"We must be the change we wish to see in the world." -Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, July 25, 2011

Goodbye new friends, hello old ones!

As my time at the hospital comes to an end, the next step in this adventure begins.  Two of my best friends from home -- Sarah Lim, a fellow vet student who has spent her summer researching elephants in Nepal, and Lindsay Hoyle who is experiencing her last summer before she sells her soul to BC law-- are making their way to Udaipur to begin our travels across Northern India. Starting in Udaipur we will then head north to the small town of Mount Abu. From there, we will travel to the cities of Pushkar and Jaipur before leaving Rajasthan for Delhi and Agra. While I have grown to love the city of Udaipur, I am excited to see more of this fascinating country with two of my closest friends.


Having never left the U.S. before, some say I dove head first into the deep end by traveling to India...Alone. I had no idea what to expect and admittedly had serious doubts as I sat on that plane, one month ago, traveling halfway around the world to a foreign country so dramatically different from anything I had ever known. 

I can honestly say I learned more  from this experience than I had planned. As I expected, I learned about the devastating animal situation in India.  I learned about injuries.  I learned how to treat wounds and splint legs. I learned how to be comfortable around large animals.  I learned a different kind of medicine and how to work with minimal resources.

But not only did I gain a new perspective on the world of veterinary medicine, I gained a new perspective on the world in general. I learned about a new culture, language, religion and way of life. I learned new recipes and how to eat with my hands. I learned about Gypsies and Rajputs. I  learned about the social and economic oppressions women face in rural India. I learned I take a lot for granted in my everyday life. I learned about patience.  I learned about suffering. I learned about compassion. 

Do I see myself moving to India? Probably not.  Do I see myself coming back? Absolutely. 

I'm glad I've been able to share my experiences with you all. To my parents who support me in so many ways, and to those who donated to help make this trip possible - I cannot thank you enough. 


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Before and after

Just as I was beginning to get discouraged with the recent death and general lack of improvement among most of the animals, I was contented somewhat when we examined the donkey with the hobble wound. I think I wrote about the donkey a while back, on one of my first days in cattle, but for those of you wondering, a hobble is a piece of wire, rope or plastic that is tied to the donkey's front and back legs, or front leg and neck.  This is to prevent them from running away.  Many of the donkeys we see have had the hobble tied too tightly for too long and a deep wound persists, sometimes requiring amputation.

This one particular donkey had developed a serious, granulomatous mass of "proud flesh" around where the plastic hobble had been tied.  The wound had looked raw and painful and she didn't put any weight on it at all. I didn't see the animal when it had first come into the hospital, as it had arrived a few days prior, but I was able to snap a picture of it after a few days of treatment.  For several weeks we replaced splint after splint, cleaning the wound and applying wound powder and betadine routinely. Today I noticed that she is now able to stand on the leg.  The swelling and raw flesh has receded and only a small wound exists where the large mass had been. Success! Finally.

This situation reminds me of a story my friend recently sent me.

Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.   He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.  One day he was walking along the shore.  As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day.  So he began to walk faster to catch up.  As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"  The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."
"I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing
starfish in the ocean?"
"The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I don't
throw them in they'll die."
"But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach, and starfish all along it.  You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely.  Then bent down, picked  up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one."

Saturday, July 23, 2011


The small white dog with the horizontal ears died. The mange puppy is in bad shape. I sat for over an hour trying to syringe feed her today. I doubt she will be there when I go in tomorrow morning.

I talked with Dr. Smriti for a while today about veterinary school in India. She told me that all students who want to go into a medical field take a standard exam. Those that get the highest grades are accepted into medical school and those who get lower grades are put into dental and veterinary school. She said that virtually no one goes into the exam wanting to be a veterinarian and that even she had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that her exam grade wasn't good enough for medical school and that she was going to be a "dog doctor." She said that even though it wasn't her first choice, she has come to love being a vet and working at Animal Aid. We discussed how the work here isn't like the medicine we learn in school. An animal has a wound, you clean and dress it. An animal has a fever, you give it antibiotics. If it seems dehydrated and painful you give it fluids and pain meds. She is working with such limited resources, virtually no diagnostics, so in a way she is only able to do half her job. Regardless, she does it well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Field trip.

As soon as I arrived to the hospital yesterday I could tell it was a special day.   That night, 12 of us were heading into the jungle to sleep over in a Shiva Hindu temple. Everyone was in a good mood as we started on treatments.  My spirits were brought down when I realized the hypocalcemic cow from the other day had passed away over night.  I talked to the doctor about it and she explained how hard it is to properly treat the large animals, as they require such large volumes of fluids and drugs. She can't give them as much as they need because then the dogs wouldn't have enough.  I began to realize the fine balance in allocating precious drugs among the animals at the hospital. We carried on and I helped plaster the leg of the cow with the broken metacarpals. It took almost an hour, and every once in a while she would struggle violently, sending me flying.  After the cast was finally dry, it was time to head to the temple.

