A vet visits a Delhi slum: day three- a different slum, different problems

Today (Monday) was the first official day of our pre-organised slum project: I am one of a team of nine volunteers from Ireland hosted by an inspiring human health/education charity called ASHA. I’m the only vet: the rest are from a varied background, including a doctor, nurses, educational workers and members of the public from our local church. If you’d like to read my summary of the background to ASHA, I’ve written another blog entry which you can read by clicking here.

The deal was straightforward: we committed to raising a certain amount of funds per team member to give to ASHA as a donation (and we paid our own airfares and costs out of our own pockets). ASHA then agreed to use us for a week as volunteers in one of the slums that they’re based in.

Most of our team are doing work in the ASHA community centre in the slum. With my particular interest in animals, I’ve chosen to take time away from these activities to investigate the street dog/rabies issues.

After our briefing at ASHA HQ, we travelled by minibus into the slum that will be our base this week: Mayapuri. Situated in West Delhi, this slum occupies a narrow strip of land immediately adjacent to the main railway line out of Delhi. Measuring around 3km long and only 50m wide, this strip of land has been a landing pad for immigrants arriving in Delhi from other parts of India for over forty years.

Mayapuri is an industrial zone, known as a massive car scrap yard where you can buy any spare part for any vehicle. As we walked into the area, we were surrounded by noise: metal banging against metal, drills, engines and shouting. There was grime everywhere, from ankle-deep mud underfoot to men with oil stained clothes, hands and faces. The ASHA community centre is an oasis in the centre of this mayhem: a high-walled courtyard of relative peace….

Marius the giraffe – right or wrong? The great divide

“Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe and feeds it to the lions”
The headlines are appalling, and the international outcry has been almost as dramatic as if the Danish zoo authorities had fed a human to the lions. Do the protesters have a point, or is the zoo simply being honest about an unfortunate but necessary situation?
The answer to this question highlights a major divide in the broad community of animal lovers: those who are in favour of animal rights, and those who believe in animal welfare.

Animal rights people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. Animals are sentient, living individuals, often referred to as “non-human persons”. They have a right to exist and to be granted the Five Freedoms – freedom from pain and disease, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express natural behaviours and freedom from fear and distress. They also believe that animals have the right to life, and that humans do not have the right to take that life away. People who believe in animal rights really  ought to be vegans, since they do not believe in the right of humans to exploit animals for meat or milk. They believe that animals should not be viewed as property, or used for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden. They believe that animals deserve equal consideration to humans: if animals are not given equal rights, this is “speciesism” which is as bad as racism. They believe that in the future, we will look back on our time and see our attitude to animals in the same way as we currently view human slavery….

The truth about your dog’s food? Or sensationalist entertainment dressed up as “the truth”?

Feeding your pet properly is one of the most important aspects of good pet care: in an online Twitter discussion this week, there was broad agreement with the statement that “Nutrition is the single most important environmental influence on a pet’s health and well-being” . But how should an owner choose the best way to feed their pet?  The much-anticipated programme on Channel Five this week, “The Truth About Your Dog’s Food”  is bound to make people reconsider how they feed their pet pooches.

There are many different types of pet food available, from a variety of sources, and it can be confusing for pet owners. There are many “right” ways to feed a pet, not just “one true way”, but it’s common for people to find a way that works for their pet, and then to believe that this is the best way for every animal. I believe that this is the reason why people sometimes become fanatically passionate about certain ways of feeding pets (such as “raw meat and bones”)

I know that my profession – a veterinary surgeon – has been criticised for selling pet food, and there are conspiracy theorists out there suggesting that vets are influenced by the pet food companies that offer financial support to some educational programmes. If you are a believer in such wild nonsense, then don’t read any further – it’ll just be a waste of your time, because you already know that you are not going to agree with what I say….

Hypocritical humans: most people agree that pets should be properly looked after, yet most pets suffer because of human negligence

As my colleague Cat has written in a recent blog here, hundreds of thousands of children plead with their parents for a pet at Christmas, only to lose interest in them a few weeks later when the novelty wears off. Dogs Trust and other animal welfare groups continue to work to change this attitude of pets as “fun objects”, reminding us that they are living creatures that need a lifetime of care.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that 91% of people agree that it’s important to care for pets properly, there’s a mismatch between this aspiration and the reality. The once-yearly survey on pet welfare in the UK, by leading pet charity PDSA and YouGov shows that a high proportion of the UK’s pets are badly neglected. As a direct consequence of human action (or inaction), many pets suffer from illness, loneliness, obesity and stress (which can lead in turn to aggressive behaviour).

The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report delivers a useful annual insight into pet health and well-being. This is the third year the report has been published: it’s become a good way of benchmarking the progress (or lack of progress) in animal welfare in this country. Some of the key findings in the latest report are worth highlighting.

The overall picture

The Animal Welfare Act has been in place since 2006, placing an obligation on owners to provide adequately for their pets in five key areas: environment, behaviour, health, diet and companionship. Yet only 38% of owners are familiar with the laws that govern pet ownership – a decrease of 7% (940,000 pet owning households) since the first report in 2011.

