My Dinner with Dr. Mike Clark (MRCVS)

Good news, pet owners: you needn’t worry about your critter catching a case of Covid-19.

At least, that’s according to Mike Clark. He’s a retired veterinary surgeon living in West Yorkshire, UK. During the 40 years he treated all creatures great and small, he kept current with all manner of diseases and treatments affecting our animal companions.

In late 2019, my partner, Jacques Webster, and I met Mike and Eileen (a retired nurse), as well as their dog, Saffie, while on a research trip to England. Mike’s father, Harold, and my cousin, J. Grant Fleming, flew together in the Second World War. (In September 1944, they were killed in action while on a mission over Germany.)

Meeting the Clarks was—is— a life’s highlight for me. Mike talked about Harold and Grant, and about living the life of a country vet.

We were in touch the other day, after I’d sent him a goody photo of me fashioning a trendy cocktail. One of my first questions was about pets and the pandemic.


MC: Don’t worry about pets catching coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are quite species-specific and it takes a significant mutation before they cross the species barrier – as has happened with this one, of course, but it doesn’t mean we will readily infect our dogs and cats. Being able to detect virus on an animal’s fur or in its nose by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) does not make it contagious.

WGF: What’s this we’re hearing about dogs being pressed into service to help fight Covid-19?

MC: Quite right. Six are presently being trained up in the UK as Covid detection dogs. They can reliably detect Covid-infected people, in approximately one second, even before a person’s symptomatic. Forget thermal imaging. This works. Of course, we already have dogs warning epileptics hours before they have a seizure, or diabetics before they go into coma. Medical detection dogs are great !

WGF: All hail dogs and dog trainers! And what about you? How are you managing?

MC: We are OK – getting a bit fed up with this lockdown but we are in a better position than most. The incidence of the disease in our local area is low, as far as we can tell, and we hear fewer ambulance sirens than a couple of weeks ago.

Nevertheless, being of a certain age we are being very careful about going out shopping for food. Everything that’s imported into the house, be it food, mail or parcel deliveries, is carefully disinfected and/or unwrapped in a way designed to eliminate contact from potentially infected material. I even soak the dog’s tennis balls in soapy water for a few hours after she has been for a run. She can’t catch it but I might. She’s not keen on the taste of soap!

WGF: You live in a small village. What does Bramhope look like in lockdown?

MC: Small businesses selling food are open and doing very well locally. Some pubs and cafes have repurposed as takeaways but we haven’t tried that yet. We do use our local farm shop because it’s one customer at a time. The produce is good but expensive. So, mostly for us, it’s a local small supermarket and the open air market, in Otley. You somehow feel exposed to a lower concentration of particles outdoors.

WGF: Eileen, Saffie the dog and you love the outdoors. When we got together, last October, you pulled up in a camper. Are those outings off-limits?

MC: We can’t take the camper van out except that I have to drive it occasionally just to circulate the oil, polish the rust off the brake discs and stop the tyres from flat spotting. And shopping less frequently we sometimes use the fridge as an extra cold store. It would be great to use it again, but I would be surprised if we are allowed to camp this year. I think it will be very hard for us later, as the youngsters will get released before we do and that will actually increase the risk to us.

WGF: So then, how are you filling your time?

MC: I have undertaken a couple of big garden projects which would never have got done if we could have gone away, and we are still allowed to walk the dog and cycle. I haven’t been out as often on the bike, partly because of the garden, but I have managed a couple of longer rides and quite a few of about 30 miles.

WGF: Jacques and I—and Cooper the dog!— are glad to know you’re all well.

MC: Good to hear from you. Keep taking the disinfectant! It looks very tempting!