Hana McNicholas on healing dogs and training them for elite events

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 June 2017

One of the Team GB dogs competing in the agility trials

One of the Team GB dogs competing in the agility trials

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A young woman from Bolton combines a demanding role as a vet with coaching GB’s dog agility team. Emily Rothery reports.

Hana with her dog Haze on the water treadmillHana with her dog Haze on the water treadmill

Animals have always played a big part in the life of Hana McNicholas. ‘My parents were dog trainers and our house always seemed to be full of dogs - at one time we had six. Since then I’ve always had a dog, except during my time at university.’

It comes as no surprise to learn that Hana’s childhood ambition was to become a vet. In 2012 after qualifying at Nottingham University she became the first vet to be employed by the Animal Trust hospital in Bolton.

Hana is justly proud of the work done at the hospital which is a not-for-profit organisation, established in 2012 by vets Owen Monie and Gareth Haines, who believe their service should be about making animals better and not about making profits. Their vision was to develop a practice focused on providing the highest standards of affordable veterinary care, so that as many animals as possible could access early treatment.

Hana, who is now the senior vet at the practice, works with a dedicated team of ten vets, ten qualified veterinary nurses, a band of receptionists and call handlers. The busy hospital is well equipped – ultra sound machines and CT scanners mean that diagnostic procedures can be accessed at an affordable price. ‘We have a prep area, an X-ray room, theatres for surgery and orthopaedic work and a pharmacy. We also have a water tread mill which is a real asset when it comes to repairing injuries, follow up to surgery and weight loss,’ says Hana as she puts border collie Haze through her paces.

Competing for Team GB in Spain (Picture: Simon Peachey)Competing for Team GB in Spain (Picture: Simon Peachey)

The hospital caters for small animals only, mainly cats, dogs and rabbits and sees over 60,000 patients a year. Free consultations are available for sick or injured animals in the hope that early consultation and treatment will benefit poorly pets. An emergency service is offered 24 hours a day and the hospital has its own out-of-hours team which improves continuity of care. It’s a win-win situation as profits are ploughed back into the business to subsidise investigations and treatment.

Hana, who now mainly covers Intensive Care Unit and consultation work, with some surgery at weekends, clearly enjoys her demanding work at the hospital yet still finds time to be heavily involved in another canine venture. She has been one of the coaches of the Agility Team GB for two years, as one of two veterinary surgeons who look after the dogs when at home and away on international trips.

Dog agility events provide an opportunity for these highly trained dogs to demonstrate their talents as they tackle jumps, tyres, tunnels, planks and pole weaving. The rules are strict and competition strong. One of Hana’s roles is to advise on conditioning, fitness and injury prevention. She is also on hand to treat injuries and ensure that all paper work for the dogs’ passports is correct.

Hana’s agility work takes her away several times a year internationally, as well as to squad and team training weekends in the UK. ‘I look at the general health of the dogs and any issues that might influence their performance. The main focus is on improving longevity of their competing career.’

The coaching team with Hana front right (Picture: Simon Peachey)The coaching team with Hana front right (Picture: Simon Peachey)

Hana, who has competed in agility events in the past, tells me that the sport is addictive. ‘You might try a taster session and then you find yourself entering an event and before you know it you’ve bought a van and more dogs!’

Hana was recently at the centre of the action in her role as vet for the adult team at the FCI World Agility Championships held in Zaragosa, Spain. The event saw the best dogs and handlers from over 40 countries compete for six prestigious titles. Unfortunately the team did not come away with a medal but had a highly commendable performance and returned without injury.

Hana is already preparing the dogs and has high hopes for the next international event which will be held in Italy at the European Open Championships in July.

For further information on Agility Team GB go to www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/agility/international-agility-teams/. You can also find out more about the Animal Trust at www.animaltrust.org.uk. It has four branches in the northwest at Bolton, Failsworth, Blackburn and Ellesmere Port. Another is planned for St Helens.

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