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Thursday, 25 October 2018

Interview: Malcolm Welshman

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I'm welcoming author Malcolm Welshman to The Writing Greyhound today for a chat about his book An Armful of Animals. Discover more about Malcolm as he shares his experiences and stories about a motley selection of memorable animals that all made an impact on him!


What was the first dog you ever owned?
An African Bush dog, named Poucher, when I was a lad in Nigeria, and which I write about at length in my memoir. As I describe, she was a remarkable dog who was responsible for putting me on the path to becoming a vet. She’d gone missing for three days and we feared the worse. That she’d been savaged and eaten by a wild animal. But she did return after that time, dragging her right hind leg in which there was a large gash. It was the army doctor who saved her life, stitching up that wound; me, watching as a goggle-eyed eight-year-old, saying ‘I want to be a vet.’ So really, Poucher was responsible for putting me on the path to entering the profession.
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Is there a patient you'll always remember?
I used to look after Ben, a Border Collie, for many years. He was a model patient and would jump onto the consulting table on command and sit waiting to be checked over. He gradually developed spondylitis which affected his lower spine, eventually leading to paralysis of his hindquarters. Putting him to sleep with his owner’s arms wrapped around his neck, was one of the saddest moments of my veterinary career.
What dog do you currently own?
Dora, a Yorkie-cross terrier, found wandering the streets of Birmingham. We actually acquired her through a National Geo TV show called Leader of the Pack. They were looking for people to be assessed by the US dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, as to their suitability to take on this little pooch who was only about seven months old at the time. We were flown out to Madrid for three days of filming: interacting with Dora, feeding her, grooming her. Of the three couples involved, we were the lucky ones to become Dora’s forever home. We’ve had her coming up seven years now. 
Before her, we had Arthur-Rex, a terrier-cross we brought back from Tobago. He became quite a famous little dog, appearing on Channel 5 News; and was guest of honour at a Country House Hotel voted best pet-friendly by the AA.
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Have you ever had an embarrassing moment with a dog of yours?
Judy, our rescue Welsh Springer, had an allergic skin problem, which I just about managed to keep under control. But she did have bouts of itchiness. Once, when the president of the local Women's Institute was having tea with us, Judy decided to scoot on her bottom from one end of the living room carpet to the other, sailing past the startled lady with her legs splayed out – that's Judy's legs, not the lady's!
When did you first start writing about dogs?
My first ever accepted feature was in the late seventies and concerned Poucher. When she was convalescing from that leg wound, she was allowed to sleep in my bedroom. One night we were attacked by an army of soldier ants marching through my room. Encouraged by that first acceptance I went on to write a regular veterinary column for My Weekly and did that for 15 years.
Do dogs feature a great deal in An Armful of Animals?
Very much so. Especially relating to Poucher. She saved my mother’s life when our Land Rover got shunted off the road and plunged down into a ravine. On another occasion, she protected us from a troop of menacing baboons that followed us along a riverbank. 
Judy, the Welsh Springer, also makes an appearance in the book. Her owners had wanted her put to sleep when she was only a year of age, as they couldn’t cope with her ongoing skin problems. I refused to do so. Judy became our furpal and lived until she was 13.
Is there any particular dog story that stands out in your memoir?
The most heart-wrenching concerns the cairn, owned by a vicar who was also a clown. The dog had to be put to sleep as it had terminal cancer. I wrote that episode late one evening. The words just flowed out as did the tears as it reminded me of what happened to our own JR, when – suffering from Cushing’s Syndrome – I had to decide the time had come to say ‘Goodbye’. It was very emotive and still tugs at my heart.
An Armful of Animals is available to buy now. To keep up to date with Malcolm, check out his website or follow him on Twitter.

What's your best animal story? Let me know in the comments below!

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