The trip length: 2 and a half hours. Our mode of transportation: the animal ambulance. 10 of us piled into the back of the truck.  Packed in like sardines with only two small windows I felt like a bunch of illegal immigrants trying to sneak across the border. After about an hour we felt the truck stop as we had pulled up to a small road side stand.  It was clear we were already in a more rural setting.  All eyes were on us as one by one we climbed out of the back of the ambulance.  It must have been quite the sight.  After drinking some tea and picking up snacks we were back on the road.  The rest of the trip was spent singing - both American and Hindi songs- and before I knew it we were almost there.  Jim was on his motorcycle and Erika insisted that I get out of the truck and ride on the bike the rest of the way.  I was so glad she did because the view was incredible.  We were in the mountains, surrounded by nothing but lush, green vegetation- a refreshing sensation after having lived in the city for over three weeks now.

We followed the truck up to the temple.  We walked up a narrow path, removed our shoes, and had a look around.  The entire compound was made up several structures, the main one honoring the god Shiva and the others dedicated to other Hindu gods.  In the main area a small fire was light and water constantly trickled out of a small spout, both symbols to honor Shiva. While Melanie, Claire, Erika and I explored and gazed at the monkeys and birds in the trees, the rest of the staff was already hard at work preparing food.  The dinner they prepared was amazing- spicy daal and fried chapati- a true Rajasthani dish.

Our beds consisted of small cushions with sheets and we lined them all up on the floor of the main building.  One of the staff members brought out an Indian drum called a dholak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dholak) and another pulled out a wooden harmonium.  The guys sang for over an hour while the rest of us clapped along.   What I noticed during that time was the relationship between the people in the group.  There was such a sense of brotherhood between these unrelated young men.  I looked around the room at each of the staff members.  I saw Lackshman, the manager, who is usually rather stern, wearing a bright smile (to match his pink checkered pajama pants.)  I saw Mangi Lal, the vet assistant from "A" ward with whom I had worked with the most. I saw Fatji, the polio survivor with legs of different lengths, who always has the biggest brightest smile. I looked at all eight of them enjoying themselves, entirely content with just the music and each other.  It reminded me of another quote from Shantaram: "That's how we keep this crazy place together - with the heart...India is the heart. It's the heart that keeps us together.  There's no place with people like my people, Lin. Theres no heart like the Indian heart."

Monday, July 18, 2011

The cute canine, the calcium deficient cow, and the cooking class.

There is this one small dog at the hospital that Melanie and I are particularly worried about.  She is so small and lives in the mange ward because she is covered with the skin disease.  Many days she is too weak to walk, other days she seems to have a bit more energy. Whatever her state is, however, she is always growling at the other,  much bigger, dogs who get too close.  She is definitely a street puppy.  A few days ago when she was in the worst shape I had seen her yet, it was clear she needed help. The doctor was in surgery and the vet nurses were busy with other treatments. I got the approval to give her some I.V. fluids and Meloxicam.  As flies swarmed around me, sweat dripping from my face, the smell of the mange ward making me nauseous, I tried every effort to get the small needle into the tiny puppy's veins.  It was impossible.  I went and got help from the assistant but even he couldn't place the catheter. We ended up giving the animal sub q fluids, as it was better than nothing at all.  Every day we check on the puppy, and every day her condition seems to be different.  Today, thankfully, she was brighter and more alert than she has been in the past week.  Hopefully this means she's finally improving.

The other day on my day off I met a group of Americans and ended up tagging along for a cooking class. We got to pick 12(!) different Indian dishes to learn how to make. The cook was amazing and the food was delicious. (No promises on whether or not I can recreate any of the dishes, though.) Also, I was pleasantly surprised to discover most of the dishes were vegan. While they used a LOT of oil, there wasn't any butter at all and only one dish called for milk. :)

I returned to the hospital to discover the cow with the papillomas was in bad shape.  She laid recumbent on the paddock floor, her respiration  labored and eyes bulging. Her temperature was a low 97 degrees.  The doctor came down and assessed her condition and determined she was most likely hypocalcemic. (Again, diagnostics here are a shot in the dark and the doctor was simply concluding this based on prior experience.) The diagnosis made sense - these animals eat trash, a far cry from a proper, balanced diet. We set the cow up with fluids and a calcium injection. Hopefully I will see her in a better state tomorrow.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I hateeee maggotssssss (and dog bites)

Note: if you are eating, you might want to read this later.

I woke up feeling a bit off; it might have been the heat I'm not really sure. I started the day in large animal as it seems to be a bit calmer. Melanie and I fed the calves and I was happy to notice that Dennis is now back to normal.  Thank goodness, I love that little calf. We saw the ambulance bring in a new animal: a cow with a large, open, bleeding mass on it's ear.  The thing was about the size of a tennis ball.  Other, smaller warty-looking lumps covered the rest of the body. The vet assistant couldn't tell me what it was. (After further research I conclude that it is Bovine Papilloma Virus.) They got the animal down after some struggle and we inspected the mass.  It was dripping blood and then I saw one of my most dreaded creatures: a squirming maggot.  I looked closer and saw that there were dozens of them living off of the growth. If that wasn't disgusting enough, the smell of the infected, maggot-filled tumor was enough to make anyone want to vomit.  The assistant used scissors to pull of parts of the growth along with individual maggots. He cleaned the wound and dressed it.  It was an awkward bandaging job and the poor cow looked like it was wearing some sort of headdress when it was all done.

