A YEAR ON FROM THE EARTHQUAKE, the Nepali people are hard at work getting on with their everyday lives. They work a six-day week and the culture is to have a big breakfast and dinner so there is no need for a lunch break. I was there to volunteer with one of the only two veterinary facilities in Pokhara, an area with a population of 300,000 people.
The other facility, located in the same compound, is the Government vet office; this has one qualified vet who deals mostly with farm animals. We would see people arriving with their goats brought from far and wide – often on the back of a moped.
“We” were “HART”, the Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust, a six-year-old charity that aims to reduce suffering for all animals, especially dogs, in Nepal. Their aims are to: educate local people about animal welfare and healthcare, including rabies prevention; organise yearly rabies vaccination of community and street dogs; neuter community and street dogs to control the population; vaccinate, neuter, de-worm and treat illness/injury in owned “pet” dogs brought to the clinic; treat, rescue or otherwise help any other animals they are called on to assist.
HART is the only facility in Pokhara that performs surgery on companion animals.
This trip was a real eye-opener for me. Like many, I knew that “neutering and rabies vaccinating charities” existed in developing countries, but I had no real understanding of the logistics of this or the challenges faced and overcome by these organisations.
For rabies vaccination to be effective it is necessary to vaccinate the same dog population year on year. Many of the villages visited are difficult to get to, involving uneven and at times hair-raising mountain “roads”. Once in the village, support of the locals is imperative to achieve a sufficient percentage coverage.
The area is vast and most of the dogs vaccinated outside the centre are “community” dogs, meaning that they spend much of their time roaming free and do not belong to people as such, although they are often associated with a particular home where they are offered food and shelter.
On arriving in a location we would set up base with a plastic table and a flag and the local people would catch their dogs and bring them to us, some with metal chain leads, some with string, and even one with a knotted TV cable. HART keeps detailed records of the date each village is visited, the number of dogs vaccinated, and which of those have been or need to be neutered.
Obtaining veterinary supplies in a country where the vets are so scarce is a real challenge. It is impossible, for example, to get hold of medetomidine. About half the stock used by the charity is bought internally, but although Nepal is a poor country and money generally goes a lot further than in the UK (you can get unlimited re- fills of the local main meal Dal Bhaat for £1.50 in a restaurant, for example) suture material is actually far more costly to obtain in Nepal than it is at home.
The other half of the stock is made up of supplies donated by volunteers such as myself. The problem with donated stock, as I rapidly discovered, is that when you have 20 different makes of each medicine provided by various different sources, from various countries, finding the correct doses of each can be a time-consuming venture.
The third problem HART faces is that there simply aren’t enough vets in Nepal. HART is pretty much solely responsible for companion animal treatment in and around Pokhara – both owned dogs and street dogs – and has only one qualified Nepalese vet. Bharat is an excellent veterinary surgeon and is helped by a team of very experienced although not officially qualified vet techs who have learnt their trade on the job.
Bharat explained to me that five years ago when he started on the vet course there was only one vet school in the whole country, with 30 students in each year. Now there are more colleges offering qualifications in veterinary medicine, but most who graduate will immediately go abroad where there are better prospects for aspiring vets.
Finally, educating the public on animal welfare and producing a country-wide shift in overall attitude must naturally be a slow and gradual process.
It seemed wrong at times to be volunteering with a charity for animal welfare in a country where ensuring adequate human welfare remains a serious problem.
Through it all we achieved a fantastic amount of progress even in the short time I was there. Specific notable cases included: treating a sick cow by the side of the road (what to do with injured street-cows could be an article in itself); taking a puppy to a human hospital for x-rays and then successfully amputating the badly broken hind leg resulting in a comfortable, happy and active puppy; and rescuing a porcupine stuck 6ft down a septic tank, and re-releasing it into the jungle the next day.
Each year HART vaccinates 2,000 free-roaming dogs in Pokhara and a further 1,500 in Bharatpur. I have high hopes that with their help, animal welfare in Nepal will be increased day by day.
- Miriam would like practices with surplus or recently out of date stock they are getting rid of to contact her (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) so she can arrange to get it to HART.