Legendary vet celebrates 40 years of tending to Wigan's pets
A business that has provided a lifeline to countless beloved Wigan pets has reached a special milestone.
A party was thrown this month to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Anrich veterinary surgery.
It is measure of the respect in which the Caroline Street business is held that several animal-lovers who have been customers for all four of those decades were among those at the gathering.
And the man who has been there from the start was Richard Weston who himself is this year celebrating a landmark birthday of three score years and 10.
He only works one day a week these days with his son James running the operations, but still likes to keep his hand in.
And he has plenty of tales to tell of some the creatures and challenges he has met over the years.
Memorable success stories include repairing a bat’s wing, spaying a chameleon while removing 48 eggs, and using a hypodermic needle to support a pet hamster’s fractured leg.
While by and large he and his staff manage to handle animals with a vicious streak very well, the crooked end of the little finger on his right hand testifies to an unfortunate run-in with an Alsatian which lunged for him.
And there have been occasions when he admits to being confounded.
Richard said: “In my early days a woman rang to say she was sure her dog had swallowed one of her skewers.
“When she told me that it was 1ft long I said that it was impossible but if she would like to come down for an X-ray, we could say so definitively. She couldn’t find this metal rod anyway and so down she came and, hey presto, when we carried out an X-ray, there was the skewer going down the oesophagus and into the stomach!
“I managed to retrieve it safely and hand it back to the lady, complete with the meat on it.”
On another occasion a dog owner took Richard to task for nicking a golf glove with his scalpel while removing it from her dog’s innards. And once a man came into the surgery and asked Richard if he could tell whether his pet cockroach was pregnant.
“I thought he was joking,” said Richard, “but then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box with the cockroach inside. I said ‘I’m very sorry, but it’s beyond my specialisation’ so he put it away again and left.”
Of course it is a daily inevitability that there is a sadder side to the job when pets need to be euthanized.
Richard said: “It is very sad but an everyday part of our life. It may sound harsh to say that we try to take our emotions out of the occasion.
“But we have a private waiting room at the surgery where customers can be in isolation. And I like to think that we treat this issue well.
“In fact I am one of the few remaining vets who visits people to put dogs to sleep.”
Edinburgh-born, Richard says he wanted to be a vet for as long as he can remember but it wasn’t plain sailing as he had to resit his second, third and fourth years, was expelled twice and only graduated at the third attempt from Glasgow Vet School. Caring for his mum who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis had certainly added to the problems of those early days and Richard still holds the university’s record for the student who took the longest to get through his course successfully!
While his main interest was in small animals, he was conscious that James Herriot was famous for treated big ones so he gave it a go at the first practice he joined in Ross-on-Wye but soon came to realise it wasn’t his thing so late in 1979 he switched to a small animal practice in Nottingham where he would meet his second wife-to-be Angela (Anji).
After a spell in North Shields the couple decided to move to the North West to be closer to Anji’s family in Wales and after several months of searching Richard found the practice he wanted to buy.
It had been established in 1967 by Enid Moody in Bolton Road, Ashton, and moved to its better-remembered site as an end terrace in Wigan Road, Hindley in 1971. It was bought by Richard and Anji on October 8 1981 and was renamed “Anrich” - the word being a fusion of their two names.
During the following years the practice was updated and extensively rebuilt. During the modernization phase branches were set up. Back to Bolton Road, Ashton in 1983, Ormskirk Road, Pemberton in 1984 and High Street, Standish in 1985. Each of the branches was kitted out for consulting only, with one consulting room and waiting room. All surgery was carried out at Hindley.
In 1988 Anrich was a large five-vet practice. However, vets were becoming harder to employ especially in the North and it was felt that quality of care had declined slightly with the increase in size. It was in October 1988 that Ashton and Standish branch surgeries were closed while the Hindley surgery was upgraded further to pass the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Hospital Board inspectorate.
It was one of the earliest practices to be awarded hospital status, something which guarantees the client that very high standards are set and inspected by our governing body, unlike other practices. The inspections are carried out every four years but surgeries can also be subjected to spot checks. Over 30 years the requirements have become more and more stringent.
There were no referral centres in the 1980s. If a case was proving troublesome it was sent to Liverpool University. However, it was often the case that they did no better, so Richard developed orthopaedic, soft tissue and neurological skills in Wigan to satisfy the needs.
He has always liked to be at the cutting edge. Anrich was one of the first practices in the country to be computerised in 1983 and Richard was quick to introduce CB radio in order to keep in touch with the various surgeries while travelling between them and going on visits. Even when mobiles started coming in in the late 1980s CB was the preferred option for a good while because it was so much cheaper.
The Pemberton surgery also began offering a dog grooming service in 1988.
And so change continued. Richard said: “During the 1990s the Americans changed the face of veterinary practice by incorporating practices into pet superstores.
“In 1995 I could see this was about to follow suit in Britain. I took the unprecedented step of moving the hospital to the town centre and opening our own pet superstore, People’s Pets.
“This was the first vet-owned pet superstore in the world. It was even put forward to the profession as a franchise but the profession was not ready for this.
“I was way ahead of my time for the veterinary profession to consider something as innovative as a pet shop and dog grooming in a ‘one stop shop’ environment. The new purpose-built veterinary hospital in Caroline Street has been a great success, so much so it rapidly outgrew the building it was in.
“Our claim to fame in 1996 was the shop and hospital being reported in Veterinary Business Journal as a new venture, the hospital being runner-up in the Pet Plan Practice of the Year awards and my head nurse being awarded Nurse of the Year.”
However, Pets at Home and Pet City chose Wigan to open stores also in 1996 six months after the move: an unexpected blow so early in the venture and People’s Pets had to be liquidated in 1997. But the lessons learned from the venture allowed the shop to re-size to 2000ft sq in January 1998 under the new name of Pets by Vets as part of the vets’ business.
Richard added: “This reflected the major difference this shop has to offer and that is professional advice from professionally trained veterinary staff: something no other pet shop in the world offered.
“Also the shop has been reduced in size to reduce the overheads. This left 6,500ft sq of empty space in the larger of the two buildings on the site. A decision now had to be made: give up the shop and any hope of future expansion by letting out the larger building or moving the hospital over to the larger building and letting out the smaller building.”
And so this happened, with Richard doing much of the work himself.
The dog grooming operation was later expanded, a vets’ flat and nurses’ bedsit was created and between 2001 and 2017 Anrich had a hydrotherapy pool although this was eventually removed to make way for a CT scanner.
Further phases of the Anrich story have included the creation of an education centre, moving into internet shopping as long as 21 years ago, and a teaching operating theatre and gallery opened in 2005.
In 2007 Anrich took over a surgery in Huddersfield and the introduction of cutting edge technology continues to be at the forefront of the practice’s ethos.
That said Richard added: “While many practices with 70-year-old principals are selling out to corporates, Anrich will remain staunchly independent.
“Client and staff support and care are paramount to the exceptional pet care Anrich prides itself on as well as being able to spread this care and support to local practices independent and corporate alike.”
With son James now in charge and grandchildren Seb and Fliss already operating on teddy bears it looks like Anrich has a long future in the Weston family.
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