Treating mythological beasts

by Richmond R Media and Campaigns Manager AVA
22 Sep 2017

Cottesloe Veterinary Hospital’s David Neck is known to many in the veterinary world; he’s also been on the AVA Board and is a regular spokesperson for the association. However what some people may not know about him is that he’s currently writing a text book and also a novel on 'treating mythological beasts'.

Some of you would have gleaned some insights into this unusual topic if you caught Dave’s lecture at  FASAVA. For those who didn’t make it, I caught up with him to find out more.

Q. I went to your lecture on treating mythological beasts. It had to be the most unusual presentation overall on the FASAVA program. Can you tell me what it’s all about? What are you trying to achieve?

The idea behind it is that there are some vivid descriptions of mythological creatures in the original writings dating back to ancient Greece and beyond. When reading about these, as a veterinarian, it occurs to you that these creatures must have suffered some of the illnesses that real creatures get. Then there is the interesting concept of hybrid creatures – Centaurs are a half human/half horse so how would the two creatures really combine anatomically and physiologically? The Minotaur – a cow head on a human body. Could that really work?

When we think of veterinary textbooks we can all link names of authors to disciplines. For example, Stephen Ettinger owns the discipline of internal medicine. Doug Blood wrote the book on large animal medicine. I wanted my name to be linked to one topic like that but all the good topics were taken, so I had to invent one of my own. Now, if ever an actual case of a sick mythological beast really turns up, I can expect a phone call. If a sick mermaid washes up on a beach in Argentina, someone will say “Better call Necky!”

Q. How did you come up with the idea? I understand you’re writing a book about it. When can we expect to see it on the shelves? Are you hoping for a best seller?

I was reminded just this week by Paul Davey that I came up with the idea years ago while we were on a fishing trip together. I’m guessing there was a lot of beer involved. I’m putting together a textbook with quotes from the historical literature in one colour ink, quotes from the medical literature in another colour ink and my scientific interpretation in a third colour. The first page will likely have written: Submitted for and rejected as a Ph.D. at Such-and-Such University. I’m also writing a novel which will be titled Dr. Con, Vet to the Gods. It will be aimed at young teenagers. I’ve seen how much money J.K. Rowling has made!

Q. Out of all the mythological creatures you’ve covered, which one do you think we might one day see – and why?

I don’t reckon any of them truly exist or have ever existed, but I reckon with some good gene splicing techniques we could make one sometime in the future. How hard will it be to stick the DNA for wings into the DNA of a horse and get ourselves a Pegasus? Of course, I don’t think it would ever get off the ground, but it would still be cool to see a winged horse walking around.

Q. Which creature do you think would be the hardest for vets to treat?

Dragons. Easily the worst. Teeth, claws, fire. We’d need asbestos suits. I can just see my premiums with Guild Insurance going up exponentially. I think vets would find the Sphinx a challenge because we’re not used to patients that can talk to us. We would be unnerved.

Q. What creatures have you covered (in your book) and what others can we look forward to learning more about in the future?

The big ones I’ve covered are the Phoenix, Medusa, the Kraken, and Centaurs. The first three have been presented at AVA conferences! Next chapter is dragons, but that’s a huge task because we’ve got both European and Asian dragons, which are similar yet also completely different. I’d like to present dragons at next year’s UPAV conference, but I’m not certain I’ll get the research done in time.

Other chapters underway are Mad Cow Disease in the Minotaur and Corneal Ulcers in Cyclops. That one is quite interesting because sheep can get cyclopia as an actual disease. Of course, there’s a bit to cover with the Unicorn, but really that’s just regular horse medicine, which isn’t that difficult anyway.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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