Animal Welfare Camps:
Interim Report by Merry
After much preparation, both organisational and practical, the sterilisation camp got started according to plan on Sunday, April the first.
Rita did excellent overall organizing, including sending her and Njal's long-time worker Shankar, who is from Mattur, to help us the whole first week in Mattur, Kazhumperumpakkam, Nesal, and Apirampattu. He had arranged the places for us to work and made appointments for some of the dogs in these places. He and Suresh were of invaluable assistance in catching and bringing the dogs to the operation theatre, usually the porch of some small public building. In Sanjeevinagar the team was hosted by Mohanam Cultural Centre, in Kottakarai by Harvest and in Edayanchavadi by Thamarai Cultural Centre.
The owners, or in case of strays, a person responsible, were expected to help, which didn't always happen. Catching the dogs was often very difficult. Shankar, Suresh and Njal went to identify female dogs, spoke with the owners and caught the dogs by hand - they did not use the notorious dog catcher since it is quite brutal and almost strangulates the animal - and Dr. Kumar gave the first anaesthetic injection.
But often the dogs escaped again and had to be found, caught and injected a second time. Once Shankar got bitten which was a signal for the team members to go to the Health Centre and get rabies vaccinations, just in case.
The pre-arranged quota was five dogs per day, which meant we were busy without a break from five to seven hours, not counting the often long travel time. Dr. Kumar operated, Lorraine, who is a trained nurse, assisted, and Njal and I kept the register and tried to keep onlookers quiet and not too close. There were always a number of villagers watching with great interest, even young children. After the operation, the dog had to be laid down on a mat, since it was still unconscious, and Njal or I put a collar on it with an ‘IAC-AV' sticker, which pleased the owner. If necessary I gave a skin treatment with Poongam oil, took ticks out if any, or put antibiotic powder on small wounds. Dr. Kumar gave an antibiotic injection and, if necessary, other medicines.
On the first Thursday Ingrid T., who is also a member of the Integrated Animal Care, took my place and I replaced Lorraine, who took a day off. Being an OP assistant was a completely new and very interesting experience for me. Mostly you have to hold the instruments in a certain way so the doctor can cut and afterwards stitch up the several layers of tissue properly. Dr. Kumar showed me each movement and taught me very precisely which layers of tissue he was working on and what to watch out for. I was surprised that in general there was very little bleeding.
Even after the sterilizations, the day's work was not finished. Njal had to see to his cashew trial plot, Dr. Kumar often had to take care of other patients, including once an ox with rabies, and Lorraine had to sterilize the instruments and do laundry, which she did with painstaking professionalism. I had a couple of dogs to look after at Prayatna, as well as a new cat from Pondy whom I had agreed to take care for. And, of course, the freshly operated female dogs had to be checked a day or so later. In spite of a couple of complications during the first two weeks, they were all fine except one, who died. This was on account of the villagers' carelessness. We brought the dog back into the owner's house, but as he was afraid to get blood in the house he put her outside and left her in the hot sun, and she died of dehydration.
For me it was the first experience actually being part of a project within the villages themselves. Each village has its own atmosphere and the people too are somehow different in every place. On the first day of the camp mostly male dogs were brought to us – easy work, but not quite the main point. It turns out that people often take a male dog for a pet and chase the females away so as not to be bothered with puppies, even in Auroville. But does that solve the problem – pathetic, undernourished, sickly females giving birth somewhere to puppies who grow up also as unwanted, as sickly and never having experienced kindly treatment, how can they be caught for sterilization?
Some touching incidents occurred during the first couple of weeks. On the first day, while one of the operations was going on, an old bent lady with a broken hand that a cow had stepped on came up to us and wanted treatment. We had neither the medicine, the time, nor the skill to treat a human patient, but Njal and I did the best we could. Njal cut a splint from small sticks and we bound it up with a clean rag. The old lady was so grateful! Another nice thing happened in Nesal, where the headman came up to us and thanked us. Lorraine had already met him. On the other hand, in another place – so I was told – an old man was angry and shouted that we should kill all the dogs.
In Mattur colony, after two strong females were finally located and caught, the villagers who were told to stay and watch them let them get away. So there we were back at the beginning again. In Sanjeevinagar, on the other hand, several little boys each brought a young puppy, thinking that they too could be operated. The puppies looked pretty good, well cared for and with good skin. I gave the boys a handful of puppy food for them and emphasized that they should also play with them and give them lots of love and attention, even when they grew up. Then they would remain their faithful friends.
When in the afternoon, tired and hungry and with aching joints, I flop down on my bed, my main feeling is one of gratitude: to the dedicated medical team colleagues, to all the villagers who support us in action and in thought, and above all, to the divine, who gives us the physical and emotional strength to hopefully make at least a small impact on the concept of animal care in these rural areas and in Auroville.
Merry for Integrated Animal Care
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