J is for Juxtaposition

Expansive farmlands, dark green, moss covered forests, vast mountain peaks, boulder strewn hills and far-reaching beaches. These are just some of the many varieties of terrains and environments that we’ve encountered in this country so far and we are already making a list of the things we want to do on our next trip!  At the moment we are in Kaikoura after spending the day on the ocean spending a good 15 minutes or so next to one of the world’s most impressive creatures – the Sperm Whale. These guys hold the world record for being the deepest divers and the longest breath holders (3.1km straight down and 2 hours and 40 minutes). Their physiology is quite awe-inspiring, their brain the biggest in the world, their echo location a phenomenal weapon and they are the largest toothed whale in the ocean. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been amongst the those who have seen these guys up close, reoxygenating on the surface before a flip of their tail fin and back down they dive to hunt for food in the large deep cavernous canyon that is formed by the edge of the contintental shelf here just off the coast of this country.

Here are some of my more recent phone panoramic shots:

PANO_20140115_211545Kaikoura Sunset from the road outside the motel

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Kaikoura Sunset

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The view from the Kaikoura Whale Watch Centre

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Whale View Point

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Whale View Point

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Hanmer Springs

PANO_20140114_111714On the way into Kaikoura

I is for Impressive

The last couple of days have seen us cover around a thousand kilometers and we’ve watched as the little Nissan Tiida we’ve rented has ticked over into the 100 thousand k mark on the odometer. We’ve travelled from Queenstown through to a Te Anau hotel as our base whilst we drove out to Milford and took a cruise on the Milford Monarch and explored the Milford Sound (which is a lie because it’s actually a Fjiord formed by glacier water and not a Sound which is formed by river water says the newly informed tourist that is me). The next day we left fairly early in the morning in order to make it into Dunedin for lunchtime as we had a 3.30 Peninsula Wildlife tour that took around 6 hours to do.  We spent some time looking around the town centre of Dunedin (not very big – the town’s population is around 120 thousand with about 25 thousand of those being University students and currently most of them are away on holidays right now) before being picked up by a small coaster bus with about 12 other passenger and taken on a tour to the Papanui beach and penguin conservation area which is on private land and only accessed by the Elm touring company. This tour was well worth the money and the physical effort to see some of the local wildlife up close and personal and witnessing their natural behaviour.

Today we are heading back to Christchurch after spending the morning doing the shortened Cadbury factory tour. The factory is closed on weekends so no chance of actually seeing production happening but we still got a fairly interesting and informative tour interspersed with chocolate tastings that certainly increased the interest factor somewhat.

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The most IMPRESSIVE element of the South Island to me has been just how much man has impacted on the land and yet it has still retained so much of it’s rugged wildness and spectacular scenery. New Zealand was at one point made up 80 percent forest. Now that amount is down to about 20 percent. The saddest consequence of all this clearance has to be the number of native species lost. Both Maori and Europeans have been responsible for the loss of animal and plant life however in light of this fairly depressing outcome the country still has an impressive array of plant, animal and bird species occupying it. Granted many of these have been introduced (not without it’s negative effects here either of course) but they have absolutely flourished and done very well over here in this climate.

Most New Zealanders we have come across so far are quite wryly grumpy about the weather currently as this is supposed to be their summer and whilst they don’t except the heat and endless sunshine Perth experiences they have certainly felt a bit hard done by in terms of the appearance of this year’s summer. It apparently turned up last Wednesday and lasted one day! It’s not uncommon to have a brief cold snap in the middle of their summer but this has apparently been one extra long wet, rainy, grey and cold summer.

