our animals healthy, to get them well, and, above all, make them happy members of your family, as well as the overall community, what I (with my colleagues) strive for.

I do not believe in hatred or being unnecessarily nasty. I believe in compassion, kindness, tolerance and understanding, and try to extend that to all that I meet.

Thank you for understanding my quirky sense of humour in reading "Five things Vets say that aren't true"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Twenty five years of veterinary practice - what has changed

I graduated from the University of Sydney with my Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree in December, 1989. In Dec 2014, I will celebrate 25 years as a veterinarian, a milestone I thought I would never reach (and the reasons why is another story altogether).

" As more things change, the more they stay the same. " My care for all of the animals I see has not changed at all, but the tools and knowledge now available has changed tremendously.

The thermometer
In "my day", the thermometer were of the mercury kind.  You had to make sure you shook it down well before you "inserted" it, and it had to stay there for two minutes.

These days, we now have digital aural and rectal thermometers, and even some microchips can also give a pet's temperature. Our multiparameter has an oeseophageal thermometer (in the ECG probe), so we can get both temperature and heart rhythm at the same time.

Digital thermometer readings are within 5 seconds in most cases, and even with that, it seems like it is 4.5 seconds too long. 

I am certainly thankful for the newer thermometers (and I am very sure our pets are too).

Pet foods
In the "good 'ol days", good pet foods were Chum and Pal, and puppy/kitten food was just adult dog food with extra calcium added.

Boy, did we see a lot of problems as a result of insufficient aswell as too much calcium in the diet. 

These days, entire shops are devoted to the many brands of pet foods available, with every man and his dog (literally), producing their own form of "natural" pet food.

As a kid, I remember that our dogs only needed their distemper and hepatitis shots as puppies, and that was it for life (virtually).  Then parvovirus hit our dogs in the 1970's, with an entire susceptible population of dog's  lining up at the vets, puking their poor little stomachs out.  Vets were stunned at the severity of this new disease, and treatment was "fingers crossed", and hoped for the best.

Vaccinations are the best and only means of
preventing parvovirus infection in our dogs.

 A vaccine soon became available after that, and we knew that we could prevent this disease through annual vaccinations, so that then became the new "normal".   In-clinic tests can now easily prove whether a dog has parvovirus and/or coronavirus  in 15 minutes, instead of the "good old days" of waiting for days for test results, by which time the dog was either dead or better.

Nowadays, we now have the "three year" vaccine against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus, as well as the option of "titre testing", to see if vaccinating will be of any further benefit.

 Vet hospitals, such as Russell Vale Animal Clinic even have titre testing "in house", so no longer needing to wait a week for these results even.

Sadly, even with our amazing cheap pet vaccines, there still continue to be outbreaks of diseases such as parvo and distemper in our dog community, for various reasons.
Pain medications 
In the early days, pain medication as part of the surgery procedure was virtually non existant. In the practice I first worked at,  there was a bottle of pethidine in the safe, and we were told to never use it for routine surgeries. 

The dogs and cats would not move for 3 to 7 days post operatively, most likely due to severe pain. I shudder now at the thought. 

On the shelf for arthritis was the buffered aspirin, cu algesic or phenylbutazone ( bute to the horse people.)  There was nothing for cats at all. 

These days, most modern practices like mine have a pain management program for every surgical patient incorporating multimodal analgesia, from premedication with drugs like methadone or morphine, the use of local anaesthetics, and ongoing post operative pain monitoring and treatments. 

From the first day I opened my doors, pain management protocols were put into place, and they are constantly updated.

I never want to go back to "the good 'ol days" as for our pets, they weren't so good. 

Flea washes

Oh wow.. In my mind's memory  I see four shelves of black and red and white bottles, jars, sprays, collars and flea bombs. There were an assortment of treatments available, most of which struggled to work. 

Tick preventatives were scarce. In the practice I first worked in, they used to apply a blue cattle product onto the dogs called "tiguvon".  When the dogs shook after it was applied, the clinic walls would get the blue splatter that could never be washed off. 

And then Frontline spray came on the market. Then Advantage spot on... And weren't we all skeptical on how a little drop thing could kill fleas and keep them away.

Now we have tablets that last a month, and who is to say where the future will lead with respect to flea control. 

I only know that our dinosaurs had fleas, and so the battle will continue to go on!

The annual check up

In the olden days, the annual check up included the Heartworm test to check for microfilaria, as well as the check up and vaccination. Vets rarely vaccinated for kennel cough, as it was uncommon back then. 

We would diagnose 2 to 3 heartworm positive cases each week, and would end up treating half of these.  The other half would be euthenased due to the cost of treatment ( mostly because the dog had severe end stage liver and kidney failure). The arsenic based drug, thiacetarsemide was given intravenously to kill the adult heartworms, but this itself was also not a risk free treatment.
Its amazing how vets have helped reduce the incidence of this disease. We have to thank the introduction of Heartgard in 1990 for this, and now obviously all of the other Heartworm preventatives that are out there. In the olden days, daily tablets was the only option.

Times have changed.

Now, too many pet owners assume their pets are healthy, and are foregoing the annual check up.  I don't see that as progress, though.

Veterinary Equipment

I remember in my first job in 1990, that the  "A class vet hospital" I was employed at used bathroom scales to weigh a pet (after you weighed yourself first).  Now, most vet hospitals would have large walk on scales.
Our advanced multiparameter monitor
(on demo mode)

There was only one ultrasound machine at the University, and it was wheeled from room to room if needed.  Whilst we learnt about the technology, very few students were allowed to touch it.  Now even small vet hospitals like mine have an ultrasound machine.

