News

Grass seed dangers to cats and dogs

Grass seeds are a common problem during the spring and summer months and can easily brush off the tops of long grass stems onto your pet’s body whilst they explore the outdoors. The seeds have pointed ends and are exceptionally sharp. They become trapped in your pet’s fur and, due to their shape, they can only travel in one direction, meaning they can often penetrate skin or move into ears.

If left untreated, grass seeds can cause a variety of problems from minor irritation to conditions that require surgery. They carry bacteria which can cause an infection if the skin of your pet is affected.

An untreated infection may spread, or the seed can cause severe internal damage as it travels through the body. Unfortunately, if the seed breaches the skin, surgery is often required to find the grass seed, along with the use of antibiotics and antifungals for treatment.

Symptoms

Your pet could experience different symptoms depending on what part of the body is affected. Look out for swelling, hair matting and irritation, however additional signs can include scratching, head shaking or discharge from the eyes or nose. The table below provides more detail on the main symptoms and potential damage caused by grass seeds:

Prevention is the best cure

Try to keep your pet away from long grassy areas since the seeds can catch onto their coat, skin or toes very easily. When you take your pet outdoors for a walk, check their fur for any grass seeds when you get home. The typical areas to check are eyes, ears, nose, armpits and their toes – as this is where the seeds often get lodged. Keep long-haired dogs clipped and well-groomed, especially around their feet and ears.

If you are concerned that your pet may have picked up a grass seed please get in touch with us at the earliest opportunity so that we can advise you on what to do.

Posted in General News |

Avonvale’s Paws the Show

Don’t miss this fantastic op-paw-tunity for you and your pet! Enter Avonvale’s first ever virtual pet show and be in with a chance of winning one of five £25 Love2shop vouchers! Our competition opens on the 6th July with a different category each day.

The classes are:

Monday 6th July – Pet that looks most like their owner
Do you have a doppelganger-dog or a mirror-image-moggy? Post a picture of you both and we’ll see if we can tell you apart!

Tuesday 7th July – Golden oldies
Time for your more senior pets to strike a pose and show the newbies how it’s done!

Wednesday 8th July – Strangest sleeping habits
Whether it’s a nap on the neighbour’s fence or an upside down doze, we’d love to see how your pet prefers to snooze.

Thursday 9th July- Best animal moustache
Show us your pet’s handlebars, horseshoes and walruses!

Friday 10th July – Just juniors
Let’s ‘up’ the cuteness factor for this category; could your youngster be Avonvale’s next top model?!

An esteemed panel of Avonvale experts will pick a photo from each category and we’ll announce the winners the following week. Time to start snapping and we look forward to seeing your entries!

Full terms and conditions

Posted in General News |

Avonvale Vets COVID-19 (Coronavirus) 30th June Update

We can now offer a full range of services for our patients, while still adhering to COVID-19 social distancing rules. All services we offer will depend on a risk assessment which considers the safety of our clients and teams along with the welfare of your pet.

As a Practice, we have been preparing for how we will work in the ‘new normal’. We will be providing the same high-quality services, with the same friendly, caring people; just delivered in a slightly different way.

We are working in smaller teams to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and therefore lead times for appointments may be a little longer than usual. Please bear with us at this time – we will do our best to make your appointment as smooth as possible.

Guidance for attending your appointment:

To keep everyone safe, a small number of clients may be able to come into the practice. When you book an appointment, we will confirm the arrangement for when you arrive and will advise on how we’re maintaining social distancing.  This will include measures such as:

  • Remaining 2m apart
  • Advising that clients wear face coverings where possible
  • Asking that all clients use hand sanitiser when entering and leaving the practice
  • Screens will be positioned at our reception desks and our teams will be wearing masks and visors

We will also be taking payment via remote payment links or over the phone, where payment at reception is not possible.

We have made these changes as the health and wellbeing of our patients, clients and staff is our number-one priority.

Thank you for your continued understanding during this time. We remain committed to delivering the best care for your pet and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Posted in General News |

Top 10 summer pet-hazards

Here are a few ways to help make sure you and your pets have a super, safe time together this summer.

