MOST people take sandwiches to work with them – but Debbie Johnson brings in a trio of orphaned meerkat pups.
Weighing in at a "meer" 230g each – less than a bag of sugar combined – the cute recruits have proved popular with staff and clients since the receptionist started bringing them in with her to Forest Lodge Vets, in Forest Row, last month.
The babies are being hand-reared by Mrs Johnson, who has played the role of surrogate mother since they were rejected by their own parents the day they were born.
The 54-year-old was contacted by one of her daughters, who manages a farm park, after the litter were rejected.
"Being first-time parents, they had no idea how to look after the pups and they rejected them," she said. "They were getting cold, so the decision was made to remove them and hand-rear them.
"At home they run around constantly, following our faithful dog Harry, tugging at his feet or lying between his legs for a quick warm-up. Luckily, Forest Lodge was happy for me to take them to work with me, which also worked to my advantage as there are always extra hands willing to help with feeds. Working with wildlife, I am used to sleepless nights. But it has been a hard few weeks fitting in work and other wildlife rescues around these little characters."
With a name like Rockie, you may expect one of the young pups to pack a punch, but staff say he is just as friendly as his brother Sandy and sister Pebbles.
Mrs Johnson, who runs a wildlife accident and emergency service at home in Crowborough, said: "They are little monkeys. They are into everything and they're a real handful. It's hard work looking after them, and I'm up three to five times a night to feed them. They are five weeks old and just coming off a milk feed now, and we're giving them mealworms, chicken and scrambled egg, which they love. They're not bothered by fruit."
Despite having experience hand-rearing other animals such as foxes, badgers and deer, it is the first time Mrs Johnson has brought up meerkats.
She added: "My husband works in finance, but he helps me out at home. Quite often he comes home to find a swan in the bath or something similar."
The pups will eventually be reunited with their parents to make a family group. Until then, they will remain in the loving care of Mrs Johnson and her colleagues at the vets in Station Road.