To get an MRI done at the University in the 1980's meant  a trip to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital around the corner.  And really, in those days, only a select few clients could afford it.
Digital radiography - both full body
and dental Xrays at Russell Vale
Animal Clinic

Now, multiple veterinary centres in Sydney house an MRI, and CT scanners, with trade stands at the vet conferences showing CT scanners suitable for general veterinary hospitals. 

As a vet  student in 1988,  I spent three weeks in a country vet practice, which consisted of four rooms - one was the waiting/reception, second was the consult room, third was the operating theatre/treatment room, and fourth was where the cages where.

Our laboratory
The toilet doubled as the Xray developing room, and sometimes, as the isolation ward too.  These days, most veterinary hospitals are specifically designed as hospitals, or refurbished shops (which is what Russell Vale Animal Clinic).

Nowadays, many vet hospitals, like ours have digital radiography, complex anaesthetic monitoring equipment and modern laboratory equipment.

I know that in the event of a "zombie apocalypse", many vet hospitals, like mine, would be willing and able to help out, with all of the equipment needed (assuming the zombies didn't mind being locked up in cages)!

All in all, no matter how often I hear people complain about "why can't it be like the good old days", when they talk about veterinarians, I am thankful that we no longer have to practice like that.  We no longer have to "guestimate" most of our diagnoses, and we do have the means to do so much to help our fellow animals.

I am thankful that we have at our disposal a whole array of tests and medications, that help us diagnose and treat more accurately and more effectively than ever before.  I am thankful that we have access to better information and protocols on how to treat some serious diseases.  With these advances, more pets are living longer, happier lives.

I am Dr Liz, and I am the vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  We are for happy, healthy pets (always).  December 1989 was my last month of my University life, and I have been a practicing veterinarian ever since (even with four kids).

 I have to thank all of those loving pet owners who appreciate the work of veterinarians, and understand that we only want to do the best we can for all of our animals. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

December 2014 - Reflections of my veterinary life

This year, as last year, December is a time of reflection of the year past, and planning for the year to come.

Through my bellambivet blog we shared some highs and lows of the year, and we hope we did it with compassion and kindness overall.  I hope we gave good information and advice, and hope that if a question arose about your pet, that you felt comfortable enough to ask me, or your own vet if you are from elsewhere..

This year, on a personal and business level, was tough.  I have had tough years in the past, but this year is in the top three.  Whenever I start thinking not very nice things about people, I remember what my father used to say " what you say reflects more on you than it does on them". 

And it has been a year of thinking of not very nice things about people when we see the graffitti on the building walls and brand new window signage, or those who have decided to  break in or steal from us.  We had been broken into multiple times this year, with several thousands of dollars worth of tools stolen.  I would've preferred to be in the local news for something a bit more upbeat and happy, rather than a frowny face (as pictured below).

And then there are the pet owners who come in with their sick or injured pets who have no intention of paying anything for the treatment they are demanding for their pets. They look you straight in the face and say they'll pay next payday, but they never do.  This has happened so many times this year. I am such a fool for trusting, that it scares me that I will turn into an unrecognisable bitter and cynical vet.

When I hear my father's voice in my head, I feel like an awful person thinking that those who have done damage to my property, or who have stolen from me and my family (through direct or indirect stealing) as horrible people.  That would make me a horrible person by default.  I try to practice kindness and compassion, yet I have moments of weakness of being a horrible person.

When I hear the words of what some pet owners have said to me this year, and how that has made me feel, the view that I must be a horrible person is verified.  How dare I, as an animal lover, one who has trained and studied hard to understand and treat the diseases of our animal friends, ask for money to treat these same pets.

I should do it for the love of it, I am told. It must be all about the money, as you are asking to be paid a fee for your time, knowledge, expertise, and for the use of your veterinary equipment,  I am informed. How do you sleep at night, I am asked. Why can't you be there at every minute of every day just in case.  How unconscionable! !

And this year, the issue of suicide in my profession hit me, and my colleagues square in the face - as the world was shocked in the death of Robin Williams, we were struck by the very public suicides of  Dr Shirley Koshi and Dr Sophia Yin. We knew that there were many others out there who suffer silently until they choose suicide to escape the pain.

This year, I have felt like I was kicked to the ground, and even though I wasn't moving, I was still being kicked by these unrelentless acts of cruelty and overall comments made with disrespect and nastiness. No sooner would I lift my head up to breath, I was being knocked down again by more.  When I told one person that their comment was hurtful, their reply to me was "I know".  

Yes, I understand the pain all to well.
"Don't worry, be happy" was a phrase my father used to say in the last few months of his life.  It was the same song we played at his funeral. It is those words that I keep repeating to myself, when I have had to face the things I've faced this year.

I have had to face this as well as the usual stressors of veterinary work.  Those who work in the industry know all too well which factors I am referring to.
Whilst it was not the first time I had faced challenges, and had forged myself forward confident in that I was on the right path,  this year, 2014, was the first time I truly wavered.  Perhaps it was time I re-examined my path, and chose a different one? 