Ireland is living in the past: it’s about to become legal for members of public to dock puppies’ tails.

Tail docking is a illogical, nonsensical form of puppy torture, and it looks set to become legal in Ireland.  The procedure is brutal: a pair of scissors, a sharp knife or a tight ring are used to chop off a young puppy’s tail. There is no anaesthetic, and it clearly hurts a lot (they squeal loudly), but the pups are too small and helpless to do anything about it. The pup above was brought to me for treatment after the amateur tail docking job had resulted in a chronic non-healing wound.

Tail docking has been banned in the UK since 2007: it’s completely illegal in Scotland, and in England and Wales, it’s only allowed for a small number of working dogs or when the procedure is needed for medical purposes under theAnimal Welfare Act 2006 or the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. It’s also illegal to show dogs that had their tails docked after 2007.  The subject has been debated in detail elsewhere, but the evidence is clear: tail docking causes pain to puppies, and it does not reduce the incidence of tail injuries in adult dogs, even in working animals.

Do you want a young version of your elderly dog? Dog clones are now available in the UK

Clones- precise genetic copies of living creatures – used to be the stuff of science fiction. They are now a reality: a South Korean company has just launched its dog cloning service in the UK. For £63000, they will create a carbon-copy of your pet, either from a biopsy of a living dog, or from tissue harvested from a recently deceased animal.

If you cannot afford this, one lucky owner is being offered a genetic replica of their dog for free. An online competition is currently underway, and the entire process, from start to finish, will be filmed for a Channel 4 documentary which will be shown next year.

Animal clones have been a reality since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996. The first cloned puppy was produced in 2005, and over 200 cloned dogs have now been created.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: five years on, do dogs suffer less?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years since the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was first broadcast. The programme stirred up unprecedented controversy about the practice of breeding and showing pedigree dogs in the UK. In the aftermath, the BBC cancelled its long standing high profile coverage of Crufts, and major sponsors backed out of supporting the Kennel Club’s flagship event. Promises were made that “things would change”, investigating committees were set up and reports were issued.

Five years is a significant period of time, so it’s an appropriate benchmark to pause, and to ask the question: are things better than they were? After all the talk, have things improved?

Weigh-in Wednesdays

Help your pet’s health with the Friends for Life campaign and Weigh-in Wednesdays.

Pet owners are often not aware of any problems with their pets, but research has shown a shocking statistic that almost half the pets seen in practice by vets are overweight.

There seems to be plenty of media coverage about human obesity and weight problems, but what effect does excess body fat have our pets? Not surprisingly many of the same health issues as humans. These include heart disease and circulatory problems, the increased risk of diabetes, joint disease and a poor respiratory system. Signs of these problems in an overweight animal could include not wanting to walk very far, pain on movement, breathlessness and coughing. Many pet owners are aware of these common problems, however, there are far more health issues associated with having an overweight animal: There can be poorer immune response, difficulty in giving birth, incontinence, heat intolerance and fatty changes can cause liver problems for cats…….

Animal experiments: numbers rising while studies show low levels of production of beneficial results

Vivisection is a controversial subject - I’ve written about this several times before in my Daily Telegraph blog.

There are two news stories this week on the subject.

First, figures released by the UK government show that animal  testing in the UK has increased by almost ten per cent,  with more than four million experiments taking place a year, the highest figure since 1982. These figures have been “spun” by both sides of the debate, with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection understandably describing them as “shocking”, while supporters of animal experimentation maintain that the overall trend of  ”experimentation” is downwards, with the apparent increase in numbers due to the recent development of genetically modified mice that have been bred to carry specific genes or to develop signs of human disease to assist progress towards cures. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the figures deserve careful analysis before reaching sweeping conclusions: but who has time to wade through the reams of Home Office statistics?………………….

New study shows that spayed & neutered dogs live for longer and die of different diseases compared to entire dogs

It was just last month that I wrote a blog here about the pros and cons of the decision on whether or not to spay/castrate your dog. This seems to be an area which is coming under increasing scrutiny by researchers, perhaps because it is relatively easy to analyse stored data to discover differences between spayed/neutered and entire populations. After all, the contrast between two study groups doesn’t get much more black and white than that: spayed/neutered or entire.

In one of the most recent studies (published online in April 2013), the historical records of over 80,000 sterilized and reproductively intact dogs were examined from a database of dogs presented to North American veterinary teaching hospitals over a period between 1984 and 2004. The cause of death and the lifespan of each animal was noted. To make the data as “clean” and unbiased as possible, the researchers removed around half of the records. First, they took out all young dogs, and all those where the spay/neuter status had not been recorded. Then they took out all those dogs that had died from congenital disease (i.e. disease which the animal had been born with, which obviously could not be influenced by neutering). Finally, they removed all of those dogs where no specific cause of death could be categorised. This left them with 40,139 dogs for analysis of the relationship between the effect of spay/neuter on age and cause of death……..

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