I spent four weeks this summer volunteering at the Visakha Society for the Protection and Care of Animals in Southern India. I traveled and worked together with my classmate Viranjini Goppisetty. Many of the people whom we encountered spoke very little English, so I relied heavily on her ability to speak the local language, Telugu. The VSPCA is a large shelter that houses dogs, cats, cattle, water buffalo, turtles, monkeys, and birds. There was only one veterinarian on staff, but a large number of wonderful support staff including two veterinary assistants.
We spent the first three weeks on-site at the shelter. Each morning started out with rounds in the cat wards. There were four impressive wards which each housed a number of cats and offered them indoor and outdoor access as well as a number of levels to climb on and boxes in which to hide. We observed the cats each day and identified any medical problems that we needed to address, including cat bite wounds, anorexia, and probable renal failure. This was a good exercise in herd health and working with limited resources.
Next in the day was helping with the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program that the shelter runs. They bring in 15-20 street dogs each day. Each dog is spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and receives an ear notch. We helped with the induction of anesthesia as well as surgical preparation. It was always encouraging when walking around Vizag to see so many dogs with ear notches and realize how much of a difference this program was making.
Several hours were spent each day working with a large number of sick bull calves that had recently been rescued by the shelter. I had never worked with cows before, and this was a really great experience in learning how to handle them. Many of the cows were malnourished and had lesions on their eyes and feet, often complicated by maggots. I got comfortable with restraining the calves and giving oral, IV, and IM medications. In addition to administering fluids, antibiotics, eye drops, and pain medications, it was really interesting to use traditional Ayurvedic medicine. This bright yellow spray and ointment did wonders with regards to wound healing in cows and dogs alike. It was also an eye-opening experience to learn about the variance in approach to livestock medicine between the United States and India based on religious and cultural differences.
We also spent some time treating mange in the on-site dogs, as well as just spending time with the many dogs who roamed freely around the shelter grounds. It was definitely hard to say goodbye to these wonderful creatures when our three weeks were up! In my downtime, I really enjoying socialziing with Chitti, a young monkey who loved to bounce on my head and simply have human interaction.
After three weeks on site at the VSPCA, we embarked on a one-week rural rabies program. With the help of two amazing dog catchers, we drove from village to village in our animal ambulance and vaccinated 204 stray dogs over four days. Many of the people in the village helped us locate the dogs, from the schoolteacher who let out his class to walk around the village with us to the children that paraded around after us and helped us locate the dogs who were hiding on roofs. Although I was unable to communicate verbally with most of these people, it was still incredible to be able to experience the way of life in these small villages.
This trip was an amazing experience that allowed me unique experiences in veterinary medicine and broadened my cultural perspective. Aside from the work with animals, I also of course enjoyed the delicious cuisine, improved my tolerance for spicy food, visited the local sights including a number of intricate temples, and was immersed in a culture so different from anything I have experienced in the past. I am extremely grateful to the International Programs Committee for making this opportunity possible for me.