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Book extract: Letting the Cat Out of the Bag by Siôn Rowlands

24 Feb 2024 5 minute read
Siôn Rowlands and his book ‘Letting the Cat Out of the Bag’

We are pleased to publish an extract from Siôn Rowlands’ ‘Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: The Secret Life of a Vet’ in which the Welsh vet surveys a 25 year long career including moisturising elephants and rescuing a horse from a cliff edge.

Siôn Rowlands

My First Job: That’s Not Coming Through There!

Whilst i didn’t really have another notable interview experience to measure against, I took the questions, ‘Can you drive a manual gearbox car?’ and ‘You might have to do some on call over Christmas, is that okay?’ as promising indicators.

This was my first real job interview, a brief thirty-minute affair at a large ‘mixed animal’ practice in Newport in South Wales – mixed animal practice being veterinary-speak for work that involved cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, cats and dogs and anything else people could own and love as pets, make money from, or neglect.

Having your first job in mixed practice was viewed, in my day, as a good starting point. Unless you had a real aversion to certain animals, seeing such a variety of cases would help you decide which area of veterinary work you might want to concentrate on. As importantly, it would get you out and about on calls to local farms and stables.

It was a two-hour drive from home to Newport and Mum had kindly lent me her car. The interview was on a stiflingly hot day and the air conditioning didn’t work on the journey there. As a consequence, my ill-chosen black funeral suit was raising my core temperature, resulting in sweat patches on my shirt creating a pattern similar to the great lakes of northern America.

I had prepared about as well as expected and enjoyed the relaxed banter from the practice principals, Pete and John. We struck up, as many vets do, a discussion on who knew who and where they were from. The vet family has grown exponentially in the last twenty years or so, but there is always a connection somewhere, paths invariably cross.

In this instance Pete knew of my first veterinary mentor, Islwyn. Strangely, despite it being my first interview I don’t recall being too nervous; maybe it was the interview style or because I was dehydrated so opted to shun long waffly answers. Whatever the reason, the following Monday I received a call from Sara, the practice manager, offering me the job.

Newly qualified

As a wet-behind-the-ears newly qualified vet, I drew particular comfort from two comments made by Pete and John at the interview. Firstly: ‘You’ll get all the support you need here. You will always have back-up when needed; someone second-on-call, who will come to the rescue at the drop of a hat.’ Secondly: ‘Don’t worry about the on-call rota for the time being. We don’t expect you’ll be on call until late November or even early December.’ Magic. I’d landed on my feet.

My excitement at a much-coveted job – a good balance of farm animal, equine and small animal work – and the prospect of starting my career after five long years eclipsed the meagre £16,500 annual salary and the disappointingly unglamorous practice car: an eight-year-old Vauxhall Cavalier SRI with a hole in the exhaust and a permanently locked passenger door.

Even though I knew I wasn’t in it for the money at least the pursuance of some style mattered, and with this car it was a miss. I contacted some of my friends from university to share my good news. Happily, some of them had also landed their first jobs and comparing notes I was relieved to discover that my package – the practice car and salary – was largely on a par with theirs, although one jammy friend had been given his boss’s wife’s old car: a 3 series BMW! Cock.

Still, I couldn’t complain. I felt pretty jammy compared to one of my closest friends, who revealed confidentially that he’d accepted a job with a salary of £13,500. I tried to sound supportive, but remembering he’d graduated with a debt in excess of £50,000, my quick maths suggested that at that rate he’d be working to pay off his debts until he was 104. But he sounded so happy, so I rolled out the old chestnut, ‘money can’t buy you love.’


I’m pleased to say that since my earlier days, the starting salaries for new clinical vets have improved considerably. They had to, I guess, because, terrifyingly, after the many long years of learning, many new graduates will now embark on their careers with eye-watering levels of debt.

One young vet I met in recent years had debts running to almost £70,000! However his career progressed, that would be a financial noose around his neck for some time. Is this reasonable or fair?

Of course, I accept that there are so many other equally worthwhile jobs that are nowhere near as well-paid as ours, and where the hours are even worse, some more physically demanding, others more dangerous.

But what I can say, with some authority, is that vets, on the whole, earn their crust. A vet’s work, their intervention and their supervision of animal welfare, has a positive impact on our lives in so many ways – from the more obvious role in providing care for the nation’s much-loved pets, to ensuring the welfare of livestock throughout their lifespan, to upholding the safety of much of the food we eat.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: The Secret Life of a Vet by Sion Rowlands was published on 15thFebruary 2024, and is available from all good bookshops or to buy here

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