 

Heatstroke and dehydration
Animals develop heatstroke if their core body-temperature rises above normal levels (hyperthermia) and they lose their ability to cool down. Animals can’t get rid of excess heat through sweating and their fur coats (which are great for insulation in the winter) make it difficult for them to lose heat through their skin.

The symptoms of heatstroke and dehydration are:

  • Dry pale gums
  • Bright red tongue
  • Excessive panting
  • Agitated (restless)behaviour
  • Drooling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting

To reduce the risk of your pet developing heatstroke, allow free access to clean, fresh drinking water. Exercise your dog during the coolest part of the day; try and get out early in the morning or late evening. Carry water and a small bowl on longer walks.

Be extra cautious if your dog is: brachycephalic (has a short-nose), elderly, overweight or has dark fur. These factors increase your dog’s risk of developing heatstroke.

If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, or is dehydrated, move into the shade and offer small amounts of water to drink. Use cool water to dampen your dog’s coat- avoid very cold water as this can cause shock. Use a cool, damp towel to cover your dog. Call us, or your nearest vet, immediately and ask for your dog to be checked as a matter of urgency.

 

Ticks
Ticks are commonly found in woodland and grassland which is used to graze livestock. These small parasites are blood feeders; they attach to an animal’s skin to feed. As they feed their egg-shaped bodies expand and turn a dark browny-red colour.

If you find a tick, and are confident to do so, remove it immediately with a tick-removal hook. These handy tools are available from your local practice. Avoid squeezing the tick’s body or leaving the head behind as this can cause an infection. Please call us if you’d like help removing a tick from your pet. We can also advise you about the most suitable tick-repellent product to use on your pet.

 

Bee or wasp stings
Pets are often keen to ‘investigate’ bees and wasps which often results in a sting. The sting site might become swollen and itchy but it’s very rare for animals to develop a severe allergic (anaphylactic) reaction. Common symptoms of stings include:

  • Drooling
  • Whining
  • Swelling
  • Pawing at the face, or mouth
  • Biting at the site of the sting
  • Holding up their stung paw
  • Hives (small bumps along the skin near to the sting)

Uncommonly, stings near the nose or mouth can affect an animal’s breathing; call us for advice if you’re concerned about your pet.

 

Fur
Keep your pet’s fur short and well-groomed to help prevent heatstroke. Remove any matted fur, especially around their bottom, to eliminate the risk of flystrike. Flies can lay eggs in the fur which then hatch; these maggots eat into surrounding skin causing painful, open wounds.

Fur acts as a great sunblock but less hairy areas of your pet’s body can still become sunburnt. Dogs and cats with paler fur are more prone to sunburn.

 

Barbecues and alfresco dining
There’s nothing more enjoyable than cooking up a barbecue feast and enjoying your favourite tipple outdoors, just be careful your pet doesn’t join in! Be mindful of hazards including toxic food and drink, hot surfaces and sharp kebab skewers.

Some food and drink that should be kept out of reach of your pet include:

  • Food containing bones
  • Food containing seeds
  • Grapes
  • Raw garlic
  • Raw onion
  • Raisins
  • Corn on the cob
  • Chocolate
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Coffee/coffee beans
  • Teas/tea bags

 

Swimming pools, sea, rivers, and lakes
Not all dogs are good swimmers so be cautious near open water, especially deep water with strong currents. If your dog gets into difficulty, don’t put yourself at risk attempting a rescue. Sadly, people drown each year trying to rescue their pet.

If you’re introducing your dog to water, consider using a dog-flotation device. You could let them get their paws wet in a paddling pool before moving onto deeper water. Rinse your dog’s fur after a dip to remove salt, chlorine or bacteria.

Keep a look out for blue-green algae as this is toxic to dogs. Don’t let your dog swim in, or drink water, which you suspect is contaminated. Contact us straight away if your dog has been in contact with algae.

 

Hot pavements and artificial grass
Hot pavements can burn your pet’s paws. If it’s too hot for you to stand on with bare feet, it’s too hot for your pet. Try the seven-second rule; if you can place the back of your hand on the surface for seven seconds or more, then it’s safe for your pet to walk on. If your hand gets too hot, it’s too hot for your pet.