What gives me strength to stay is the love and support of my family... Dirk, who is the "rock" on which the vet hospital stands.  He, who puts up with my tears, my frustrations, my anger, my joy and my pats on the back!  My beautiful, smart and talented children who say " its ok mum" when I can't turn up to their school events, their concerts, their sports or their friend's birthday parties, all because I have to look after someone else's family pet.  I know it is what I do, but my children didn't sign up for this life.
We have had a few "oops" moments this year!

What gives me strength is my animalclinic family, those who, like family, can tell us  when we need to pull up our socks, and do better next time.  Our family who understands that our game may falter, but its not because we don't care, but due to reasons beyond our control, and gives us a second chance to fix the problem if we can.  

What gives me strength is this same family whom we have cried tears of joy when their pet's condition improves, or tears of sadness when we have to hold their paw and say farewell.

Russell Vale Animal Clinic can only continue to exist so long as there are pet owners our there who choose us as their family pet care provider.  This fact is not lost on me whatsoever, and we try to honour that with the services we provide, and the care that we take.

I assume nothing, and am grateful for everything.

But this year hasn't all been a year of lows.

This year we have had some amazing highs - such as our award wins and reaching Finalist status in many prestigious awards.  We were Highly Commended in the Illawarra Women in Business Awards for Best Business, as well as the Australian Veterinary Association Practice of Excellence Awards.  We won in the Illawarra and South Coast Business Awards for Outstanding Pet Care, and we were a finalist in the same section in the National Small Business Champion Awards for the second year in a row. 

We featured in the Australian Veterinary Association Vet Conference as a "recognised pet blogger", as well as in the magazine Vet Practice, for our social media expertise. We also were published in several Veterinary business resources, such as Vetanswers and Vetprac. In November, some anonymous kind person, nominated us for Kochie's "Rescue my website", with the winner to be announced on December 21st on Channel 7.  This random act of kindness has not been lost on me.

Our "Thanks to You" Open Day with our Get Wild reptile show was a runaway success (albeit a bit damp), and Santa Paws photos was, again, a fun filled few days. Wayne and Mary from King's Photography, yet again, excelled in their photography, and captured the spirit of many of our animalclinic family.

Some amazing highs and memories, which we hold onto.

It is all "Thanks to you", that we are able to continue on into 2015 and beyond.

Of course, 2014  also the year that Piper joined our family, and what a joy that has been (in amongst her medical and surgical dramas).  She certainly provided some good topics for my blog this year. And let me not forget Cicero, our new rabbit. 
Piper, like all children, look so angelic when they are asleep.

It was also the year that Old George came into our lives, and stayed for six months.  One of life's true gentlemen, as they say. He is one of the many pets that saved me this year.  I shall never forget him. I still cry when I remember the state he was in when we first saw him that Saturday afternoon, and the way he was on his last day, when he took his last breath in the arms of Dirk.

As I reflect on this year, and plan for the next, I have a huge smile on my face, overall happy in the knowledge of all the good things in my life and the good people around me.  Bad things have happened, and bad people do exist, and I acknowledge them and their actions.  I will not pretend otherwise.  But they do not define me or my life. 

Russell Vale Animal Clinic is here to stay, for now, and for that I am happy to sing that to the clouds above.  I know that we will continue to face our challenges, but, as they say they are  "first world problems".

I hear my Dad's voice when he says "Don't worry, be happy", as I try to remain true to what is important in life.  I have my health, my family's health, a roof over my head, and safe food and water.

As I reflect on this year, I have been a vet for 25 years, and Russell Vale Animal Clinic has been open for 16 years. It has certainly been a journey that I had never thought would turn out the way it has.


I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi.  Thank you for being part of my family, and for being part of the "highs" of 2014. 


The Twelve Days of Veterinary Christmas? Our list of twelve FREE veterinary services

The other day, during a cleanout of the back bedroom at the vet hospital, I came across one of my original Business Plans for Russell Vale Animal Clinic. It was dated 1997.  I read through the Mission Statement that I had written, looked at the dreams and aspirations that I had for the future of this special little vet hospital.
Most vets started out doing exactly this.

There were words such as "care of our animals", " respect" " understanding" "family" littered in amongst the financial words in the  business plan.  I had a vision of being a wellness centre, where the care of each pet was age appropriate.  I had a vision of a community of animal lovers, with each supporting each other, as communities and families do.

A few weeks ago, I asked my clients for help in writing a blurb for a website competition, and this is what someone else wrote!

"providing quality, affordable (and practical) animal healthcare. Each step, we’ve tried to create
a community of pet lovers around our animal hospital. We love what we do- and it shows. " Bek

It is heart warming to know that we are doing what we had set out to achieve.

We love to  help all of our animalclinic family members, and here are some ways that we do help that you might not be aware of. 
We also offer a free face on which your pet can lick to their
heart's content (Thanks Lillie for obliging)

So in the spirit of the "Twelve days of Christmas my true love gave to me",  here is a list of the twelve things this mad vet at Russell Vale vets, gives to you.

1. Free pet care product advice
We know that pet owners these days buy their pet care products from anywhere - from the internet, from the supermarket, and from the pet shop. 

As a vet, I am not here to  "to sell you product", but to make sure your pet is on the right product.  We have seen dogs on three different types of Heartworm preventatives, and dogs on none (thinking that they were).

Your pet's health is important to you and definitely to us, so why not speak to trained experts in all things animal?

Of course we sell a broad range of pet foods, flea and tick preventatives, dental care products and much much more, and we stand by each and every product we sell.

The best pet care advice always has to come from your local vet. 

To find out more about buying pet products from the supermarket, you can read it here. 