I think I mentioned that when we were trying to save Mama that she got a bit of my finger in the process. When I got home I realized she had, in fact, broken the skin.  "Oh god, I thought" as statistics of rabies cases in India filled my mind.  I cleaned it well and brought it to Jim's attention the next day.  He wasn't concerned at all as Mama had been there for several years, was well-vaccinated, and comes into contact with only a few dogs.  The vet on the other hand, recommended I get a rabies booster vaccine.  I went to the (human) hospital today and got the vaccine. I simply went in, told them what I needed, and they gave it to me for just under 500 rupees (about $10.)

This afternoon I spent some time at Claire, Jim and Erika's house.  We had a fantastic lunch and sat talking in their wonderfully air-conditioned room for a while.  Before we were about to leave, Claire asked me to help her treat one of their dogs.  The dog had the biggest under bite I had ever seen - the bottom jaw sticking out about two inches past the top. When the animal had first come to Animal Aid a few weeks ago it had a large laceration under it's tongue, where the teeth meet the floor of the mouth. A flap of skin lifts up to expose some of the bone and deep parts of the teeth.  Claire told me it had been infested with maggots, but she THOUGHT they were all gone. Awesome.  I cleaned the flap of skin, flushing it with salt water.  Thankfully, there were no maggots. Phew.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dennis and the concerned donkey

Mama died yesterday.

Feeling defeated and discouraged with the dog situation, I went down and helped with the large animals today. Melanie was bottle feeding the calves and she noticed one of them wasn't taking the bottle - something that is very unusual as the calves a normally fighting for a lick at it. His name was Dennis. I could recognize him easily because his spine curved in all sorts of directions. I had a look at him, he seemed bright and alert but possibly dehydrated. When the vet assistant (whose name I can now correctly pronounce: Mangi Lal) arrived we told him Dennis was refusing to eat and he looked at him for a second and then went on to the other treatments.

I helped him with a cow that had a large wound on it's face.  Then I saw a new animal in the paddock: a cow with a fracture in it's left front limb.  The animal hobbled around three-legged, something that is easy for a dog to do but much more difficult for a beastly cow. The animal was new and clearly afraid of humans.  Mangi Lal and one other man chased the animal around for quite a while before casting it and wrestling it to the ground.  When the animal was finally in lateral recumbency, I was able to feel the fractured metacarpal bone.  We gave it some Meloxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, while the assistant called down for some help and the men began to make splints out of wood using curved machetes. I held the leg straight while they wrapped the leg in cotton, placed the splints, and wrapped it in gauze.

Melanie and I talked to the doctor during tea time about Dennis and she said she would have a look at him.  After examining him she concluded that he was, in fact, dehydrated and that we should give him some I.V. fluids.  She asked me to sit with him while we gave it 2 liters. I knew this was going to take a while.  We got the calf to lay down and the doctor inserted the needle into the animal's jugular vein and attached the line for the drip. I sat the with the vet assistant for almost an hour, holding the needle place and the animal's head down.  During that time, one of the donkeys came over to the calf and stood there staring at him for an exceptionally long period of time. It was incredible as she appeared to be very concerned for the small animal.  I tried to make conversation with the assistant, but again it was mostly a communication fail.  He did tell me he liked my hair.  I had put it up in a messy bun the night before, slept on it, and left it.  I'm pretty sure it looked more like a rat's nest than a hairstyle.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is it worth it?

My tenth day at Animal Aid wasn't easy.

For whatever reason, questions filled my mind as I rode in the rickshaw to the hospital this morning. I wondered: am I really helping Animal Aid?  Is Animal Aid really helping the animals? Is the situation too dire, the animals too many, and the resources too minimal? Are we doing more harm than good? 

Interestingly, Melanie, the other volunteer, was having similar doubts. She has no clinical experience, simply a love for animals and she was expecting to volunteer at the hospital for a month, like me. She expressed to me that she might not be able to continue coming for the full time. She has rashes from the animals and doesn't feel like she is really needed.  

I helped in "A" kennel again with feeding and treatments.  After all wounds were dressed, the doctor and assistant went into surgery to neuter three dogs, and Melanie and I talked with Erika.  Melanie expressed her concerns and Erika explained to her that the animals greatly benefit from any sort of positive human interaction.  They crave love and attention and the staff can't give them all that they need. I think it made Melanie feel somewhat better.

I went down to the paralyzed ward and sat with a few of the dogs there, still struggling with how I felt about the situation.  I looked at the dogs, some seemed healthy and happy while others looked riddled with mange and uncomfortable.  It is hard for me, having only been there ten days, to know if an animal is declining or if it is simply status quo. Compared to the dogs at home,  most of them look like shit.  Erika came and joined me and brought my attention to Mama, a paralyzed, skinny, lethargic animal. She spoke in Hindi to the woman who looks after these animals.  Apparently, Mama hasn't been eating.  Here eyes looked dull and she had very little energy, her back legs trembling.  Erika asked me what I thought was wrong. I thought to myself, "God, what ISN'T wrong with this animal."  I told her she looked painful, but it could be her abdomen, her legs, her back, who knows.  There are zero diagnostic tools here.  No x-ray, no ultrasound, no lab.  Diagnosing these animals is a shot in the dark and based somewhat on limited medical history but mostly on intuition. This animal was in really rough shape. I told Erika I wanted to give her pain meds; we needed to give her something.  We got the appropriate dose and I tried to push the pill down her throat, nearly losing a finger in the process.  Claire was there at this point and she decided we should try some fluid therapy.  She didn't think Mama had much of a chance. we rigged the fluids up, the liter hanging from a wire at the top of the tent.  With the animal laying in the sand and dirt I placed the catheter in her front leg, aiming for where the vein should be.  She was thin and dehydrated and her veins were terrible.  I saw the flash of blood and new I was in. Phew.  And there Claire and I sat, for nearly an hour, holding the animal in place and swatting flies away from her body.  It was late in the afternoon at this point and Sabin, our rickshaw driver had arrived.  I had to leave. 