To prevent your pet from burning his/ her paws, try the following:

  • Walk in the cooler hours of the day – early morning or late evening
  • If you’re out in the midday heat, try and walk on the grass where possible
  • Clean and check your dog’s paws regularly

 

Fertiliser and pesticides
Many fertilisers cause gastric (stomach) irritation if your pet eats them. It’s usually dogs who are affected because of their scavenging nature. The symptoms of fertiliser toxicity include: diarrhoea, vomiting, salivating (drooling) and a painful abdomen.

Pesticides can cause muscle tremors (shaking) and even seizures (fits). If you notice a farmer spraying his/her fields then consider an alternative route for a few days and rinse your dog’s paws well when you get home.

 

Flowers and Plants
Many plants and flowers are toxic if eaten by our pets. Depending on the plant, your pet might develop a range of symptoms from an upset stomach to more serious conditions such as kidney failure.

The most common harmful plants are:

 

  • Elder:The whole plant, including the elderberries, are poisonous for both cats and dogs.
  • Lilies:Contain a toxin that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, collapsing, fits, heart problems and renal failure (cats).
  • Foxglove: Both the seeds and the leaves of a foxglove plant contain a toxin which can cause heart problems, sickness, diarrhoea, fits and collapse.
  • Geranium: The whole geranium plant is poisonous to both dogs and cats.
  • Hydrangea: Parts of a hydrangea plant contain cyanide which is toxic to both dogs and cats.

 

Cars
Never leave your dog in the car on a hot day, even for a few minutes. Heatstroke develops quickly and can be fatal.  Passers-by are encouraged to dial 999 if they notice a dog trapped inside a car. The police will act to release the dog – even if that means damaging the vehicle.

 

If you’re concerned about your pet and would like further advice, please contact us. We’re always here to help, however warm it gets!

Posted in General News |

Adopt a pet – save a life

If the recent months have meant your new pet plans have been on hold, you may now be starting to put the wheels in motion to extend your family and welcome a new member. In the first instance, many people research reputable breeders or consider designer dogs based on celebrity social media profiles. However, it can be hugely rewarding to adopt a rescue animal. 

Animal rescue homes are currently overwhelmed with abandoned animals. The Covid-19 pandemic has left many people unable to look after their pets due to financial constraints or the inability to give them the care and exercise they need due to medical shielding. Add to this that many rescue centres, who rely on public charity to cover their running costs, have also seen a huge drop in financial support and it’s clear there is a greater need than ever to consider giving a rescue animal it’s ‘fur-ever’ home.

Good reasons to adopt

There are thousands of animals around the UK who have been abandoned by their owners for one reason or another. They may have been badly treated or not well looked after and, as a result, not had the happy life that pets deserve. By giving one of these animals a second chance you’re contributing to giving them another, better life.

Things to consider

Rescue animals may come with a history, so you need to be prepared to deal with any issues which will be flagged to you by the animal shelter. Mistreatment may result in a nervous pet who will need lots of love, attention and reassurance, as well as the usual feeding, exercising and comfort elements.

Decide on what type of animal you can offer a good home to. For example, if you have children at home and a rescue cat doesn’t get on well with children, you’re not going to be able to change that. Adopting an animal isn’t just about saving them. It’s making sure they’re the right fit for you and your circumstances, and you’re right for them and theirs. If you’re looking for a dog, determine what is the right size breed based on the space you have at home. Don’t plan for a terrier and take home a Great Dane!

Most of all, make sure that – as far as is humanly possible – your new pet will be welcomed into your family. Having already gone through losing an owner for whatever reason, it would be heart-breaking for your adopted animal to have to go back into the re-homing process for a second time.

What to expect

Animal charities will want to know a little bit about your home life, what space you have available and whether you have children or other pets. They may want to visit you at home to assess the suitability of the space.

Once the process is complete and you’re officially matched, be prepared for some readjustment time. Even though you’ve made your home welcoming with comfy bedding, toys and good food, your new pet will need some time to get used to their new surroundings. They may be withdrawn, quiet or unresponsive in the early days. Try to reassure them without being overwhelming. Be patient with any toilet mishaps, speak to them with a gentle voice and don’t chastise them. They need to learn to trust you, so early impressions are essential.