To know more on how we can help you, just come in and ask.

2. Free Scan and Check of Microchip

At every visit, your pet's microchip is scanned, and then we do the next step.  We check the NSW and national databases to confirm that the details are up to date. 

We have seen many new pets whose details are "out of date" or just plain wrong.  

It is for your peace of mind that we check - we want to know that the microchip is operating well, is sitting where it is supposed to be sitting, and that the information is current too.  Correct information is the ONLY way a pet is going to make it back home.

As of November 2014, we are now part of the National Pet Register's ChipChecker campaign, for your peace of mind.

3. Free Online Veterinary Consultations:

We were always available for advice and a friendly ear on the phone, but in the day of internet, we have transformed this to email 24/7. 

Any time of the day or night, swing through an email, and we will help you as much as we can.  It can take a few days to get a reply, so not suited for the emergency situation, but most times, it is within a few hours.

It can be for a simple question, like why does my pet get hiccups, to something more serious. We can't diagnose over the internet, but we can certainly be that friendly ear to listen to you about your pet's problems.

Want to know more?   You can go here!

4. Free Monthly e-news Animail Tails:

Each month, I write and publish our own newsletter - its loads of fun!  I just love to share knowledge about our animal friends. It's all original and free information.

Do you receive it? If not, you should see the sign up box on the right.

If you want to see past issues, you can visit here.

5. Free Dental Checks:

Our dental checks are free all year round - and it is perfect for any pet (whether we have seen them before or not).

All new pets are welcome too.

Dental disease still remains the most common disease in our pets, and yet, it is still the most ignored.  We know that the way to a happy, healthy life is through a healthy, pain free mouth.

Many owners still believe a happy  eating pet can't be in pain with their dental disease.  Wrong!

All of our puppies and kittens also need dental checks when they turn six months old, to make sure all of the baby teeth are gone, and the adult teeth are through.  We want to make sure that there are no retained baby teeth, or adult teeth  hitting soft tissue, or any other abnormality.  We do know that early intervention can save every pet a lot of pain.

6. Free app access:

We have a PocketVet app, as well as a First Aid app.

PocketVet is a handy tool, where you can put all of your pet's information in. It also gives you easy access to our phone numbers, and access to any emergency alerts too. 

Click here.  Our home page as the link for the Android phone version.

First Aid App is especially handy in the event of an emergency, or general health care questions (such as bee sting or snake bite).  It lists what are the signs to watch out for, as well as give contact details of your closest emergency facility.

7. Free First Puppy/Kitten Check Up

Click here to access the voucher.

Within 48 hours of your pet joining your household, you should get an independent veterinary check up.  We love puppies and kittens, and so, we are happy to offer a free full first vet check.
Check Ups?  Yup, that is what we need!

Our vet checks are very comprehensive, covering your pet from tip to tail.

8. Free First Revisit appointment after the primary visit:

Many times, with a sick or unwell pet, or one with a skin or ear problem, we will ask you to come back for a "recheck".  The first recheck is free so long as it is within the time frame recommended (usually 2-3 weeks)

Your pet's health and welfare is very important to all of us here, but we know that revisits are best to "tweak the plan" if needed.

9. Free Weigh In:

Our step on scales are always available for you to use - to weigh yourself, luggage, and obviously your family pet.

Don't be frightened to come in to weigh your pet on a regular basis, and always remind us to update the weight on our system.  We often use weight as a guide to a pet's health, with an unexpected weight loss a cause for concern.

And, it makes for "happy vet visits" for your pet - with a treat and a happy smile from all of us.

10. Coffee, Tea and Bikkies and Animalclinic Library

The animalclinic café is a little hub where you an enjoy a coffee, tea and other light refreshments. Very handy for the kiddies too, as aren't they always hungry?

 The library has a range of books which you can borrow or peruse.  There are even books for the kids to read too.

11. Free Liver Jerky Treats for all animals

We make our own liver jerky treats - we know it is made fresh using human grade ingredients.  All pets deserve to be pampered when they come in, and we love to make it fun for everyone.

The days of stressful vet visits is over!

12. Free online resources

Through my bellambivet blog and my website, I have created resources for the most common pet problems.  The "Astonishing Secrets" series of blog posts covers topics from hot spots, itchy pets and sore ear;  the "Behaviour Bytes" series covers anxiety and tips to help your pet. 
My "Astonishing Secrets" friends.

I am Dr Liz, and I am your pet's vet. With my family, who are also my vet team, we care for all of our pets. We believe that all pets deserve to be happy and healthy, and
we work hard to help all of you loving pet owners do exactly that.

L - R  Tegan, Sean, Dr Liz, Santa (aka Dirk), Haiden (back),
& Paige (front)
The family vet team at Russell Vale Animal Clinic
Take care everyone, and have a Meowy Christmas, and a Howling New Year!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Living a worthwhile life as a vet

In recent days, I was fortunate to be at a local business seminar in Wollongong (Breakthrough for Business) where one of the speakers was called Trav Bell.

His other name is "the bucket list man", or as he kindly reminded us, he is the "World's number one bucket list man".

Have you ever been to a seminar where you spent most of the time crying?

Well, this is a first for me. I did. I pulled out my hanky, and spent 90 minutes dabbing my eyes.
The next day, another speaker made the point that we are most affected by a message when we are angry or sad.  I don't think I was either emotion  that afternoon with Trav, but I was truly moved and touched by the inspirational message that was shared (plus a touch of jealousy of the places he has been too).