On the way home I tried to sort out my feelings.  Part of me felt as though Mama's condition was so poor it should have been noticed much earlier. With 150 dogs, are they spreading themselves too thin? Part of me felt like we should have euthanized her.  I felt frustrated with myself for not knowing what to do to help her. 

When I got home I checked out Animal Aid on Facebook. The before and after photos somewhat validated for me that what are doing is good.  Even if not all of the animals survive, it is worth it for the ones that do.  For the ones that don't, at least they have had a chance that they otherwise wouldn't have had. 

Check it out -  That's me with Tarzan and Octopus.  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sinking Boat

Today was my day off and I started the morning by visiting one of the local Ashrams to check out the yoga scene.  As most of you know, yoga is one of my absolute favorite things to do back home and I have been itching to see what the "real" yoga is like here in India. After finally finding the place I made my way up the spiraling staircase to the tiny room where a man and two students were already practicing. I was a few minutes late but he kindly let me join in.  Some of the poses he led us through were familiar, others I had never seen. At one point he put us in boat pose, arms and legs out in what is supposed to look like a boat.  He laughed and said we looked like sinking boats. Great. He had us hold some of the poses for an excruciatingly long time. I will definitely be sore tomorrow! At the end of the practice he led us through a variety of breathing sequences, starting with "fire breathing." He showed us what we were supposed to do. He looked like he was having some sort of seizure as he convulsed in different directions while breathing through his nose. I copied him as best as possible without passing out.  The practice ended with the familiar relaxation pose of shivasana. After class I asked him how much he charged and straight faced he told me 500 rupees. I was pretty sure he was kidding but went to grab my wallet anyways.  He then laughed and told me it was up to me what I give and that the profits go to a local NGO: Animal Aid. Word.

As I walked back towards the hotel I decided to keep walking.  It was just after 9 am and the city was just starting to wake up.  It was nice to walk down the streets without being hassled by pushy store owners.  I realized that I'm beginning to feel comfortable and really appreciate Udaipur for all it has to offer.  It is really a beautiful city. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Re-release, the distemper bob, and the woman from Ahmedabad

I arrived to the hospital at the regular time, 8:30 am.  I met up with the vet assistant in A ward and I helped him assess each dog.  He marked down the ones that were healthy enough for re-release today. These dogs were going to be brought back to the area where they were picked up, the person who made the initial call about each dog would be contacted, and follow-up calls would be made a week later to check on how the animal was doing. When I saw the dogs being put into cages in the ambulance, I wondered: how would they manage to survive on the street when they had  known the comfort of the shelter, in some cases, for several months? Would they know how to find food on their own? Would they be too trusting of people? I reminded myself that animal aid has been operating  like this for years, and the system works. These animals had been given a second chance at life; they were strong and healthy now, and releasing them freed up space to take in new ill and injured dogs. As the ambulance drove away I realized how important it is for me to try to not get too attached to these animals.  Easier said than done I think.

All around the hospital there are young dogs who constantly bob their head up and down or twitch their legs back and forth. I asked the vet assistant what this meant and he said it is because they had distemper as puppies - a viral disease we regularly vaccinate for in the west and therefore rarely see. While these dogs have recovered from the disease, the neurological symptoms remain and slowly diminish over time. There is no treatment for this and the poor things have to live like this for months or maybe years.  I suppose for most, however, this twitching is the least of their problems.

Yesterday we had four new dogs come in, but not from the ambulance as they usually do. A woman from Ahmedabad (a city several hours away) had brought them in.  I figured she had found them on the street and was surrendering them to animal aid.  I came to understand that she has over 20 dogs living in her small house as she is taking them in off the street. Her neighbors are angry at the situation, angry enough that they actually took her from her home and beat her. (Another statement on pain as a cultural concept, perhaps?) She is very attached to each of the dogs and it was a struggle for her to even surrender the four that she did. I went and had a look at the new members of the shelter.  Two of them, Octopus and Tarzan, are incredibly deformed (see photo of octopus, black. Look closely.) Their forelimbs stick out at bizarre angles and the tops of their feet have developed huge pads of skin as they are what come in contact with the ground. Tarzan is able to use his deformed limbs but Octopus cannot - she moves around by throwing herself forward, using her rear legs as propellers.   One would think this would slow her down, but she moves around with agility and her tail never stops wagging.  She must have been born with these severe deformities and had an animal like this been born back in the states, it would have surely been euthanized. It all really makes me stop and think...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pain as a cultural construct?

