This summer I spent four weeks at the Visakha Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA) in the small city of Vizag (short for Visakhapatnam) in South India. I came across the VSPCA during my first year of vet school while perusing travelogues written by previous students on the international programs website. Since I am originally from India, this organization caught my attention and I decided to find out more about them. Last year (2012) I took a trip to visit family in India and luckily was able to fly over to Vizag to visit the VSPCA. I was really impressed with the facility and what they had been able to achieve with limited resources. That’s when I decided that I wanted to spend more time working with all the wonderful animals living at the shelter!
After a really long flight, I arrived in Hyderabad, another city in South India where my family lives. I was of course happy to see them but this time around I had more of a purpose to my visit, so three days later I was on a flight to Vizag with my class mate Elana Kupferman who was also headed to the VSPCA.
The VSPCA is one of the better-organized shelters in India and is actually a sanctuary for unwanted dogs, cats, cows, water buffalos, monkeys, birds, rabbits and tortoises. Their current facility is bursting at the seams but luckily they recently received funding to start work on a larger location. There is however just one veterinarian to care for all these animals, a sad reflection of the status accorded to veterinary medicine in India. Despite this, all the animals were quite healthy and are really well taken care of by the wonderful and caring staff.
My typical day started off with rounds of the cat wards during their morning feeding to look for sick or injured animals that needed treatment. This was followed by helping with the anesthetic prep of the stray dogs (15-20/day) that were brought in for the animal birth control program as part of the trap-neuter-release program in the urban areas of Vizag. This is a huge component of the animal welfare and stray dog population management in Vizag. During our meanderings around the city, I always happy to see a dog with an ear tip which indicates that it was spayed/neutered! Next, I spent some time monitoring the health of the 175+ dogs that live at the shelter. We also made our own little project to bathe and treat the mangy dogs that lived at the shelter (there were a few of those). And there was of course the monkey socialization time with one very friendly little girl who loved using my head as a springboard!
Another big part of my day was treating the 50 or so bull calves that were recently rescued by the VSPCA. These animals were in really poor health and many had eye and hoof lesions that needed daily treatment. Despite having very little large animal experience, with the help of the technicians and staff I became quite the calf wrangler! It was also interesting to see the use of traditional Ayurvedic remedies to treat these animals along with the more standard things like antibiotics.
Three weeks soon rolled by and it was time to say goodbye to the wonderful animals at the shelter to start work on the rural rabies prevention and education program. Needless to say I had become quite attached to several of the animals and it was hard leaving them.
The rural rabies program that we conducted was quite successful and we were able to vaccinate 204 dogs in 22 villages over a span of four days. We could not have achieved this without our team of skilled dogcatchers, the village strays certainly are wily and knew how to evade us! This experience was one of my favorite parts of the trip, I loved visiting these rustic villages with a simpler way of life and in a sense it made me feel like I had returned to my roots.
Going back to India to work with the animals there is something that I have always wanted to do since before starting vet school. I am grateful to the International Programs Committee for giving me this opportunity to fulfill my dream. India is a diverse and wonderful place and it was a privilege to go back and experience the culture with my classmate Elana. In addition to work, we certainly had a lot of fun in and around Vizag visiting the local sights, eating all the delicious food and of course doing lots of shopping! But the thing that touched me the most during my stay in India, was all the amazing people who are trying really hard to make a difference in the lives of the animals in a place where animal welfare has a much lower priority in the scheme of things. They are a true inspiration to me and I hope to be back very soon after I graduate to work there because there is much that remains to be done.