As we’ve travelled through the South Island I’ve been wondering why more people have not chosen to move here and settle down. Also curious to me is what has brought New Zealanders over to Australia to live. I must ask our Kiwi neighbours when we get back, I bet it probably has to do with employment prospects. Really New Zealand is not that much further south from the rest of the world than Australia, it’s certainly greener, appears to be easier to support livestock farming, has a big tourism industry, costs about the same living wise, even when you take into account the higher fuel costs (around 2.20 per liter) but has a much greater variety of terrains, environments and outdoor activities to participate in. I’d love to be able to go skiing, snow boarding or sledding in winter, sled dog racing even.  It has all the mod cons of major urban centres, a more small world feel to the different cultures and nationalities, seems to have on the whole, a generally more sensible government than Australia (not hard at the current time I know but still….), seems much more chilled out than Australia (the road rage witnessed has been zero so far and even the most harassed New Zealander has seemed positively laconic), less rev head hooligans, rugby seems no more ridiculous than AFL to me (except possibly less fisticuffs) and their produce seems to be far more heavily supplied on a local basis. Now I don’t know what their education system is like (can’t be any worse than the Australian public system) or how their general wages and living conditions stand up to the Aussie way of life. Nor do I have a clue about real estate and property prices but I do know there is far better access to all the wild and spectacular areas compared to Australia whose sheer size alone makes getting away to those sorts of places logistically more difficult. Here on the South island pretty much everything is within a 4 hour drive, amazing forest walks, mountain hikes, canyon tours, breathtaking tramping tracks. You drive 4 hours from Perth in either direction and you have Albany (which is a pretty town don’t get me wrong but hardly a Queenstown) or you have Geraldton. A good beach town on the coast is about the extent of it. We also have a lot more fauna that is dangerous (no snakes in New Zealand or blue ringed octopus or poisonous spiders) and heat that forces people to retreat indoors during the height of summer. Plus the UV index over Australia is much higher – much higher rates of skin cancer. I know I’m probably being hypercritical of home right now, grass is always greener etc (except this time it is literally true) but is employment the only thing driving New Zealanders to emigrate to Australia? For those who like the outdoors (and many Aussies do) this country seems to have it all including an outdoors that seems to cover any type of environment you desire.

Of course we’ve yet to explore the North Island, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be any less impressive than the South Island has been. The next few days sees us driving through Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth then onto Hanmer Springs and following that up with a trip to Kaikoura for some whale watching. I’m looking forward to booking a little pampering in Hanmer Springs and seeing even more spectacular scenery on the way through.

Hope everyone back home is surviving the revolting heat wave right now – I heard it was supposed to be 43 degrees celcius in Perth today. That’s around 109 F for my Northern friends…here today was a sunny and cool 23 odd degrees Celcius today on the South Island, so nice to have the sun out for the day instead of intermittently through the day. I’m missing the puppies but my sister Nicole is doing a great job dogsitting for us and I hear they’re behaving themselves whilst being total lap hogs at the same time.

In other news I think I might take up birdwatching this year.

H is for Heart-Stopping

Today will be one of those days that will remain in my frontal lobe for the rest of my life, certainly a powerful emotional memory was formed when I jumped off a bridge 43 meters up at the original AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawarau Bridge. This place has been going over 25 years now and has a perfect safety record. That was reassuring. I decided to get in early and be the first one to jump on this Wednesday, Tim had already done this nearly 20 years earlier at this exact same place. This was definitely one of my bucket list items and I’m glad I did it. I was fine the whole time and when the guys asked me how I was feeling after I told them it was my first bungy I simply replied with “Cold” as really it was a bit chilly up there.

Then they keep asking you questions and whilst I knew damn well these were deliberate tactics totally manipulating my emotions my position was that I was perfectly fine with that. So I was all good right up until the guy told me to shuffle forward and put my toes over the edge. I felt this was unnecessary for I had watched previous jumpers and I knew you waved at cameras first, surely you don’t do this with your toes OVER THE EDGE? And so I naturally responded to his instruction to put my toes over the edge with “Are you quite sure?” And his response was “I’m pretty sure, I’ve done this a few times by now.” Quite a patronising little bastard really. LOL.  It was at this point I felt I had moved into terrified but they’re pretty sneaky up on the platform there. They don’t give you a moment to say “Uh…just a minute…I just…” it’s just wave at the cameras, 1…2…3….BUNGYYYYY!!!