Really, it was my empathetic side went into overdrive with his life story, especially his struggle with depression, coupled with the emotionally charged videos of people helping people.

In any career survey I do, I rank high on empathy, love and common sense.  It means my ideal career is counsellor or minister, or something similar.  And I am a vet...well, close enough!

"Stop living in delayed gratification mindset" says Trav. (Guilty of that)

" When we see our potential it puts a smile on your face" he adds. (What potential?)

And then he says "If it is to be it is up to me", as he flings out his right arm, where those same words are tattooed, as a permanent reminder of the single most important message.

The only photo I took - thanks to being mesmerised ....Darn!

A shiver went down my spine. That line is what I often recite to myself.  Freaky!

Whilst I had heard of the Bucket list (which, for those who don't know is the list of  things you want to do before you die), I had never heard of the "Reverse Bucket List".

The Reverse Bucket List is all about the things one have already achieved.  How many of us look at what we achieved and say "Geez, that's amazing, aren't you one clever cookie"

"If I achieved all that by default, just imagine what I could do by design", Trav shared.

I am part of a profession which has one of the highest suicide rates, where fellow colleagues work 40, 50, 60  hour weeks, with a low financial and emotional payout.  We often lose touch with our family and our friends. Many family get togethers are disrupted because of the urgency of a sick pet.
Because of this, we continue to work 40, 50, 60  hours a week as we believe this gives our lives a purpose.  Strangely, one of the other speakers the next day suggested those who work these hours are suffering "burnout".  He was speaking to an accountant, but this fact applies across all professions, careers and jobs. And especially, my beloved veterinary profession.

To those of you who are working such ridiculous hours - stop!  (and sadly,  I have to include me in this too).

Part of the problem is that we lose sight of what is important: because we help many animals daily,  we lose touch with life.  And when a situation arises that the outcome is less than ideal, we tend to hang onto the one negative, and forget all of the positives.

As humans, we are hardwired to remember the fear and the negatives.  It is a basic survival skill, but in modern veterinary life, this skill actually works against us.

Every day, each of us have to remind ourselves of what we have achieved.  For me, the reverse bucket list is as important as the future one, in that it celebrates our achievements, whether big or small.

Go now to  make your list of past achievements, and then, do your list of future dreams.   Trust me, its liberating.

I am Dr Liz, and I have started to dream of my future potential. Exciting.

Thank you for reading my blog,  and writing your bucket lists.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dr Liz's Gratitude Project - Honest People are the Best People

Welcome to Dr Liz's Gratitude Project.

I am grateful for people who are honest about everything in their lives.  I call them the "no bullshitters"  as you know what you are going to get.

Of course, honesty doesn't necessarily mean you have to tell everyone what you think. Being honest doesn't have to mean being cruel or heartless.
Honesty is mostly always the best policy.

I am very good at blurting out the wrong thing, or saying something that someone else doesn't want to hear.  It is one of my many faults, but I don't think honesty is a bad fault to have.
Unfortunately, I have zero tolerance for liars or those that deceive.  I have suffered the consequences of the lies and deception of others, with the upshot of zero tolerance for liars.
I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi. Thank you for following my gratitude project. 
Be kind to someone today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Diseases that undesexed dogs may suffer from

When I was a university student, one of the few surgical procedures that we had to perform regularly, was the "desexing" procedure for both male and female dogs and cats.  The reason?  This was going to be the most common surgery of general veterinary practitioners.

 Is it going to stay like this as the veterinary profession forges into the future?

My opinion?

 No -

I foresee that, like vaccination, we will be desexing fewer younger animals. And we will be performing alot more emergency surgeries on very sick older dogs, with all of the risk that it entails.


There are currently multiple studies that seem to raise more questions, than provide answers on this controversial issue of whether to desex or not.

As a vet, I applaud any research that investigates the potential causes of disease in our animals.

What we do know is that there appear to be significant breed differences of the effect of desexing on specific cancers and joint problems.

There is no dispute that the act of desexing (male and female), predominantly large breed dogs, and the age that this occurs, affect our animals in ways that was unexpected.

Sadly, many online authors are extrapolating the published results from one breed to another, and making broad blanket "scientific"  statements.

If you want to know more about desexing (pros and cons), then you can visit my website.

My position (at time of posting this, so it is subject to change) - each pet is individually assessed on whether the procedure is the right thing for them or not.  If I have any doubt based on current knowledge, then I will do what is the best thing for that pet.

In other words, I do not perform unnecessary procedures.

Many of the studies are from universities, and here I see a flaw in the argument.  These studies cite a low incidence of pyometron and breast cancer in undesexed dogs, and thus, downplay the seriousness of these very real, life threatening conditions. Many online "scientific" opinion pieces also downplay  how common  these serious diseases are.

Problem is, treatments for pyometron and breast cancers are commonly performed in general practice (what is often called primary care centres) with many vets rarely, if ever,  needing to refer pets to a specialist for this surgery. Breast cancer and pyometron patients do die.... but sadly, they do not make it into the "statistics" of how common a disease is or isn't.

However, with respect to many cancers, such as hemangiosarcoma or lymphoma, or cruciate disease - these are common referrals due to the nature of the treatment required. Only a handful of vets in general practice are set up to deal with chemotherapy drugs (requiring special equipment) and advanced orthopaedics.

Does this mean I don't take any credence to these studies  about the effects of desexing on our pets?

