Today we finally got to see the ABC clinic in motion and I can safely say, it’s the definition of organised chaos! In the morning all the men come in barefoot and strip off at the waste and don scrubs so when Beth and I walked we were greeted by a room full of half naked men hurrying around the prep room, which is not a sight I can say I’ve ever come across in the UK! There was a gaggle of people all trying to “help” the process but with most of them (including us!) inevitably just getting in the way (This also seems to be an Indian “quirk”; on average it takes at least 6 people watching one man in action to get anything done!). The dogs were sedated, clipped and scrubbed and then carried through to theatre, hooked up to a drip and then at the speed of light, they were sterilised. Now to give some perspective, back home it takes a good vet 30 minutes to spay a bitch, it is considered a serious operation and many graduating vets won’t touch one for the first year they are qualified… here it takes under 15 minutes via a flank incision similar to that used on cats in the UK. Despite the unconventional approach, their success rate mirrors that of the UK which with minimal resources and done in a fraction of the time I find incredibly impressive! One of the most bizarre things we discovered was the cupboard full of jars of pickled gonads, which apparently they had to keep for a government official to come out and single handedly count them all to assess if the charity was doing enough operations to warrant funding. This to us seemed like a curious idea but apparently it is taken very seriously, so I suppose who was I to argue!?
In the afternoon we helped vaccinate the male dogs against rabies. This was done by sedating with Xylazine (which did make the dogs quite sick, poor fellows) followed by an anaesthetic given IV which we were useless at compared to the compounders (essentially veterinary nurses with additional husbandry duties) who could hit a vein in their sleep (but still we were glad for the practice!). While asleep the dogs were vaccinated and a notch was cut out of their ear for identification purposes. The next day, once fully recovered they were piled back into the van and released back where they were found. The males weren’t considered as important in population control as 3-4 males will follow and mate with 1 female which can go on to have a litter of 4-6 pups. For this reason, they prioritised the females for sterilisation, though young males were also castrated to try and avoid testosterone related fights.
Everyone made an effort to get to know us and introduce themselves, though there was a little problem with name pronunciation on both sides. Beth’s name was a source of great amusement as they struggled to pronounce the ‘th’ sound so many called her ‘Bett’ which in Hindi means sit down, or even worse they call her ‘Bess’ which means Buffalo. However, these interesting little language quirks helped us to remember the language better and provided a good source of fun!
We found India had a very waste not want not attitude so all kitchen waste was fed to the animals, possibly not the healthiest of diets but food is food I suppose! So we saved up a little stash of our own left overs each day and took them to the cows who met us at the gate and eagerly frisked us for food, cows there are not at all shy! I can safely say I’ve never seen a cow inhale a chapati with such vigour in my life (in truth I’ve never fed a cow a chapati until this trip!), though apparently it’s a tradition to feed the first made chapati in an Indian household to a cow (they have clearly developed a taste for them)!
Everything in India is a bit like faulty towers, they move through life at a slow yet somehow hectic pace (A bit of an oxymoron but then, that kind of describes India perfectly!) and they take 10 times longer to do anything, though thankfully we never required anything urgently so we could see the humour in this seemingly Indian quirk. In addition to this, they didn’t seem to put much logical thought into doing anything, now this may seem a little unfair but on two separate occasions on the same day (and this was a regular occurrence) this seemed to have been the case. The first encounter that sprung to mind was a group of gardeners trying to chop down a fully grown tree, now this provided a great deal of entertainment while we were having lunch as first they took out a water pipe and then tried to take down an electrical cable to which Jack came out of his house shouting at them in a mixture of Hindi and English and making furious hand gestures. All the men stood around shaking their heads and looking puzzled to which Jack grabbed the hack saw off them and started sawing the tree down himself! He later commented “Indians are bloody awful gardeners, and whenever I try and plant something someone ties their blasted camel to it, it’s quite hopeless!”