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Here’s the video taken by Tim….complete with appropriately shocked noises from Japanese tourists:

 

G is for Guides

Guides who are proper Kiwi boys. Today was fairly busy. It was good night’s sleep (clearly still trying to redress the missing night of sleep) and up early to meet our guide outside the hotel for a pick up to take us on a half day hike. Our guide’s name was Carl and I would think he was in his early to mid 30s. Queenstown born and bred and very knowledgeable about the region and refreshingly candid.  We picked up one other traveller, a German girl (who we both would have sworn was American from her very American sounding accent) and then took the road to Glenorchy. This road is a very winding, narrow sealed road and we went along there for about an hour with a stop at Bennett’s Bluff overlooking at Glenorchy.


Samsung S3 photo of Bennett’s Bluff Look out.

We then drove a little further whilst Carl told us about working on the sets of the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit – he was a driver and a general wrangler setting up crew equipment and tents. He was pretty familiar with the locations and what scenes were filmed and where. Our walk took place at the bottom of the mountain that was used as a location for Amon Hen which was where Boromir met his death, we walked along an old unused bridal trail only used by these guides. It was pretty steep getting down to the trail and also raining lightly so I admit I felt a little trepidation when I regarded my shoe choice:

Now Crocs are recommended for those suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, they let your toes splay out flat and unencumbered, they let your foot be in as close to natural position as possible, whilst still providing cushioning. I’ve found of late they are the most comfortable shoes to wear. So I wear them without socks and have done so pretty non stop since being on holidays. I brought my sneakers just in case. But my heel really starts to get painful after not very long in these unless I’ve gone through a raft of measures designed to lessen the pain. So Crocs are the go. But I can only imagine what the guide thought of them this morning. Everyone else in hiking boots or well treaded sneakers. The terrain was wet, slippery, uneven and constantly changing underfoot. My feet didn’t hurt at all the whole walk which lasted a couple of hours or more and what’s more I didn’t slip once. The Crocs gave me plenty of grip and because my feet worked hard at carefully stepping my plantar didn’t play up at all. I was pretty impressed with them and enjoyed the walk all the more for it.


Me, my trusty walking stick and some mountains – there’s lots of mountains over here.


Morning tea snack.


Just a guy in the woods.

Carl was pleased with our success given the weather, our views across the lake were pretty perfect and we even found and heard at least 4 of the top 10 iconic birds of New Zealand. The Bower bird, the fantail, the tui and the wood pigeon (affectionately referred to as flying kiwi chickens). Carl was also helpful at suggesting wet weather ideas for Queenstown.

After a brief dry off in our hotel room and a drink we rain geared up and headed out looking for some lunch. We decided to brave the lines at Ferg Burger and got our first taste of Queenstown’s most famous burger. It was delicious and well worth the wait.

1/2 pound of NZ beef, melted cheddar cheese, streaky bacon, tomato, lettuce, red onion bbq sauce and aioli. It was huge and I couldn’t get through it but it has covered me for three meals today so it was really quite the bargain!

After that we decided to do the trek up the steep hill to the gondolas which would take us another 450m nearly straight up to the Skyline. The Skyline is the access point to AJ Hackett Ledge Bungy, The Luge, the chairlift and the viewing deck. The views were fabulous.

We then made our way back down and back to the hotel. Tomorrow I have booked the Bungy jump plus a trip on the TSS Earnslaw, a paddlesteamer that will take us across the lake to Walter’s Peak Farm where we do a tour and see the sheepdogs at work. I hope the Bungy jump goes well…I’d really hate to miss that farm tour and paddleboat trip 😉

F is for FLYING

Flying as in on a plane from Perth to Christchurch, flying as in a rental car (Nissan Tiida) down and around the bends of South Island state highways, flying as in on a Thunder Jet Boat on the lake in Queenstown, flying as in off a ledge off the Kawarau Suspension Bridge at the original AJ Hackett Bungy location. I haven’t done the last thing….yet. We have checked it out and it doesn’t look too scary to me, looks like a bit of a rush actually so I think we will try to fit it in. Tim has already done his back in ’95.

I am always appreciative of ending up with a life that has allowed me to travel. Every time I get on a plane to go somewhere I tend to reflect that not everybody gets to do this. Just book a holiday and go. Travelling is one of the most important things to do as a human being and I like to imagine that no matter what the circumstances I would always manage to travel somewhere, even if on the thinnest of shoestring budgets.