Yes, we are going there.

I had always thought pain was pain and suffering was suffering. I am now beginning to wonder if our perception of pain varies from culture to culture...

I talked with Jim and Naomi about this concept today. Naomi is a young woman from Canada but has lived in Kenya for the las 8 years.  She said that she feels as though there is a different regard for human life in Africa and that she has seen dead and dying people on the side of the road with other people waking by doing nothing about it.  She explained that it seems downright backwards for people who are so family oriented, welcoming and kind to their neighbors to have such a disregard for other human lives.

Jim told a story about a man who has sat on the same cement block for ten years now in the center of Udaipur, ironically right near one of the world's most luxurious hotels: the Oberoi Udaivillas. He has lived the last ten years of his life on this one cement square while neighbors bring him tea and small amounts of food. Jim described him as possibly demented and very old and frail at this point.  About a week ago Jim was walking though the city and noticed this man had a bad wound on his leg. Jim collected some bandage material and dressed the wound, a very painful procedure for such a deep injury. The man barely flinched. Are people in other parts of the world more tolerant of pain? He continued to say that he sometimes sees men and women walking down the road with serious injuries such as broken bones but not doing a thing about it. He said that having lived in India for several years he noticed that adults don't make a fuss when their children get injured, whereas in our society we are quick to (in his words) "kiss the boo-boos."

 I think I mentioned before that these animals we see are exceptionally tolerant of the things we do to treat their tender wounds.  Are the animals in India also more tolerant of pain? Are we, in the western world, over-sensitized to pain? Is this necessarily a bad thing? Am I going to be desensitized to animal suffering since I am surrounded by so much of it on a daily basis here? I know a certain amount of desensitization is necessary to protect my sanity and to keep myself coming back day after day.

I see now why they don't euthanize more of the animals at the hospital.  My first day here I was shocked that they insisted on keeping some of the struggling animals alive.  What I realize now is that these animals are fighters.  They fought hard to survive on the street and animal aid wants to give them every possible opportunity to live.

I am beginning to understand that in India life, and with it suffering, is real, it is everywhere, it is in your face.

Side notes from today:
- Got stuck walking around, semi lost in a monsoon downpour
- Met a girl from western mass! who is staying at the same hotel but leaving tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gadha, gaay, kutta.

Consider this a follow-up to yesterday and other random thoughts...

I talked more with Jim today about why the stray dog population exists.  He confirmed what I had already seen: animals living off trash in the streets.   Since there is no organized trash collection, it accumulates leaving the dogs (and pigs, and children in some cases) to literally survive off of garbage.  I asked why nothing was being done to correct the situation and he explained that the city has started putting out blue trash bins in an attempt to control the street trash.  The problem is that there are no lids for the cans so the animals can easily take what they want. So instead of helping the situation and deterring stray animals, it is actually making it easier by collecting and presenting the food for them and effectively perpetuating the problem.

Today I was sent to help with large animal treatments. As most of you who are reading this know, large animal medicine is NOT my thing. I am much more comfortable around the smaller, more manageable species.  In any case, I was there to help where needed so I headed off to the cattle paddock. We started on a cow with several wounds.  After cleaning them the vet nurse motioned for me to give the injections - quite a different technique than that used for small animals.  I did as he showed me and pounded he hind end with my fist and jabbed the needle into the muscle, attached the syringe and injected 5 milliliters of antibiotics. We continued for over an hour.  I helped him re-splint a donkeys broken front leg, treat a cow who's femur was sticking out of the medial side of the leg, and flush out a severely infected udder. (Confession: while these treatments are exciting I actually seem to spend most of my day pushing pus out of purulent abscesses and plucking ticks off of dogs and squishing them with my foot. Glamorous, I know.)

I sat and "talked" with the vet assistant for a while.  Communicating was difficult as his English was not very good and his accent very thick. He did show me the medicines he carried with him in a basket, some of them I recognized: gentamicin, atropine, prednisone while others were completely foreign. Whether this is because I am only one year into vet school or because they are actually foreign medications, I am not sure.  I told him I want to learn Hindi and he started pointing at animals and telling me how to say donkey (gadha) cow (gaay)  dog (kutta) etc. It is frustrating to have everyone talk around you, all the time, in a language you know nothing about.

Just as we were finishing treatments the rain came.  It started off light but quickly turned into a total downpour.  It rained so loudly on the tin roof I couldn't hear what anyone was saying.  Streams began to form in the dirt around the hospital as the rain intensified and thunder rumbled in the distance.  I guess it is monsoon season, after all. The rain didn't phase the dogs one bit as most were curled up in their afternoon siestas. It went on for only about a half an hour and then the sun was out again. The rain had cooled everything down nicely and the air seemed fresher.