Ready to start looking for a rescue pet? 

There are a number of national charities who have available pets listed on their websites. It is also worth considering local animal rescue centres in your area.

RSPCA – https://www.rspca.org.uk/findapet/rehomeapet/ 

Dog’s Trust – https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/ 

Blue Cross – https://www.bluecross.org.uk/rehome-pet 

Cats Protection – https://www.cats.org.uk/adopt-a-cat

Posted in General News |

Advice on helping injured wildlife

Do you know what to do if you find an injured, wild animal while you’re out and about this summer? Often doing nothing is the right thing but sometimes our help is needed. Wild animals are unpredictable when they’re handled by humans; more so if they’re frightened and injured. Before you decide to help a wild animal, take a second to make sure you’re doing so as safely as possible.

Baby birds and mammals are sometimes mistakenly taken from their families by well-meaning helpers. Check to see if a baby animal is actually an orphan before intervening – often parents hide just out of sight, ready to return as soon as the human danger is gone. Unless the animal is clearly injured or unwell, it’s best to call the RSPCA or your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre before acting.

Signs that your help is needed

You probably need to help if the animal:

  • Is brought to you by your cat or dog.
  • Has an obvious bleeding wound.
  • Has an apparent or obvious broken limb.


Top tips to remember

If you find an injured, orphaned, or trapped animal, approach quietly and carefully; remember to consider your own safety first. You can help a wild animal have the best possible chance of survival by following these guidelines:

  • Gently place injured birds in a cardboard box. Pet carriers, lined with a non-frayed towel, are ideal to carry small mammals. Place the containers somewhere quiet until they can be transported to either a wildlife rehabilitation centre or the vets.
  • If you find an un-injured, un-feathered baby bird on the ground, place it back in its nest if it’s safe to do so. Mother birds won’t reject their babies as they don’t rely on scent to recognise them; they can’t tell if a human has handled them.
  • Keep birds away from your face as their beaks can cause injuries.
  • Always check long grass for rabbit nests before mowing. Keep an eye out for hedgehog nests too; they’re found at the base of thick hedges, garden sheds or piles of rubbish.
  • If you’re transporting an injured animal in your car, turn the radio off and talk quietly. Wild animals aren’t accustomed to human voices and get frightened by loud noises. The calmer a wild animal is, the better its chance of survival.
  • Wear gloves if possible – gardening gloves are ideal if you have them. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling any animal.
  • Try to avoid handling injured bats as there’s a very small risk they could transmit rabies. If you need to move a bat, wear thick gloves or use a shoe box to gently scoop the bat up. Place the bat in the shoe box (with air holes in the side) lined with a small cloth. Put a few drops of water in an upturned milk container lid in a corner of the box. Bats are a protected species but it’s OK to move a bat if it’s injured and needs help. The National Bat Helpline will advise you where to take the bat as they have volunteers who can rehabilitate them properly.
  • Neverlift a wild animal unless you’re sure that you can do so without risk to yourself or others.
  • Please contact us if you’re uncertain about what to do. If you find an injured animal, please call the RSPCA, or speak to us, before you move it. We always help injured wildlife but there may be a rehabiltation centre we can contact for you that provide specific care.

For more details on handling injured wildlife, please visit https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/injuredanimals

Posted in General News |

The importance of microchipping your pet

Microchips play an important part in helping us to keep our pets safe. It’s a worrying time if pets go missing, but if they have a microchip, they can be reunited with us much quicker.

A microchip identifies that your pet belongs to you. It contains a number that corresponds to your details which are stored on a central database. Vets, dog wardens and animal charities have scanners to check whether any animal brought into them has a microchip.

The microchip itself is only the size of a grain of rice. It takes a few seconds to insert under the skin at the back of your pet’s neck.  Once in place, you and your pet won’t know it’s there!

Hopefully you’ll never need to use the microchip but it’s reassuring to know your pet has one if they do go missing. If you move house, or change your phone number, remember to inform the microchip database company so they can update your records.