Air New Zealand was a comfy airline and had good food with top notch service.  The flight was pretty quick as well, just on five hours which is a bit like flying across to Sydney for us so it’s not that far at all. I loved the safety video they used and am so pleased that the Lord Of The Rings juggernaut has been utilized by the tourism industry so well to promote this relatively small country.

I managed to watch a number of things on the plane – the movie Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhal, an intensely dramatic crime thriller that had me absorbed, also caught the first episode of the new Karl Urban series – Almost Human, will have to add that series to the download queue, plus an episode of Getaway an American celebrities in foreign lands checking out the food. This one featured Azis Ansari of Parks and Rec fame checking out all the delights of Hong Kong.  Some good, entertaining TV there that kept me awake for the whole five hours of the flight.

Enticing Image of Queenstown seen wall sized at Christchurch Airport.

We’ve been in New Zealand nearly 48 hours and so far I’ve been wondering what took me so long. We’ve only seen a small part of it and already I’m asking how it’s taken me this long to book a trip here given the absolutely stunningly beautiful countrysside. We would have gone last year had we not have been on our mammoth USA/Canada trip. Even then would not have been soon enough.

New Zealanders are a diverse lot of people, Maoris make up about 15% but so far I’ve lost count of the different national backgrounds that call this place home.  There is a lot of Asian influence in the shopping and the food but there is also much evidence of English and general European influence, from the architecture and layout of the towns, to food, clothing and general manner and attitudes. After acquiring our hire car and sorting out SIM cards for our phones in Christchurch (which is a town that reminded me very much of the small, green cosy English towns you find dotted throughout Coventry and Derbyshire) we headed off on the drive to Lake Te Kapo. It took us about 4 or so hours to get there as we made several stops on the way for photos and refreshments as by then we were both pretty sleep having virtually now been awake 24 hours.


Everything is related to Supernatural…EVERYTHING.

We actually found some potato chips that contained only 4 ingredients. We were stunned.

Ingredients: Potatoes, Sea Salt, Canola and Sunflower Oil. THAT IS ALL. They were scrumptious.


McKenzie District Lookout


Lake TeKapo

What a great holiday location Lake Tekapo is. There’s so much for families to do – rafting, kayaking, bike riding, horse riding, hiking, bird watching, skiing, boating …the list goes on. Our view from our hut for the night was just stunning.


From inside The Good Shepherd Church Lake TeKapo


Mandatory Selfie with the Sheepdog memorial statue

In the 19th century, Scottish shepherds came to work on the pastoral runs of the eastern South Island. The high country could not have been farmed successfully without the border collies they brought with them. To honour these ‘canine Scots’, a statue of a collie has been raised at Lake Tekapo. As it should be too!


Backwards view of Mt Cook as we head to Queenstown.

We stopped at a place called the Wrinkly Ram on our way through to Queenstown. They sold all sorts of sheep related gifts and they actually had some sheep out the back complete with a farmer training his young female border collie on sheep. She was just on 12 months, very keen and athletic.

We also stopped at the Gibbston Valley Cheesery and picked up some vintage cheddar, tried out their sheep’s milk vanilla bean ice cream and picked up a warm baguette with cheese. chorizo and relish for lunch. We were joined by Macy who was keen to make sure no morsel went to waste.

This place was a lovely stop and we were in just the cafe and cheesery part, there was a winery and a restaurant as well which no doubt would have served very good food if the baguette was anything to go on. We got into Queenstown today and have spent the afternoon down town checking out the shops (there is quite possibly the best chocolate chunk cookie in the world made here but alas I have no research to confirm this) Cookie Time is indeed a very good cookie maker.

We then decided to a Jet Boat ride for 3pm. That was good hour being taken up the river with our guide spinning us and bumping us over waves as he showed us the lake and the connecting river. I was in one of the more targetted seats so when I came off the boat I had a very good drowned rat look going.

More photos to come on this one!

