The Strand Magazine/Volume 1/Issue 1/At the Animals' Hospital

Illustrated by M. Dorothy Hardy

At the Animals Hospital.

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O NE hundred years ago! A century since the first two stones were joined together from which was to spring a veritable boon to the sick and suffering amongst all sorts and conditions of domesticated animals—an abiding-place where horse and dog, calf and sheep, even down to the maligned and sorely-tried drawer of the costermonger's cart might receive assistance and advice to meet the thousand and one ills to which their flesh and bones are heir. The Royal Veterinary College is within a month of claiming a hundred years' good labour to its credit.

Hence the reason of our mounting the "knife-board" of a yellow-bodied 'bus, conspicuously painted "Camden Town," with a view of obtaining a preliminary interview with the driver regarding the ills of most animals in general, and of horse-flesh in particular. He knew little, and kept that meagre knowledge to himself, regarding us with suspicion, probably as a spy in the employ of an opposition company, and screwed his mouth artfully when a question was volleyed, and met it with a knowing crack of the whip in irritating response.

"Orf side down, 'Arry. Just show the way where the donkeys is doctored, and the 'osses waccinated. Whoa! Whoa! 'Er', 'pon my word, 'Arry, if I didn't forget to give Betsy"—a frisky-looking mare on the near side—"her cough mixture. Wot time does the Wet'inary College shut?"

The way pointed out by the conductor was King-street, at the top of which runs Great College-street, where the great gates of the Hospital for Animals are facing you. Here, congregated together about the entrance, are a dozen or twenty students, the majority of them arrayed in garments of a decidedly "horsey" cut, their appearance suggesting that they are somewhere about one remove from the medical student proper, though in full possession of all their traditional love of fun and irrepressible spirits. For a charge of sixty guineas these young men may revel in the anatomy of a horse for a period of three years, walk the straw-carpeted floor of the sick stable, pay periodical visits, and learn how to prescribe the necessary remedies for the inmates of the dogs' ward. The secretary, Mr. R. A. N. Powys, assures us that three hundred students are at present located here, and, together with the educational staff, numbering, amongst others, such veterinary authorities as Professors Axe, Penberthy, McQueen, Coghill, and Edwards, they visit the beds of some fifty horses every day, together with those of some ten or a dozen dogs, to say nothing of pigs and sheep weakly inclined, and cows of nervous temperament. During the past twelve months 1,174 horses have been examined for unsoundness. More than four thousand animals were treated either as in-patients or out-patients during that period.

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Passing through the gateway, a fine open space is immediately in front, with a roadway laid down for the purpose of testing the soundness of horses. Just at this moment a fine prancing steed, a typical shire horse, with his coat as brown as a new chestnut, and his limbs and quarters as they should be, is led out by a stalwart groom. For all the animal's 16½ hands, there is a question as to his soundness. A professor hurries up, followed by a score of students, with note-books and pencils ready. The horse is trotted round the gravel-path, then galloped with a rider bare-back. A thoughtful consultation follows, and the verdict pronounced upon its respiratory organs is: "As sound as a bell."

There is an estimable and enterprising gentleman touring the London streets who is the proprietor of a group of animals which he facetiously calls "The Happy Family." These are in the flesh, alive and frolicsome; but here in Camden Town, where all things veterinary are studied, is a happy family—in the bone. They are gathered together in unison around the bust of the late Professor Robertson. The "ship of the desert" has on its left an elephant of formidable size, near which stands an ostrich. On the camel's right is a cow, and a lion, originally part of a menagerie in the Edgware-road. A pig is readily recognised, and a fine dog seems to be looking up to the late Professor as an old friend. This interesting collection will shortly be added to by all that is left of the celebrated race-horse "Hermit."

It is to the Museum that the students repair two or three times a week, and gain a practical knowledge of the ailments which are associated with animals.