Lost pets
Pets go missing for all sorts of reasons; dogs may bolt out of the front door when you take a delivery, escape-artist rabbits can break out of their hutch or cats can hitch rides in cars and vans. When your pet is found, it will most likely be taken to a local vet practice or a charity rescue home. One quick scan of the microchip and a phone call later, and your pet is back where they belong – with you!

Stolen pets
It’s an unfortunate reality that some pets are stolen to order and resold. If your pet is microchipped it can act as a deterrent to thieves.

Accidents
Injured pets are always scanned as soon as they arrive at a veterinary practice for emergency treatment. We can access the database quickly and reunite you with your pet in no time.

Microchips and the law

  • It’s a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped in England, Wales and Scotland.
  • It’s illegal for breeders to sell puppies over eight weeks old that are not microchipped and registered on a database.
  • There is no legal requirement to microchip other pets, but animal charities, and us here at Avonvale, strongly advise it.

If you want to know more about getting your pet microchipped, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to answer any questions.  There’s also some information available on the Government website which you may find useful https://www.gov.uk/get-your-dog-microchipped

Posted in General News |

Caring for your cat – An owner’s guide

Many of us have enjoyed spending more time at home with our cats over recent months. But have they enjoyed spending that time with us? Cats have evolved over thousands of years to live with humans but is there still more we could be doing to create the ‘purrfect’ home for our cats?

1) A safe place
Cats can adapt to small changes in their routine and environment but they prefer consistent feeding times and their own quiet, safe place in which to sleep.

Top Tips
Here are a few ideas for feline-friendly hide-outs:

  • Top of the cupboard – cats feel safe when they’re high-up in a room; if it’s safe and spacious, cupboard tops are ideal. (It also means your cat is out of reach of younger members of the family!)
  • Underneath the bed – clear away the dust and make a space for your cat!
  • A raised shelf –a high shelf or the top of a chest of drawers make ideal, high resting places.
  • Inside of a box – kittens and cats love cardboard boxes; they can easily be turned into luxury cat accommodation. Try cutting an entrance hole in the side and lining the base with fleecy blankets.

Involve the children
Why not challenge the kids to make your cat a new hide-out? It’s a good way to teach them why cats need uninterrupted, quiet rest. Cats seek attention when they choose to and can react with sharp claws and teeth if they’re disturbed. They could:

  • Turn a cardboard box into a ‘hidey-hole’
  • Use a tepee tent (if you have one) and create a cat-friendly camp
  • Create a nest by putting a long cloth over a breakfast stool

 

2) Playtime and predatory behaviour
Playing with your cat is a fun way to get to know their personality and deepen the bond you share.  Both kittens and cats love to play with a variety of interactive toys. Playtime helps kittens develop physically while teaching them social and communication skills. Even the youngest kittens express predatory behaviour when playing; it’s quite a sight watching a six-week-old kitten ‘stalk’ a table tennis ball!

Indoor cats need plenty of opportunities to play and climb allowing them to exhibit their natural behaviours. Homemade fishing rods are great for dangling furry toys near your cat while keeping your fingers safe. Providing a stimulating environment helps prevent your cat becoming bored and developing behavioural problems such as over-grooming and inappropriate toileting.

Top tips – food foraging
Problem-solving toys and puzzle feeders can entertain your cat and stimulate their senses. If your cat is new to puzzles, keep them easy to begin with and increase the difficulty over time.

Involve the children
Raid the recycling box and challenge the kids to make some feeding games for your cat. Let their imagination run wild with toilet roll tubes, egg boxes and yoghurt pots. Use child and cat friendly materials to decorate them; avoid toxic paints and small craft pieces. (No pom-poms!)

 

3) Resources
‘Key resources’ are the amenities that all cats need to stay happy and healthy. They are: litter trays, feeding areas, water and resting spaces.  If you have multiple cats, provide separate feeding and rest areas. The golden rule for litter trays is ‘one per cat plus one’. For example, if you have three cats you need at least four trays in different areas!

Top tips- food
It’s important to provide food in a cat-friendly way. If your cat wears a collar, a constant clinking noise against the side of a stainless-steel bowl could be off-putting. Some cats are allergic to plastic bowls and prefer food and water bowls made from ceramic or glass.