Teddy- rest in peace sweet man - 2009
Of course not!  My own dog, Teddy, died from lymphoma in 2009, and like any other pet owner, I also wonder what caused it.   He was not desexed until he was 2.5 years old (simply because I never got around to it.  I do not believe, nor do I have any evidence to believe, that desexing him caused his cancer.

What I would like to see is the inclusion of cases from the general population, and - an acknowledgement that there are pros and cons in either decision - whether to desex or not. 

Let me talk about three very common diseases that undesexed dogs may suffer from. 


This is a common condition of usually older female dogs, with a typical set of signs. 
A Friday night Pyometron surgery in a 12 year old  cattle dog. The uterus
ruptured after I had removed it from the dog. It weighed
over 2 kg.

Basically, it is a pus filled uterus as a result of the hormonal influences.  The signs are seen within three weeks of a dog's "heat" cycle, with the signs including
- lethargy
- drinking more than usual
- a distended abdomen
- with or without a vaginal discharge

And, it can be fatal. 

Treatment, in general is emergency surgery (desexing), but there are the options of medical treatment too in dogs who are intended for future breeding.

The surgery is technically difficult, there is a high risk of the uterus rupturing at any time of the surgery, and often, the female dog is systemically toxic and sick with liver/kidney damage.

Half of the pyometron cases I see are euthenased, primarily, to the cost of the surgery and the age of the dog.  On average, it is 4-5 times the cost of a routine desexing. On the surface it may appear to be the same surgery, but it actually isn't.  The incision is usually 3 times longer, the uterus is significantly larger, and much more friable.  The dog itself, is sick and old.

This disease is preventable by desexing when the dog is healthy (irrespective of age). 

As an aside:  There are suggestions in many anti-desexing web pages about "partial spay" or "ovary sparing spay".  These are surgeries that leave 1 or both ovaries, but with the removal of the uterus.  Unless the entire uterine tract is removed (technically difficult), there is a high risk of  "stump pyometron".   The problem also lies in how to mark the dog as having undergone this procedure (in the event of rehoming in the future).

How common is this?  More than 50% of undesexed dogs older than 7 years of age are likely to get this condition.

We see approximately 4 cases a year, with a euthanasia rate of 50%.  Very sad.

Ovarian & Testicular Cancer

As the ovary and the testicle are technically similar tissue, I have put these two conditions under the one heading.
Whilst this is the size difference in a cryptorchid surgery, the same
size variation applies with testicular cancer too.

I had my first ever ovarian cancer patient three weeks into my first job in 1990.  It has haunted me since, as it came as an after hours emergency case, collapsed and died within 20 minutes.  The distraught owner blamed me for not saving her dog.  The ovarian cancer was identified via  a post mortem. There was nothing I could have done to save her.

It has still haunted me. I didn;t cause the cancer, and in theory, it was a preventable problem. However, it died and I could not save it.

Testicular cancers are a little easier to diagnose (thanks to the location of the testicle).  Usually, there is an asymmetry in the testicle size, which is very obvious to anyone who looks.

Herein lies the problem - how many pet owners check their dog's balls?

In my area, very few, as I am often pointing out the size difference to owners in a consultation (often they are in because of skin problems or sneezing, or something equally non-serious). It is a difficult conversation advising surgery in an older dog  - after all, the dog has made it to that age without the need for desexing. 

How common is ovarian cancer?  Diagnosis is problematic, like with us, so the true incidence is unknown. It is listed as uncommon.

How common is Testicular cancer?  Diagnosis is easy, and is common in older (than 7 years) undesexed male dogs.  Fortunately, in most cases, surgery (desexing) , is curative.

 I see 1 to 2 cases each year.

Prostatic Infection

In undesexed male dogs, the hormone testosterone enlarges the prostate gland (which sits on the base of the neck of the bladder).  With hormonal stimulation, this gland enlarges (called Benign Hypertrophy), which causes few problems.  The dogs may have trouble passing a bone impacted poo (one of the many reasons I am opposed to bones in dogs), and may dribble wee occasionally.  These are usually not life threatening problems.

However, this enlargement can get infected. It can form into a prostatic abscess, or worse, into multiple prostatic abscesses or cysts. The largest prostate abscess I have palpated was the size of a honey dew melon in a bull dog. 

Diagnosis occurs as a result of a combination of tests, including  palpation of the abdomen, abdominal radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, and then performing a prostatic wash.  A culture is performed to identify the best antibiotic to use.  In my latest case, the bacteria was actually resistant to the fluroquinolone most commonly used for prostatic infections, so fortunately, with the culture results, we were able to use the right antibiotic that would get into the tissue.
Male dogs can die from this condition - from either the abscess rupturing internally, urinary obstruction or septicemia (septic shock).  Treatment involves desexing ( or the suprelorin implant), aggressive and long term antibiotics based on urinary culture and sensitivity.  Sometimes, surgery is required to drain the abscess (marsupialise it).

How common is prostatic disease?  I see a case each 2 to 3 months.  (about 4 cases a year)
Desexing is curative and preventative

Now don't think for a minute that these are the only conditions that an undesexed pet can get. There are alot more, including

- skin conditions 
- mammary cancer
- vaginal polyps
- perianal adenomas and adenocarcinomas
- perineal hernias
and this is without thinking too hard!

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi. I am always happy to discuss the pros and cons from desexing your pet with you.  There are many factors to consider, such as your pets breed and lifestyle. 