The glass cases contain horses' mouths, showing the various stages of the teeth. Innumerable are the bottles holding preserved portions of each and every animal. In one of the cases is a very interesting specimen of the students' work. It illustrates the anatomy of a dog's leg. The bone is taken in hand by the student, and by an ingenious arrangement of red sealing wax the blood-vessels are faithfully and realistically introduced.


Every case contains a curiosity—one is full of the feet of horses, and its next-door neighbour protects a wonderful array of horseshoes. The ideal horse-shoe is one which requires no nails. The nearest approach to this is a shoe which clamps the hoof, is screwed up tightly, and the whole thing kept in place by an iron band. The great amount of pressure which is required to keep the shoe from shifting, and the possible injury it may cause the wearer, has prevented its universal use.

Here is an old-fashioned drenching bit—the old idea of administering medicine to horses. The bit is hollow and a funnel is attached to it, to be inserted in the animal's mouth and the mixture poured in. To-day, however, a tin drenching can of a somewhat pyramidical shape is simply used.

At the door one may brush against what appears to be a mop of extra size. It is—to use a homely expression—a calf's leg with "a housemaid's knee." This curious growth is five feet in circumference and a foot and a half in depth. But perhaps the most remarkable corner is that devoted to the storing of massive stones and cement, hardened together, which have been taken from the bodies of various animals.

These are of all shapes and sizes. Two of them taken from a mare, weigh fifty-four pounds, and many of them would turn the scale at thirty-five to forty pounds. The formation of such stones is curious. Above is a drawing—in miniature—of a huge stone formed inside a cow. The cow—by no means a careful one—enjoyed the green grass of the meadow in blissful ignorance that even tin-tacks and nails get lodged on the sward occasionally. The cow, in her innocence, swallowed the nail—there it is, imbedded in the centre. Lime and earth deposited and hardened round it, with the result that an immense stone was formed of nearly forty pounds in weight.

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Next comes the instrument-room. This is an apartment not calculated to act as a sedative upon the visitor who is forced to be a frequent caller on the dentist. The forceps for drawing horses' teeth are more than a yard long, and it requires a man of might and muscle to use them with effect. The tracheotomy tubes—inserted when a horse has difficulty in breathing—stand out brightly from amongst the dull and heavy appearance of the firing irons, which are employed in lameness, as a blister on the limb. It is interesting to be told that there are a number of horses in the hunting field, in the streets, and the park, wearing silver tracheotomy tubes, as an assistance to their breathing, and, to put it in the words of a doctor, "doing well."

The pharmacy is by no means to be hurriedly passed by. It is the chemist's shop of the establishment, the place where students enter to be initiated into all the mysteries of compounding a prescription. They may crush the crystals into powder in a mortar of diminutive size, or pound them in one as big as a copper with a pestle as long as a barber's pole. A great slate is covered with veterinary hieroglyphics; the shelves are decorated with hundreds of blue bottles, the drawers brimming over with tiny phials and enormous gallipots. Step behind a substantial wooden screen, which practically says "Private," and you have the most approved of patterns in the way of a chemist's counter. Here is every item, down to the little brass scales and weights, the corks and sealing wax, the paper and string.

From the pharmacy to the Turkish bath is but a step. Veterinary authorities have arrived at the conclusion that a Turkish bath is the finest remedy that can be found for skin disease in horses. This takes the form of a square stable, heated by a furnace at the back. Not an outlet is permitted for the escape of the hot air, and it can be heated to any temperature required. The horse, too, can enjoy all the luxuriousness of a shower bath, and if necessary can dabble his four feet in a foot-bath handy. Indeed, everything goes to prove the whole system of treating sick animals is founded on the same principle as that meted out to human beings.

One must needs look in at the open door of the shoeing-forge. The clang of the blacksmith's hammer makes a merry accompaniment to the prancing of a dozen fine creatures just entering to be shod. The whistling of the bellows, and the hissing of the roused-up flames vie with the snorting of a grand bay mare who cannot be numbered amongst the most patient of her sex.