I think I forgot to mention the other day that the ambulance team had an incredible rescue! A young fox was found swimming in a well.  The small animal had most likely been swimming all night and was struggling to stay afloat and it appeared to be nearly passing out from exhaustion. It took the team 2 hours but they were able to save it.  They brought the fox to the hospital and I was able to get a look at the terrified creature.  Probably suffering from hypothermia we put it in the procedure room and coved it's cage.  I talked with Claire about what they were going to do and she told me that they were supposed to surrender it to the wildlife rescue but she knew it would ultimately end up in the zoo if they did.  She told me that animals in zoos here have terrible lives, "they are put in a room to rot" she said. After ensuring the animal was strong, healthy and old enough to be re-released, animal aid brought it back to an area near the well.  They opened the cage and it took off! Claire explained that this was a success story in that most of the wildlife they try to rescue have broken bones or are too weak to survive on their own.  Hooray little fox!

Another great rescue - Erika got Sruti to leave her asshole husband, something that never happens. Hooray Sruti!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Be and let be.

So why so many street animals? Why doesn't anyone own them or seem to care? 

Erika explained it like this:  Be and let be. A motto that the people of India seem to live by. I suppose In a country with so many people this type of attitude is necessary to some degree - mind yourself and don't get too involved with other people's business. For a city that is full of chaos - and what seems to be disorganization - the people are incredibly mellow  (a far cry from the uptight Bostonians.)  It's this attitude combined with a lack of education that is to blame for their disregard and lack of care for the street animals.  Let them exist, don't bother them and they won't bother you.  

It's not only the animals that hurt from this common philosophy.  Erika told me that Sruti, a woman who works at the hospital, came to her door that morning because she was being beaten by her husband. Erika was sure neighbors and others knew what was going on but didn't do anything. Be and let be.

While on the topic I thought I would share this blurb from my Rajasthan travel guide: 

"You don't have to be long in Rajasthan to realize that women are rarely seen or heard. As part of the state's feudal legacy, the Purdah system, by which married women are kept isolated and under veil by their husbands, is still widespread in rural areas." I noticed this while out in the village near the hospital.  A veiled woman and her husband stopped for lunch where we were eating and she sat silent, facing the opposite direction of her husband. 

The book continues, "the literacy rate of women in Rajasthan is one of the worst in India: 25 percent, versus more than double that for men. Women living in the state's rural areas are arguably the most repressed in all of India. By one account half are forced into marriage by age fifteen and despite the intense work of internationally supported NGOs which work to valorize the contributions of women to rural life, economic independence remains at best a distant dream for most." 


Red sox in India!

Needing a break from the hospital I took today off and used it to explore the city a bit. Exploring turned into shopping as I realized I needed lighter and more appropriate clothes. I brought with me plenty of clothes perfect for the shelter but cargo pants and scrubs make me stick out even more than I already do. So i was off in search of good, cheap clothing And i was ready to (try to) bargain.

Waking around in the city is far from relaxing. I have to mentally prepare myself every time before I go outside. I have to prepare myself to be stared at and constantly approached by the shop keepers and residents alike. Most of them ask where I'm from and what I'm doing in udaipur. I have to prepare myself to be constantly aware of my surroundings, my hand on my purse and eyes on the road at all times as to avoid getting pummeled by a rickshaw or motorbike.

I headed toward the city palace as there are many (hundreds) of small shops in that area offering a bewildering array of colorful merchandise. The city of udaipur is known for it's miniature paintings with many shops selling work on silk and paper. Many places offer silver jewellery, cloth-bound stationary, cloth, stone carvings and various other Rajasthani crafts.

A man on the street stopped me and asked where I was from and when I told him I was from the U.S. he got very excited saying he as going to New Mexico in a few weeks with his art teacher. I told him Boston was very far from New mexico but he insisted that I go to his art gallery with him (of course.) I was hesitant but reminded myself this was what it was all about - meeting people and integrating myself as much as possible. I am going to be here for a month and I want to feel at least somewhat of a part of their community. I entered the shop and met his teacher who insisted I give him my hand. He said he was going to paint an elephant on my nail. "Um, what?" I thought. As he painted on my nail with a tiny paintbrush he asked what city I came from. When I told him I was from Boston a huge smile appeared on his face. He told me his father went to boston several times to teach art and he claims he taught one of the red sox. (!!!) he said his father met some Yankees players as well but didn't like them as much. Never in my life would I have thought I would be sitting in a small art shop in India talking about the red sox and hating on the Yankees. He finished with my nail and when I looked at it I couldn't believe what I saw. A tiny, detailed elephant with my name across the body. It is so small and intricate. He put some clear polish on it and it will stay for about a week. He told me I could come back and get free art lessons whenever I wanted. Yes please.

I continued on my journey. As I got farther away from the city palace I could tell there was a distinct change in the atmosphere. I was out of the tourist area and into the city itself. Here, moreso than anywhere else I felt as though all eyes were on me. I headed back towards the clock tower on the way back to the hotel and went in a small clothing shop. I sat and had chai with the owner as I looked at the clothing. I picked out a dress and a pair of pants that are to be worn together - both hand made out of light cotton. After trying them on (the "Ali Baba" pants are really comfortable!) I picked out two dresses and two pairs of pants and the bargaining began. He pulled out his calculator and told me the price he would as for other tourists and then typed in the price he was asking from me - about 1000 rupees less. I said no, and typed in 800 rupees less than that. He made a face at the offer and typed in another price. I wasn't ready to give In just yet. So I upped mine a few hundred. Finally, we agreed on a price. I am sure I could have tried to walk away and he would have sold me the clothes for my original offer. I really need to work on my bargaining skills but I was proud of my small accomplishment of not giving in to his first asking price.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clinic day 3

I arrived to the hospital and  was sent to help with treatments again (yes!) The vet that I had worked with wasn't there but the three vet techs were working on the animals.  I sat down with them and began to help them with a dog being treated for severe bite wounds.  None of them spoke English well but the one who seemed to be in charge handed me a syringe and vial and motioned to me to draw some up. "One milliliter," he said. He pointed to the animal indicating for me to administer it "IM." I did as I was told, feeling for the spine and inserting the needle into the epaxials I injected the medication.