What I am trying to say... probably poorly is....speak to your vet, the one you trust, about what is the right thing for your pet.  They really have their welfare at heart.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Creating the Perfect Wollongong Dog Park

Before I go into what creates the perfect Wollongong Dog Park, I should state very clearly that it is really the pet owners that will ultimately control how perfect it will be.

Do you want to appreciate the positive human - dog - dog interactions that can occur?   Why not visit my recent video taken at Whittaker Street Agility Park in Shellharbour.

If the people who use the dog park are not going to follow basic "fair go" rules, then no matter how great the intention is going to be, no matter how well designed we may want it to be,  it will turn out badly.

"When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.
- Abraham Lincoln." via Pollyanna (1960) Hayley Mills.  

So let us always look for the good in people and their pets.

At the point of posting this, I have visited  8 fully fenced dog parks, some which also include agility equipment.  I have also visited 8  unfenced  unleash dog areas, 1 of which is also listed as a "dog agility park".  And I can add multiple offleash beaches within the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama Council areas. 

So, let us have a bit of fun, and create the Perfect Wollongong Dog Park!

Big Dog Vs Small Dog

  • Whilst our human kiddies come in one size, our dog's don't. 
  • Having two separate areas for our dogs is ideal
  • A larger one for the larger, more boisterous dog
  • A smaller, separate one for the smaller, more frail, elderly or shy dog

Ideal:  An area not adjacent, but physically separated.
Good Example: O'Connor Dog Park, Canberra. On Fairfax Street (near the roundabout at the intersection of Fairfax and Dryandra Streets).
Bad Example: Any of the Wollongong unfenced off leash areas - there are no small or large dog areas.


  • A minimum of 4000 square metres for the large dog section
  • The smaller dog area can be slightly smaller.
  • The larger the area, the more likely the dogs and people are able to spread out, giving dogs some space if needed if they don't feel like a group play.
  • An irregularly shaped block is best
Tuggeranong Park Lake view
Tuggeranong Park
Ideal: A minimum of 4000 square metres

Tuggeranong Park
Example: Tuggeranong Dog Park, Canberra, Mortimer Lewis Drive adjacent to Lake Tuggeranong

Bad Example: Whittaker Street, Shellharbour as it is a rectangle shape, and is quite small if there are more than 7 dogs present.

  • 6 ft mesh wire fencing with no sharp edges
  • Irregular corners (no 90 degree corners to reduce "cornering" and "bullying")
  • Mesh small enough to stop little dogs squeezing through
Ideal: Well constructed, 6 foot high wire fencing with no 90 degree corners.
Good Example: O' Connor Dog Park, Canberra (as above)
O Connor Park in Canberra -  Disabled friendly also. Corners are angled and it
is a secure fence of sufficient height.

A bad example of fencing- a flimsy, low fence at Warrigul Run, Western Sydney
Bad Example: Warrigul Run, Western Sydney and Forde Dog Park, Pooley Street Canberra where the fence is flimsy, with large gaps. It is easily jumped or pushed over.

Entrances and Exits number and design:
  • A minimum of two entrances/exits to reduce the excitement of existing dogs within the park to newcomers
  • Double entry  (double gated) which
    • allows for dogs to be herded into a smaller area prior to departure,
    • allow dogs to be let off the leash prior to entry into the main area, and
    • ensure current dogs are unable to escape inadvertently
  • Large gate to allow for easy access to mow lawns and other maintenance
Ideal: Pool gate latch kind and a self closing gate or sufficiently wide "disabled" access opening in.
O'Connor Dog Park in Canberra is very high and wide, with a disabled friendly latch.
Good Example: Allen Street Dog Park in the Strathfield Council Area and O' Connor Dog Park in Canbera.
Whilst it could be higher, the pool latch self closing type is suitable.
The side access gates at Yarralumla Dog Park in Canberra

Bad Example:  Whittaker Street Agility Park in Shellharbour Council Area - no double gating, with a stiff standard gate latch.

Provision of Water and other animal cooling facilities:

  • Multiple human and dog water bowls
  • Tippable water bowls (allows owner to clean out and refresh easily)
  • A dam, pond, lake edge or beach access to allow  a means of cooling down during activity
Ideal: Access to beach or dam either within the facility or adjacent
Good Example of a tippable water bowl: Tuggeranong Dog Park, Canberra
It had a separate tap for the dog's bowl, and the bowl could be easily tipped,
emptied and refilled with fresh water.

Good Example of water access:  Yarralumla Dog Park, Banks Street (opposite Brown St Junction) with access to the adjacent boat ramp at Lake Burley Griffith

Yarralumla Boat ramp area
Piper on the Lake's edge.
Bad Example: Queanbeyan Dog Park which had a large murky filled water tank that would be impossible to drain and keep clean water available, hence someone leaving a small bowl of water nearby.