"Stand over, miss—stand over," cries a strapping, brawny lad. "She'll take a number five;" and from a stock of three hundred and fifty dozen new shoes which adorn the walls—and, if numbers count for anything, good luck should pervade every nook and corner of the forge—a five-inch shoe is quickly adjusted, and the bay, not yet realising the new footing upon which she stands, enlists the services of a pair of men to hold her in.

The paddock in the immediate neighbourhood of the forge is the sick-ward of the hospital for horses. Every horse has its own apartment—a loose box, the door of which is fitted with iron bars through which the doctor can inspect his patient. The inmate's card, which tells its sex and colour, date of entrance, number, disease, and treatment prescribed, is affixed to the door, and every day a professor goes his rounds. The hospital surgeon also pays continual visits, and medicine is administered at intervals varying from two or three hours to three or four days.

Here is one of the most patient of the inmates, "Polly," a pretty creature who would add to the picturesqueness of any hunting-field in the country, and who has dislocated her shoulder. Polly might be held up as a credit to any hospital. She bore her bandaging—not always a painless operation, for the linen must needs be fastened firmly—without moving a muscle, only heaving a sigh of relief as soon as the tying-up was over.

A slip of linen or calico is carefully cut to size and strapped on with strong tapes. It is likewise considered beneficial that the patient should be kept in ignorance as to its whereabouts: for the horror of "hospital" which pervades most people's minds exists in the imaginations of animals as well. Therefore the sick Polly must needs submit to having her eyes bandaged that she may realise the position of being in the dark as to her lodging for a week or two. A strip of the same material from which the shoulder-strap was cut is tied on to the head-collar.

"Polly's" next-door neighbour, however, presents a much more serious case.


"Joe" has recently been gaining experience in the fact that life is but a chapter of accidents. Joe could not be characterised as a careless creature; indeed, it is chronicled of him that he would positively feel for every step he took, and pick out the safest spots in the line of route. Poor Joe! His careful line of action and method of travelling did not meet with that reward to which it was entitled. Alas! he now rests here as a warning to his fellow-horses not to put trust in the treacherous smoothness of the agreeable asphalt, or too much faith in the comfort afforded by the pleasures of travelling on a newly-repaired road. He is laid up with an injured thigh, and a severe fracture has befallen one half of what he depended upon to carry him through life.

"Rest, complete rest, is what he needs," remarks a passing doctor. And a very ingenious arrangement is provided in order to attain the desired end.

This consists of a big canvas sling, held up by half a dozen pulleys. On this the whole weight of the body is supported, and the comfort afforded is equivalent to that provided by a good bed to a weary man. The animal is so weak that, if he tumbled down, it is doubtful whether he would get up again. Here he will remain until completely recovered, which means enjoying the repose afforded by this horsey hammock for a period between six weeks and six months.

The two fractured limbs are, for the time being, imbedded in iron splints with leather bands, and fitted with little pads in front in order not to cut the leg. All these surgical appliances are in every way as perfect as if they were intended for the human frame, instead of for a horse's.

Sickness does not seem to diminish the appetites of the inmates, and doses of iron and quinine are not of frequent occurrence. It may take three or four months to cure a case of lameness, and long terms of confinement may possibly be needed for diseases of the respiratory or digestive organs, or of the skin. But the bill for food, hay and straw, amounted to the comfortable sum of £1,510 0s. 8d. last year, against the modest outlay of £166 11s. 5d. which was spent in drugs. The number of horse-patients confined to well-kept beds of straw and healthy peat-moss, in admirably ventilated apartments, averages fifty at one time. Their paddock—or sick-ward—is a pattern of cleanliness, neatness, and good order.

There is only a moment to spend in the operating theatre, acknowledged to be the finest in Europe. It is a huge space covered with a glass canopy, where four or five horses can be operated on at once. There is ample accommodation for every student in the hospital to obtain a good view of the proceedings. Only a moment also to peep in at a little apartment in the far corner—a small operating room fitted up with a trevis, a wooden structure where the animal to be operated upon is placed, and strapped in with ropes, so that movement is impossible; only a moment, such a barking and a whining breaks upon the peaceful air—troublous cries that find an outlet from the open door of an upper room, to which ascends a stable staircase. It is the dogs' ward!

