Access to veterinary care

Last year I was invited to speak at the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference in Bulgaria (ICAWC 2022) about the trials and tribulations of the WVS India International Training Center during its first 12 years in action.

My biggest take-away-home inspiration from the conference came from a Canadian vet who presented about his work in improving access to veterinary care among the First Nations. The organization he worked with, would sometimes fly out to the very far out communities that lived beyond road access to set a community spay/neuter clinic in a school sports hall/ community hall and then spend couple of days there providing spay/neuter surgery services as well as other basic veterinary care for dogs and cats belonging to the residents of the community.

In many ways, there was nothing particularly new to me in that concept. I have been spaying free-roaming dogs in garages, garden sheds, army tents, community halls and school classrooms in India already in 2004. However, it struck me there that indeed, in most parts of the world, spay/neuter campaigns to prevent unwanted pregnancies, are based on improving access to veterinary care for owners who would not otherwise have this access, rather than only dealing with the outcome; the ownerless street dogs.

Street dogs do not fall from the sky, nor sprout up after rains. They are the result and product of unwanted pet dog pregnancies. Most owned dogs in small towns, villages and outskirts are allowed to roam free at least part of the day. Basically, anyone who lives on the ground floor and controls their own main door, is likely to let their dog to roam free at least some part of the day. This habit can easily result in pet dogs getting unwantedly pregnant if they have not been sterilized. Finding homes for all puppies born this way is not easy or at all possible and so most of these unwanted puppies, especially females, will get dumped on the streets. Some of them will suffer and die very young, some will make it and eventually breed themselves to give birth to more ownerless street dogs.

While many big cities in India have Animal Birth Control (ABC) centers and – programs that focus on surgical sterilization of street dogs, sometimes already for many decades, and are doing excellent job in keeping the free-roaming dog population as well as rabies transmission under control, in most small towns and in all rural India, such programs are not yet available. However, a massive step forward in these areas would be if access to veterinary care, especially access to veterinary surgery services for owned dogs would be made more easily available. Spay/neuter campaigns that target owned dogs in communities that do not otherwise have access to such veterinary services are the need of the hour in India to prevent unwanted pet dog pregnancies and to control the growth of roaming, ownerless dog population.

In the following posts, I will be exploring this concept of access to veterinary care a bit more along with providing some ideas in how access to veterinary care – especially to veterinary spay/neuter surgery services – could be increased in India.

Stay tuned and keep spaying.

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