E is for Educating Colt

Colt is now 16 months old and will turn 17 months just before we get back from New Zealand. He’s been measured at 51cm at withers (20.5 inches) so is well into the middle of the 500 class. He can go over jumps (note to self – work on collection and turns), do tunnels, take broad jumps and the tyre. His jumping style is still very much in the figuring out what he can do with his body stage so can be all over the place however the signs are that he will be a pretty athletic jumper once he gets his head around it. We’re working on that. In the past 3 days I’ve decided to put weavers on the agenda. He’s been doing a 2×2 weaver base (one) just to work entries. That’s not a finished behaviour yet…still a WIP. I decided it would be a WIP for a while so three days ago I got my stick in the ground poles out and stuck them in the new back yard lawn in a straight line but the poles slanted.

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Colt and his weaves – he’s getting it done.

I have slightly lured and then mostly shaped his understanding of the poles. After two five minute sessions (or however long it took for us to get through a hotdog frankfurt) he was totally offering the behaviour himself. He’s still figuring out his speed – he makes errors when he tries running at them understandably as this is a brand new, fairly complex physical behaviour, but I’m pleased with his accuracy rates. We never make more than a couple errors in a row. Of course we’re off on holiday to NZ on Saturday so I gave my sister a quick crash course in reward placement and clicker training – hopefully if he even gets a few sessions in a week with her they’ll be straight pretty soon and up to 6. I have video taken on my phone. Sadly in such HD it’s a massive file so I need to advance my tech understanding once more to figure out if I can compress it smaller on my phone to upload. And yes people have recommended the 2×2 weaver method as the one to go with. I’ve looked at it and totally see the value of it (and have used it before with Savvy) but to be honest I have two character flaws that really don’t gel with it – impatience and laziness. I just cannot be arsed to do all those steps. I may use bits and pieces of the method later on but for now I just want to get the behaviour understood and learnt.

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He’s still grasping the concept of the “wait” command.

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However show him from his best side and he understands the “wait” quite well.

Contacts? Oy vey contacts. We may just stick to jumping for a while 🙂 No excuses. If I wanted to train it I would train it plain and simple. I did get the plank out for the first time the other day. We have done quite a few sessions of Dawn Weaver’s box work with the mat in the box and running into it and stopping with the two front paws out. Because he is not as drivey to toys I struggled with the facing forwards stage. He sends very nicely to it but will always look to me at the side or behind and he doesn’t drive to a toy laying still on the ground too well yet. I have a plan to fix that separately. I have been very leery of pushing him too fast. Colt is quite a soft temperament to train and I have been very careful to ensure he experiences success most of the time and that he’s happy to play tug with me. He’s always played tug but he certainly could do with some more persistence there. One of the things that makes him such a lovely dog to live with – not an aggressive bone in his body, very cuddly, very easy going and laid back, nothing much phasing him also passes through to his drive to tug. If I pull too hard he figures I must want it more than he does and he lets go, he’s polite like that – I’d like him to redirect his persistence and determination to dig holes when unsupervised into persistence and determination to win at tugging 🙂 I think he thinks Cypher is quite embarrassingly coarse and uncouth the way he carries on about tugging. He sits back and gives this faintly disapproving look as if to say “Nice dogs don’t play tug like that.” It never fails to surprise me just how vastly different in personalities these four furkids are. Each with their own strengths and appealing to live with characteristics but all so very individual with it.

All my next posts will be from New Zealand! Today we fly there arriving early Sunday morning in Christchurch for an action packed self drive holiday. A completely non-dog and non-Supernaturally related! However I am sure those things will pop up anyway. The furkids will all stay home as my sister will be taking over dog sitting duties for the next three weeks.

D is for Dog Doctors

My first blog post of the year is going to concern a recent experience of visiting the vets with my 9 year old Border Collie Cypher. Cypher has been sneezing a bit more than usual lately and although not  outwardly distressed at all by it I figured why not go and get a full and through examination consult at the Vets as we are leaving for New Zealand on Saturday and he hasn’t had a full check up and exam for a long time. Whilst I’m there I would ask for a full blood chem analysis too just to make sure everything is working as it should be. I am looking to get him sterilized this year and have a teeth clean so before he has a full anesthetic I’d like to get him checked out thoroughly.

I booked an appointment at a fairly new Vet clinic that had been recommended to me. I’ve been there before and was pretty happy with the vibe I felt off the Owner/Managing Vet. I quickly realized that I perhaps should have asked which Vet was on first. As is the way with most medical and animal practices there are those doctors and vets you feel assured with and in safe hands but there are also those you don’t. I’m not sure if this was a people reading problem or a lack of experience or what but I have to say I felt disappointed in our appointment today.