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The barking of the inmates is to be interpreted into an unmistakable welcome. Here, in corners of the cosiest, and beds of the whitest wood-fibre, reclines many a magnificent specimen. These fine St. Bernard pups are worth £250 a piece, and only a week or two ago a patient was discharged as convalescent, upon whose head rested the figure of £1,200. Most of them are suffering from skin disease; but here is a pup, with a coat of impenetrable blackness, afflicted with St. Vitus's dance. He wears a pitiful expression; but, save for an occasional twitter of a muscle, rests very quietly. Every cage is occupied, save one, and that is an apartment with double iron gates. It is set apart for mad dogs. Every creature bears its affliction with remarkable resignation, and, as one passes from bed to bed, runs out to the length of its chain and stands looking up the sawdust-strewn floor which leads to "the nursery."

One fine fellow, however, rests in a corner, near the bath, the very personification of all that is dignified.

"David" is a grand St. Bernard, upon whom a coat of shaggy beauty has been bestowed and the blessing of a majestic presence. He sits there with his front paw dangling over the bed-side; helpless, but not uncared for. His leg is broken, and he holds it out, tightly tied up and bandaged, as token thereof. Cheer up, David, old boy—look a bit pleasant, David, my brave fellow. But David only shakes his head in grateful thanks for a word of sympathy. He is a credit to his breed, and his noble disposition would lead him to forget what brought him there. It is a touching story. His owner's little daughter was his mistress; David followed her wherever she went, and—save at night time—never allowed her out of his sight, and even then he would nestle outside her door on the mat, until the child woke in the morning. Just a week ago the little girl had wandered down the river bank, climbing over the iron railings separating the pathway from the tiny valley which led down to the water. David did not notice this action, and when he turned his head saw that his mistress had disappeared. With his mind bent on the water, he took a leap, intending to spring over the rails; but his front paw caught the iron bars, and his leg was broken. The child was quite safe; she was only gathering flowers.

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"The Nursery" is a room set apart at the far end for the reception of the smaller species of the canine tribe.

The two little Skye terriers fondling one another are suffering from ingrown toe-nails and must needs have them cut. The cot next to them is empty; but a "King Charles" will convert the apartment into a royal one on the morrow. His Majesty, too, requires the application of the scissors to his royal toes. Above is a terrier—beautifully marked—but, withal, wearing a remarkably long expression of countenance. Something is wrong with one of his ears, and his face is tied up like that of an individual writhing beneath the tortures of toothache. "Dot" envies his brother terrier next door. There is nothing wrong with him; he is not an inmate, but a boarder, and the property of one of the officials. A pretty little couple of colleys are sympathising with each other in their affliction as they lie cuddled up in the corner. They are both queer—something wrong with their lungs.

Out in the open again, we look in upon a fine bullock with a very ugly swollen face. But here, in a corner all to itself, we meet with a veritable curiosity—a cow with a wooden leg!


This is a strapping young Alderney, of such value that it was deemed advisable to provide her with a wooden support instead of killing her at once. "Susan" was a pet, and had her own way in most things. Probably this aroused the green-eyed monster within the breast of a mare who sometimes shared her meadow. Whether the cause was jealousy or not, one thing is certain—after a particularly hearty meal, which seems to have endowed the mare with exceptional strength and vigour, to say nothing of a wicked and revengeful mind, she deliberately, and without warning, kicked the fair Susan. Susan had to lie up for three or four months, and now a wooden leg supports her injured frame.

A strap is fastened round the body of the cow; then a wooden support is placed near the neck and attached to the main strap with leather bands. Finally, the iron-bound timber leg is set in place; and it is said that the animal sustains but little inconvenience.