From then on we treated dog after dog.  Some of the wounds were extremely infected and deep.  It was nausiating. Words can't describe, so I took pictures. Those of you (vet students most likely) who are interested in seeing them I would be happy to email them to you.

The assistants then  brought over a small, emaciated female with wounds all over her body.  Her huge ears stuck out at right angles.  I liked her.  I was instructed to clean the wound on her hock and change the bandage.  I poured iodine into the plastic syringe as I had seen them do and flushed out the deep wound.  She whimpered and trembled as i cleaned it - the procedure must have been excruciating and would have required pain management and sedatives had we been back home. I felt terrible but if the wound wasn't properly cleaned she would surely die of an infection. This tiny girl was so thin her bones stuck out at every joint.  After cleaning I asked if they had a gauze pad and placed it on the wound and then wrapped it up with gauze cloth.  I examined her for further wounds and applied iodine, wound powder and fly spray to them.  I really hope her wounds heal over the course of the next month and she is able to put weight on.  I really want her to survive.

The treatments continued, dog after dog, wound after wound. The worst was a scruffy looking dog that had just come in that day.  Never in my life have I seen such an emaciated animal. You could clearly see every bone in it's hind end - it's  pelvis and hips entirely exposed.  She was a walking skeleton. I couldn't believe this animal could even walk.  We treated the wounds we found but couldn't do anything but give her food and water.

After treatments were finally complete I made my way over to the cattle barn to check on the mangled cow from yesterday.  Walking over I hoped I would find that she had passed over night.  Unfortunately she was still alive, breathing heavily but slowly under the sedatives and pain meds;  I really hope her suffering ends soon.

During "tea time" I was able to talk to Erika and Claire, the mother and daughter who started animal aid.  We had a really great conversation about how it began and what it takes to run the organization ($10,000 a month in case you are wondering.)  Yesterday trudi had mentioned that they stopped spaying and neutering the animals as they came in. She had said that since there was only one vet now that it wasn't possible.  I asked Claire and Erika about it and they further explained that in order for sterilizing the dogs to really impact the population you have to effectively spay 70 % of the females in a given community.  The problem lies in the fact that these animals are nomads and if you were to spay those animals, others who are not spayed will find their way into the community after only a short period of time and all efforts will have been quickly lost.  They explained that rather than spending time and money on spaying them, they would rather treat and vaccinate the animals and educate the community about animal welfare.  There is barely any sense of compassion for these animals on the street by the people who live here.  They talked about veterinary medicine and how in India they barely learn how to spay and neuter animals, let alone have educated support staff on pre and post- op care.

What I learned from our conversation is that it truly is an uphill battle with so many complicating factors it is difficult to even comprehend. The animal situation in India is so utterly out of control and it is only through  people like Claire and Erika that there is hope for these homeless animals as they have no advocates of their own.

On another note, there was a huge fesitval happening in udaipur today. Everyone was singing and dancing and playing loud music. I at least got to see fireworks on this fourth of July weekend :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Quote from Shantaram.

This quote pretty accurately describes how I feel:

"Yes I was a little unnerved by the density of purposes, the carnival of needs and greeds, the sheer intensity of the pleading and scheming on the street. I spoke none of the languages I heard. I knew nothing of the cultures there, clothed in robes and saris and turbans. It was as if I'd found myself in a performance of some extravagant, complex drama, and I didn't have a script. But I smiled, and smiling was easy, no matter how strange and disorienting the street seemed to be." -Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

The animal hospital

Note: reader discretion advised.

Honestly, I don't know where to begin. Yesterday was my first day at the animal hospital. One of the guys who works at my hotel took me there on his motorcycle and zipping through the city I was again sure we were going to hit someone or something but I held on and hoped for the best. Once at the shelter I met up with trudi the volunteer coordinator. She was great and showed me around every aspect of the hospital and shelter. First, she showed me the puppies. They were so small, most covered with mange and many with healing but still open wounds. Then she took me to the paralyzed animal ward. These are animals suffering from road accidents and they can't stand up, in fact they can barely lift their heads. A Woman sat in the middle of the dogs and trudi described to me that she massages them every day. Some of the animals that had been thought to be paralyzed are now walking because of the therapeutic massage this woman provides. Many of the dogs roaming the shelter were missing limbs - some of them missing both hind legs, only using their front limbs to crawl around. Trudi described to me that they only euthanize under specific and case by case circumstances. I was so surprised at how well these animals got around.

Next was the mange ward. Here there were about 30 kennels each occupied by a dog covered in the skin disease. Many of them having no fur at all. Trudi said those were her favorite animals at the shelter because they are so sweet but no one wants to touch them. Giving into the fact that I will probably contract mange at one point or another, I pet most of them. She was right, they were the sweetest ones there.