I have a registered breeder’s prefix now and of course have several dogs and went to this clinic on the recommendation of several very dog-savvy friends who have been around the dog world longer than I have – which is still pretty long! I’ve worked as a Vet Nurse and worked at Kennels and I’m probably classified as not a “pet-person” but a “dog-person”. Working as a Vet Nurse I remember seeing mostly the former as clients and occasionally the latter. And being able to see the distinct difference straight away – the terminology being used, the questions asked and the usually much more observant nature of dog people compared to pet people is quite obvious. Maybe I wasn’t obvious enough. I don’t know. Maybe this Vet this morning doesn’t read people as well. I’m aware of how much owners like to give extraneous and often not totally relevant info so I make an effort to stick to the details. Including the fact that Cypher is completely and utterly people friendly but that he is vocal so don’t worry if he growls he’s just a talker. He has never ever shown an aggressive bone in his body to people. In fact one year when he had a moth stuck down his ear for two days, with me holding him and the Vet trusting me, she was able to use some very long forceps to remove said moth in pieces from his ear canal as we sat on the floor of the clinic together without any sedation whatsoever. He was vocal but he didn’t move and let her do her job. The Vet was pretty impressed by his stoic nature.

So I told this Vet today that he is a vocal growler but that it is just the way he talks, he’s 9 years old it’s something he’s done since we got him off the plane from Sydney at 8 weeks old. She asked a few questions about the sneezing, all the usual ones I expected. I had stated that I wanted him to have a full check out as well. As in a full consult. The first thing she asked was could she muzzle him. I said I’d rather she didn’t as he didn’t need it and it would likely just stress him out further. He’s not a fan of the Vet Clinics to start with. From that point on she basically didn’t touch him. She didn’t try to be friendly with him, didn’t take a moment to crouch down and say hello or anything. I picked him up (and he duly growled at me like he does anytime you bodily move him, rub his chest, massage his back, grab his leg, play with him) to put him on the table and all she did was ask me to hold him while she listened to his heart. His heart sounded fine. And that was the extent of his exam. She didn’t even look in his mouth, I showed her his teeth, explaining he’d had bad breath recently too. But his teeth aren’t that bad and I’m pretty sure the cause is something else. She didn’t check his eyes or his ears, didn’t look up his nose (she told me that would be a waste of time), didn’t feel his abdomen or anything else. But she did check his testicles. Making sure I had him by the head first of course.

She gave me two options – Conservative – give antibiotics for 2 weeks. Less Conservative – put him under and do an endoscopy of his nasal passages to check for any foreign bodies and get his teeth cleaned at the same time. It was disappointing. I realize that these would probably be the two options regardless of whether or not he had been given a full and proper exam consult anyway but by this point I was completely lacking in any kind of assurance in this Vet. Antibiotics or surgery. I took the antibiotics and left. I will not be seeing that Vet ever again nor will I have any of my dogs in her care. I understand why people get disconcerted by his growling but there are several reasons that it shouldn’t concern anyone who is treating Cypher

1) I am there as a dog person who has been a vet nurse and owned the breed for nearly 22 years
2) They have my personal assurance he does not mean a thing by it and surely I don’t come across as a novice dog owner
3) If they were any good at reading dogs they would know that his growl has absolutely NO menace behind it.

I think it’s the last one that gets me. As a Vet surely you should be able to “read” a dogs signals. It’s a good clinic run by a Vet who on my first encounter was nothing but assuring and giving off good, competent and confident vibes. I will keep seeing her. As I drove home I reflected on the disappointing visit and tried to be pragmatic about it – I don’t think I have ever come across a single vet or medical practice where I’ve been completely happy to see ANY and ALL of the Vets or Doctors there. There are always some that you ask specifically to be seen by and those are the ones that instill the confidence in you to trust their judgment and their animal handling skills. Those ones are usually not so common so when you find them you tend to stick to them even if it means having to wait to get in to see them. As far as I’m concerned I need to feel as comfortable with my dogs’ doctor as I do with my own GP.