The drinking water at Queanbeyan Dog Park "The Scar"
Large enough though to step into to cool yourself down though

  • Multiple shelters against rain and sun for pet owners
  • Picnic type seating within the shelters
Ideal: Large enough shelters for multiple groups of people in the event of sudden hailstorm, rain or heat
Good example: Warrigul Run, Western Sydney - with two large pergola shaped shelters, suitable for multiple people comfortably

Bad example: Whittaker Street, Shellharbour - with a single small shelter that will accommodate 2-4 people, and most of the Canberra dog parks (had a heavy reliance on the trees for shelter)

The only shelter at the Whittaker Street Dog Park, Shellharbour

  • Bench seats scattered randomly throughout the park
  • Some seating in the sun, some are in the shade
Ideal:  Sufficient seating in both shade and sun
Good example: Tuggeranong Park, Canberra
Bad Example: Whittaker Street, Shellharbour - the seating available is in the pergola area


  • Sufficient number of suitably sized trees placed within the park
  • Natural visual barriers within the park
  • Offers variety
  • Offers a means for dogs to hide and separate if feeling threatened, to distance themselves from the threat
  • Natural source of shade, smells and natural beauty
Ideal:  Plenty of trees within the park and along the boundary
Good Example:  Tuggeranong Dog Park and Yarralumla Dog Park
Yarralumla Dog Park  Canberra  - a lot of trees providing natural shade, novel experiences and protection

Bad Example:  Queanbeyan Dog Park and Warrigul Run Dog Park - the trees are small, immature and unlikely to offer any shade for many years.

Surface type:
  • Grass is preferred as is soft on the feet, and cool in the hot months
  • Gravel has been published as being suitable (small diameter only)
Ideal:  Decent non-clover grass with no bindi's or other burrs or weeds
Good Example: Allen Street, Strathfield City Council

Bad Example: Whittaker Street, Shellharbour (which is predominantly clover and full of bees when unmowed), Queanbeyan Dog Park (The Scar) which is predominantly dust.

  • "If...... then you must leave" clause is important (not seen in any Australian dog park but is documented in some overseas)
  • Get pet owners to agree to a "In principle" agreement to the rules and regulations of the park, and charge a fee to allow ongoing access to the park
  • Clear, obvious signage with spells out
    • the dos and don'ts
    • who to contact when something needs repairing  or replacing
    • who to contact when something is wrong
    • responsibility of the users and the responsibility of council
    • the authority of users to remove from the facility the pet owner who does not monitor or control the actions of their dog
Ideal: Decent, clear, explicit signage
Good Example:  Bombo Beach Headland "Stop" signage, and all of the signage from Canberra

Bombo Beach

Bad Example: Any of the off leash areas in Wollongong

Poo Bags and Bins
  • It is the law in every council (locally and overseas), that it is the owner's responsibility to clean up after their dog
  • Sufficient bins available (preferably at each exit/entry gates) to facilitate easy disposal
Ideal:  Owners are responsible for bringing their own poo bags and are required to do so or council ensures a sufficient supply all the time.
Good example:  Queanbeyan Dog Park - the local council obviously provides nothing, as there were multiple shopping bags along the fence line filled with shopping bags, specifically to pick up the poo.

Residents are forced to bring their own poo bags in Queanbeyan - obviously some have taken
time and care to ensure a steady supply.
Kiama Council provided poo bags with disposal

Bad Example:  Whittaker Street Dog Park (and others) where the council provided poo bag dispensers are empty and spider web filled.  Also saw a similar thing happen at Allen Street (Strathfield council).

Fun Stuff:

  • Fun stuff can be either natural or man made.
  • Natural fun stuff includes hills, irregular surfaces, lots of trees and bushes, and a means of meandering or moving through the park to offer novel smells and experiences
  • Man made fun stuff includes agility equipment
  • Agility equipment needs to be chosen carefully with an understanding of the potential end user - in general, the dog park is for the general dog owning population, and the potential for harm is possible with poorly chosen agility equipment.
  • Suggestions would include tunnels (such as pictured below), weave poles and jumps (such as Forde Park in Canberra)
Ideal:  The average pet dog in the average off leash experience will benefit more from an interesting natural environment. 
Good example:  Offleash beach areas (although these are not fenced areas),  Lake Tuggeranong Dog Park as it has undulating ground, a lot of trees, bushes and novel surfaces.

Bad Example: Bombo Beach Headland with the agility equipment which appears to be placed randomly. 
Agility equipment placed in an unfenced area (such as Nowra - not visited, but seen online)

Forde Park, Canberra


Queanbeyan Dog Park "The Scar:

Bombo Beach Headland

Allen Street Dog Park, Strathfield Council
Logistics - Parking and Access

  • Easy access from a main road
  • Good parking which is located in a safe area
  • Have to understand the possibility of dogs walking unleashed from the park to the car, and have the area accommodate for that possibility (i.e be safe for the dog and for those around them)
  • Suitable for disabled access
Ideal: Multiple car parking spots with easy access to the dog park
Good example:  Warrigul Run, Western Sydney - there is offsite parking, but will need to leash the dog to get from car park to the run. O Connor Dog Park in Canberra  where there is a dedicated disabled access to the large dog park area.
Disabled Carpark

Bad example: Allen Street, Strathfield Council and Whittaker Street Dog Park in Shellharbour. Street parking available only.

I am Dr Liz, and I am still learning/exploring the dog parks and off leash access areas with our dog, Piper. 

She is a well socialised, mature dog, and is perfectly suited for an off leash fun time.  Our previous dog, Teddy, was not.  

In other words, off leash activities are not for every dog... you are not a bad pet parent if you do not take your dog outside of your property if they are fearful.

My goal is to encourage Wollongong City Council to re-consider their off leash areas for our dogs, to increase the off leash beach areas to accommodate the proposed growth in the population, and to create suitably sized, well fenced off - leash park areas. 

Do you have any suggestions to add to my perfect Wollongong fenced dog park?

Don't you agree that Wollongong is, and should continue to be a dog friendly city?