Next it was onto"A" ward where they kept the adult dogs receiving treatments. Most of them had fresh wounds, some severe and others less so.

Next she showed me the large animal area. Cows and donkeys occupied this space. Some with missing ears, tails, limbs etc. Many of the donkeys are here because their legs and feet had been tied so tightly to control their gait for carrying things.

Finally, trudi showed me raju, the monkey who had been electrocuted as part of his training for street entertainment. He is blind in both eyes, extremely aggressive, and for the most part sits in the corner of his cage and does nothing. He has been given toys but he doesn't play with them and often he refuses to eat.

So that was the tour. I returned for day 2 and was able to help the two veterinarians with treatments. There were many wounds, some of them very deep. What struck me was the fact that these dogs let the doctors and techs treat their sensitive wounds without giving much of a fight. I don't know if it is because they were to weak or scared or because they knew they were being helped. Either way, it was quite different from the struggling animals that try to bite me back home. Oh, and I got abscess puss squished in my eye, on my face, and in my hair. The techs there don't speak much English but we all had a good laugh when that happened.

The most disturbing case was a dog whose face was nearly unrecognizable. Someone had spilled (thrown?) acid on his face. The skin was sloughing off and I doubt he will be able to see again.

We then went to the large animal area for treatments. I had heard there was a cow that had been brought in that was in bad shape, I had no idea what to expect. The downed cow laid sedated on a mat with a towel over it's front limbs. The doctor lifted the towel and I couldn't believe what I saw. The two front legs were mangled beyond recognition. No skin was left and there was visible bone. This animal would never walk again and was clearly suffering. The doctor explained that Rajasthani law forbids them from euthanizing cattle. The doctor was distraught and angry with the situation. The animal Was given pain killers but had to be left to die on it's own. This isn't uncommon and there is movement to have this law changed but the chances are slim that anything will pass.

There is more but I will end it there for now. Needless to say it is emotionally draining.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


I arrived at the Delhi airport around 6 am. I expected it to be a massive amount of people but it was actually quite calm. Everyone was very friendly and I had no problems with my bags, customs, etc. I did manage to find two British guys to tag along with while we navigated the huge airport. After the adrenaline of arriving wore off, the exhaustion set in. I had another 5 hours in the airport before my flight to udaipur. I didn't let myself fall asleep for fear of missing the plane or being mugged (I did feel very safe here, however.) Finally, the tiny (and I mean tiny) plane arrived to take me to my final destination: udaipur. After the hour flight I walked off the plane and the heat and humidity hit me. It was hot. I paid for a prepaid taxi as instructed - the other taxis are scams. Following the driver I saw the first street dog. He laid on his side panting heavily with bugs flying around. Tears filled my eyes (dramatic I know.) I had to resist every urge to go pet it. Reality was starting to set in. I piled myself and my bags into the back of the small car and we were off. This ride was probaby the most shocking experience of my life. We drove towards the city through what looked like slums, although in actuality they were probably much better off than actual slum dwellers. The roads themselves were a free for all of women and men walking and riding motor cycles, I was convinced we were going to hit someone or something.

Along the way I noticed a few white women. It was a comforting site in the middle of everything. I was surprised to see them wearing tank tops and shorts. I will probably try to dress more conservatively than that.

My taxi pulled up in front of the hotel I had selected. I chose it because it mentioned air conditioning and Internet access. Two essentials at that point but walking into the place I became worried. It wasn't what I had expected but it quickly grew on me. It is extremely clean and I have yet to see a mosquito. The owner brought me to the top of the three story rooftop restaurant and as I saw the view I nearly lost my breath. (Again, dramatic but true)It overlooks the city and the lake. You can see sunrise and sunset over the city. I went back to the room, turned on the much needed air conditioning and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I came back up to the roof to sit and write this. They offered me food and it smells delicious but I'm too nervous about eating the food here just yet. I had two authentic Indian meals on the plane and they were fantastic. I was hoping to catch a sunset up here but the overcast skies didn't allow for one but it is beautiful nonetheless. I can see why Udaipur is considered India's most romantic city. Whether I stay at is hotel or head to the panorama ( the original guest house I had planned on staying at) I am not sure. This hotel is in the middle of the city and street noise is very loud. There is also a temple across the street where loud music plays often.

I am hoping to go to the animal hospital tomorrow afternoon.

I'm having trouble uploading pictures to here from the iPad. Here is link for the hotel I am at now. http://hotels.lonelyplanet.com/india/udaipur-r2104726/udai-niwas-hotel-p1066362/ It is 9 pm and I am off to bed. Too bad my body thinks it's 11 am..

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PJ, I owe you my life

I don't think I could imagine a worse feeling. Arriving at the airport after months of planning, organizing and list making only to realize that I had left behind a very important, scratch that THE single most important item. You got it...my passport. Left sitting in the copier. I called PJ to confirm that is where I had left it and without hesitation he was on his way, passport in hand. It was a race against the clock to get it in time and sure enough he came through with time to spare.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Let the adventure begin

With the help of Liz and Lindsay, my bags are packed and I am ready to go!