The second incident involved the movement of a dead horse. The poor thing had been found on the street with infected joints and terrible burns. It was put to sleep on its arrival but then when it came to moving the great beast chaos ensued….. Firstly, they were all agreeing to pull on the count of three but then some pulled on two and others pulled on four so that just confused everybody and they all started arguing over when they said they were supposed to be pulling. They also decided to pull with only the head and me and Beth at this point felt we had to intervene as we were quite sure the poor creature was close to being decapitated and instead made them wrap the rope around the legs too to distribute some of the strain. Then they managed to wedge the front legs in the door and instead of releasing the tension and fold the legs under they just tried the brute force approach instead….. safe to say after about 10 minutes of pulling, swearing and sweating to no avail, they then tried plan B. All I can say is I’m incredibly glad the horse wasn’t alive! I would also like to add that as health and safety isn’t a ‘thing’ there, the entire operation was carried out in flip flops.
In the afternoons, Mukesh who seems to essentially be the head nurse found us dead dogs to practice on and incredibly patiently and with lots of laughter tutored us in the art of intradermal suture, a type used often in practice in the UK. He was a very effective teacher and soon there were many dogs in the “graveyard” that were covered in rows of neat stitches thanks to our efforts.
In the first few days, we had our first experience of crossing the road solo in India. Now despite having painted marks on the road that look like crossings, no one seemed to use them and the roads were a chaos of swerving mopeds and spluttering trucks and deafening beeping. Jack’s advice was to cross with determination and a steady pace and people would “just navigate around you”. So taking a leap of faith we did just that, trying not to think about all the English Health and safety laws we were breaking and miraculously like Moses parting the red sea, the traffic just parted as we walked, it was utterly crazy! I think both of us breathed a sigh of relief when we were safely at the other side though….
We saw our first suspected rabies case which we were quite excited about, as awful as that sounds. We have been taught endlessly about rabies at university and the disease is the whole reason Help In Suffering came to be, but because of the great success of the vaccination program, apparently seeing rabid dogs is now incredibly rare. Common clinical signs of rabies include: excessive salivation, hydrophobia, hypersensitivity to light, snapping at the air and unprovoked aggression or dullness. The signs are split into two forms dubbed the “furious form” and the “dumb form.” The furious form is the one which is the most dangerous, these dogs are incredibly hyperactive, aggressive and unpredictable, the dumb form causes the animal to be very quiet, depressed, dull and withdrawn. The dog which came in had the furious form and for its small size was incredibly aggressive and salivating excessively. Rabies is a horrible disease for both its zoonotic risk (it has the ability to infect all mammal species) and incurable prognosis for both humans and animals, but with an effective vaccination program the risk is lowered dramatically. Since the program started HIS has reduced the incidence of rabies in the human population in Jaipur by 80% which is pretty fantastic! It helps calm the fears of the public who face street dogs every day, it also helps the welfare of the street dogs as due to fear, people were killing them in any way they could think of which left many dogs in quite a sorry state. Killing the dog population, although this may seem a logical solution is impractical as a new population of dogs would move into the unoccupied space. Now with a stable vaccinated population of street dogs, the locals and the dogs can coexist without a problem.
That evening, one of the compounders, Jardise asked us if we’d hand feed some of the abandoned kittens that had been brought in. The tiny little scraps were barely old enough to have their eyes open but like most animals I encountered in India, they had an incredible thirst for life and despite the milk being cold and of less than ideal quality, they latched on to the bottle eagerly and fed until their little pot bellies bulged.
My room really was wildlife central, or more accurately invertebrate central. I can’t say I was pleased to have the ant version of the M1 running from one side of my room to the other, especially as they were quite aggressive and apparently didn’t appreciate me being there, my feet which they seemed to find particularly tasty were covered in large itchy blotches which felt uncomfortably like nettle stings for most of the time I was there. Though the leach which climbed up my plug hole was definitely the most disturbing creature I found!