Water
Wild cats feed and drink in separate locations. Domestic cats share this preference so place water away from feeding bowls. A wide, full-to-the-brim, glass bowl allows your cat to drink comfortably without getting their whiskers wet while keeping an eye out for ‘predators’. (All cats are wild at heart!)

Litter Trays

Litter trays are essential for housecats but outdoor cats also enjoy the option of an indoor toilet. Place litter trays in quiet areas away from food bowls and water. Cats prefer privacy and can’t relax if a neighbour’s cat is watching them ‘in action’ so keep trays away from glass windows and doors.

 

4) Respect your cat’s sense of smell
A domestic cat’s sense of smell is about twenty times stronger than ours! Cats use their sense of smell to gather information about the movements and location of other cats. They communicate with each other, and mark out their territory, by leaving their scent in communal areas. You’ve probably noticed your cat rubbing their face along furniture edges or your leg! Scratching and urinating are also ways of leaving scent behind.

Top Tips

  • Avoid using strong-smelling cleaning products, scented candles or room sprays.
  • Provide scratching posts or mats for your cat to use (and help save your sofa!)
  • Remove your outdoor footwear when you return home, especially if you’ve visited another house with cats. This prevents bringing new, challenging smells into the house.
  • Plug-in pheromone products replicate the scent produced by cats. Consider trying them to help your cat feel secure and calm at home.

 

5) Human-cat social interaction
Consistent, gentle handling from a young age helps your cat develop life-long, positive behaviours. Cats have strong bonds with their humans and enjoy interacting with us (on their terms of course!)

Cats tell us they’d like attention by:

  • Purring
  • Facial rubbing
  • Chirruping
  • Head bunting
  • Holding their tail vertically
  • Rolling around in a relaxed fashion

Top Tips
If you’re working from home, you could try helping your cat adjust by:

  • Setting up a cosy bed for your cat on your desk if you both like spending the time together
  • Maintaining your cat’s normal routine; ignore demands for food and attention-seeking behaviour. (Bribing your cat with food can just make them more persistent!)
  • Working in a separate room to your cat.

 

Give our ideas a try and your feline-friend will, quite literally, think you’re the cat’s whiskers!

Information source: Vicky Halls RVN DipCouns Reg. MBACP (iCatCare/ISFM)

Posted in General News |

Keeping your dog safe during car travel

It’s hard not to smile when you see a dog sticking its head out of the window of a travelling car. They look so happy and carefree! But travelling with an unrestrained dog is risky for them, you, and other drivers.

If you’re going to be out and about on the road with your dog this summer, here are some things to consider to help keep everyone safe.

What does the law say?

Whilst it isn’t illegal to travel with an unrestrained dog, it’s not advisable:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

UK Highway Code, rule 57.

We recommend restraining your dog when travelling as it keeps them safe and secure in the unfortunate event of an accident. It also stops them distracting the driver by moving around the vehicle and blocking the view.

Select the right type of restraint for your dog

Acceptable vehicle restraints include a travel cage or carrier (good for small dogs and short journeys), or a specially designed harness or seat belt. If you choose a travel cage, this should be placed in the footwell of the front seat or secured with the seatbelt on the rear seat. Never put animals on the front seat of a car.

If using a harness, it should be properly fitted in the rear of the vehicle and secured with a seat belt. There should be sufficient room for your dog to comfortably move, but not so they can escape.

Large dogs may be more comfortable travelling in the boot of a hatchback car; a dog guard prevents them jumping over the headrests. Ensure your dog has plenty of space.

Make sure your dog is comfortable

Give your dog some home comforts for their travels; put blankets and their favourite toy in carriers or cages. If you’re going on a long journey, plan regular stops for water, snacks, toilet breaks and exercise. Be sure to keep your dog on a lead as they leave the vehicle; if they’re in an unfamiliar, busy place, they might panic and run away.

Regulate the temperature inside the car; don’t open windows too much or direct air conditioning onto your dog. Never leave your dog in a warm car. The temperature inside cars rises quickly, even on cooler days, which can lead to heatstroke, dehydration, and sometimes death. If your dog becomes distressed in a hot car, passers-by are encouraged to dial 999. The police will act to release your dog even if that means damaging your vehicle.