Following a number of students, we are soon within the precincts of the dissecting room. This is a square room containing a dozen or twenty dead donkeys, each laid out on a table for dissection. The enterprising students repair to Islington Cattle Market, and for a pound or thirty shillings purchase a likely subject from an obliging costermonger. Half a dozen of them will each take a share in the expense incurred, and work together at a table, passing from head to tail until a complete examination has been made.

But what most interests the casual visitor is "The Poor Man's Corner," a portion of the yard set apart for out-patients, and termed by the hospital authorities their "cheap practice."

Every day—excepting Sundays—between the hours of two and four, a motley crowd assembles here, bringing with them an animal which has betrayed signs to its owner that it is not altogether "fit." The cabby who is the proud possessor of a four-wheeler and an ancient-looking steed comes with a face which tells another tale than that which betokens a small fare. The coster thrusts his hands deep into his trousers pockets and waits in gloomy meditation. Visions of his donkey being condemned to death on the spot flash through his mind, and he almost regrets he came.

"Guvnor—I say, guvnor, it ain't a 'opeless case, is it? Don't say it's all up wi' it. Yer see, guvnor, I couldn't help but bring it along. I'm a rough 'un, but I've got a 'art, and, there, I couldn't stand it no longer, seein' the poor creeter a limpin' along like that. On'y say it ain't a 'opeless case."

He will soon be out of his suspense, for his donkey will be examined in its turn.

Not only is advice given gratis and the animal thoroughly examined, but, should it need medicine, or call for an operation, this is readily done, the students generally performing it under the superintendence of one of the professors.

The "poor man's" gate has just been opened, and Mr. E. R. Edwards, the hospital surgeon, holds the bridle of the first horse for examination as the students gather round. One of the professors appears upon the scene, and asks the owner what is the matter with his horse.

"He can 'ardly walk, sir."

"Lame, eh?"

"I expec's so, sir."

"What are you?"

"Hawks wegetables about, sir."

The horse is trotted up the yard and back again. Then the professor turns to a student and asks what he considers is wrong with the animal.

"Lame in both hind legs;"—and, the student having diagnosed the case correctly, the animal is walked off to be further treated and prescribed for.

Case after case is taken. One horse that draws firewood from seven in the morning until ten or eleven at night, cannot eat. Away it goes for examination, and the temperature of its pulse is taken. A lad, evidently not used to the stubborn disposition and immovable spirit of donkeys in general, has brought his own, which he informs the professor he only purchased "the week afore last." Now, nothing under the sun in the shape of argument with whip or words will make it go at anything like the pace which the man from whom he bought it guaranteed.

"Why, sir, I had to drag it here. 'Pon my word, I believe' as 'ow he knew where I was a takin' 'im, for he crawled more'n ever. I thought as 'ow there might be something wrong wi' his wind."

"Trot him along," said the professor; but the donkey turned a deaf ear to the inviting cries of forty or fifty students to "go on," and bravely stood his ground. The victor was placed on one side to be dealt with later on.

The next case was one connected with a pathetic story. The horse— a poor creature which had evidently seen better days—was owned by a laundryman, a widower, who had eleven children to support, the oldest of whom was only fifteen years of age, and the youngest six months. He depended entirely on his horse to carry the laundry round from house to house.

The poor fellow stood quietly by and seemed to read in the professor's face and gather from his hurried consultation with a brother "vet." that something out of the common was the matter with his horse. In response to the doctor's beckoning, he approached the spot where the animal stood, and, with tears in his eyes, asked in a choking voice, "Not an operation, I hope, sir?"

The professor shook his head.

Then the truth flashed upon the laundryman's mind. He stood dumbfounded for a moment. The students ceased their chatter, and, save for the movement of a horse's foot upon the uneven stones, the yard was as still as the ward of a hospital where human beings lie. The horse was condemned to death!

The poor fellow threw his arms about the animal's neck, and the horse turned its head in response to his master's caresses, and the cry which came from the man's heart could not have been more pitiful had he been parting from his only friend.

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