If your pet isn’t properly restrained in your car, it could invalidate both your car and pet insurance.

Happy travelling with your four-legged passengers!

Posted in General News |

Russell Hall Blog: Stuck in paradise

Russell Hall, Clinical Director at Avonvale Veterinary Centres, continues his journey sailing around the world with his family – Kate, Hugo and Felix. Read his latest update below:

“Just like everyone else in the world, the last 3 months have been very different for us. After the rigours of sailing the Atlantic, we had a fantastic time sailing between the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. We were often in a mini convoy of boats (including several family boats) we have met on the way. We enjoyed barbecues on deserted islands, snorkelling coral reefs- all the things you expect to do on a paradise island. We reached Antigua in late February, just as Coronavirus started to affect the world.

Some of the boats we were with prepared to head north to start their journey back home across the Atlantic. Others were planning their journeys further west to Panama and on to the biggest section of ocean in the world – The Pacific. That is where we are planning to head.

But borders were beginning to close, flights were being cancelled – how do we continue our voyage? Where should we go next? Where would we be safe?

We opted to leave Antigua and head to Bonaire, a little known island off the coast of Venezuela. It was the most sensible choice for us as Bonaire is out of the Caribbean hurricane zone and in the right direction for our onward journey. The 675 mile journey took us past Monserrat so we detoured and sailed within a few hundred yards of the active volcanoes. You can still clearly see the island’s old capital buried in several metres of ash with church towers and the old town hall poking though. You can smell the sulphur and steam still rises from vents in the rocky landscape. We didn’t stay long as there is a five mile exclusion zone.

We arrived at Bonaire on Saturday evening, 4 ½ days after leaving Antigua. The border closed on Monday morning; we had just made it in time! In those few days the world, it seemed, had changed. From being a relatively minor news item, Coronavirus had now struck with a vengeance

Once safe in Bonaire, inaction seemed the best action so we sat tight for nearly 3 months. But what a place to be stuck! Bonaire is a Dutch territory, in a similar way to the Falkland Islands being a British territory. Like many of the Caribbean Islands, Bonaire formed from volcanoes millions of years ago. The mostly cactus covered Bonaire has a colourful history, especially since the Dutch arrived in the sixteenth century. Slavery was a part of its salt mining and plantation-farming history, it served as a refuelling base in the Second World War and is now a wildlife and marine reserve. With all these activities it was a great place for home schooling.

After 11 weeks in Bonaire it was time to leave. Our next planned stop was Colombia but they’d closed their border and, like many South American countries, medical systems were struggling to cope with the large numbers of people falling ill. We opted to head directly for Bocas del Toro in Panama, Central America. Panama currently allow entry after a 14 day quarantine period at anchor off the coast. We faced a week’s long journey through the roughest part of the Caribbean Sea followed by two weeks at anchor before touching land. This meant several trips to the shops to stock up on fresh food and pasta sauce.

We’re now on day five of the passage to Panama. Last night we went through the biggest electrical storm we’ve ever seen. Thunder rattled the rigging, lightning hit the water all around us and the rain was so heavy it made an Indian monsoon seem like a small drizzle. It lasted for six hours and was the first time we’ve felt really alone; very few commercial vessels, and no other yachts, were within hundreds of miles of us. All we could do was pray we didn’t get a direct lightning strike – that would be a disaster.

We were lucky, we came through relatively unscathed. Water has leaked into loads of odd places and lightning has damaged the electronics at the top of the mast. The job list has now extended to include mending lightning-damaged electronics whilst 20 metres in the air, with no relevant spare parts. Something to do whilst in quarantine I suppose and, to be honest, probably a lot easier than home schooling!

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the live-a-board sailing community. When we told people we were going to move our family onto a boat to sail the world, people warned us about being overtaken by rogue waves, boarded by pirates and the difficulties of home schooling; someone even said we should watch out in case bare foot living turned our children’s feet into those usually seen on a hobbit! But a global pandemic? No one mentioned a pandemic.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, we are all facing challenges and obstacles in our daily lives. We are all living a voyage.”

You can follow the family’s travels on www.hallsaboard.com

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