Animal welfare | Charmaine Tham | TEDxTheRocks

Animal welfare | Charmaine Tham | TEDxTheRocks


Translator: Katarina Ericson
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thank you, Luca. I have a little dog and her name is Pippy, she’s a 15-year-old dog now,
but she was ten when I first met her. That’s a photo of her there,
when she was ten; I know she looks like a puppy,
but she really wasn’t. She was brought into a shelter
as a lost dog, so we didn’t really know her story
or what happened to her. What we did know was that she was old, she was a brown dog
with really short, dry, scruffy fur, she wasn’t desexed
and had a big hernia in her groin. What made her stand out to me
was that when I was at the kennels, I was walking around looking at the dogs. They came running up, barking, and excited
and trying to get my attention, and she was the only one
who was just lying there on the side, just staring off into space
like she’d given up on life. It wasn’t until I went up to the cage
to say hello to her that she realized that somebody cared. Then she gave me a little wag
of her tail and licked my finger and the rest, as they say, was history. It took me about a year
to turn her round from that to that, but really, that wasn’t the intention. As a vet I just felt really sorry for her,
she was such a sickly little thing, and I wanted to give her a nice home
for her last few years. What I didn’t expect
was that two months after, with pain relief and two walks a day,
she started running again. Before that, she would only hobble
around and walk really slowly. It took three months
until she really wagged her tail and was excited to see me. But the real miracle for me was,
about a year down the track, it turned out that she wasn’t actually
a brown dog with short, dry, scruffy fur, she was actually a black dog
with long, lush, soft fur. The thing was, I didn’t do anything
particularly special. We vaccinated her, desexed her,
and fixed up the hernia in the groin. She got good dog food, parasite control,
a good home and lots of love, and next thing you knew,
she was a completely different dog. Five years down the track,
she is still here with us, going strong. So she is my daily reminder of why
I do what I do at Vets Beyond Borders, which is about providing basic healthcare
to dogs in developing communities, because it does make
such a huge difference to them. But it’s not just about the dogs,
it’s also about the people. So in these developing communities
where we work there is rabies, and we’re very lucky
not to have it here in Australia. If you’re not a vaccinated person, and you’re bitten
by a stray dog with rabies, and you don’t get the post-exposure shot, you will die within weeks or months,
in a very terrifying way. Unfortunately, most people that get rabies
are children in these communities, and they are often bitten by stray dogs. So you can understand when these people
react by killing these dogs; you get rid of the dogs,
you get rid of the problem, right? That makes perfect sense. But the issue is that these dogs
breed really quickly, next thing you know they’ve repopulated,
and you’re back to square one, while rabies just runs round in circles. So the solution that we present,
which is vaccination and desexing, the idea is to turn these dogs from
being the threat to being the solution. We vaccinate these dogs
so that they can’t get or transmit rabies, and we’ll desex them so they don’t make
more puppies that are not vaccinated, but also they’ll stay there
and defend their territory. Once about 70% of the dogs
in the village are treated that way, they simply become immune to rabies. So if other dogs and other animals
with rabies try to get in, they can’t. They stop where the vaccinated dogs start. And many thanks
to Foundation Brigitte Bardot — they funded this program in 2005
when we started off in Sikkim. It’s been six years now,
two years after we started, we haven’t had a single case
of human rabies reported in hospitals. So it does work. The solution to rabies and animal welfare
boils down to basic healthcare in dogs. So the question is,
if it’s just vaccination and desexing, which is considered
completely routine here in Australia, why don’t the communities and governments
go out and set them up? Or if they did, why aren’t they
as successful as they need to be? There could be many reasons for that, but getting these programs right
in the first place isn’t so easy. The first thing I want to talk about,
the first half of the equation, is trust. The first time I had the opportunity
to watch dogcatching in action I was in a place called Ooty
which is in the south of India, I was there with our CEO at the time
to visit a partnering organization, it runs out of the UK
but they have their clinic in Ooty. So the clinic was built on the side
of a very steep, precarious hill, just like all the other buildings there, and that’s actually the view
from where you scrub up for surgery, just rolling hills and tea plantations. It’s absolutely stunning. To get the dogs for this program,
we had to travel a couple of hours away, to a neighboring village, down winding mountain roads
and literally past elephants, and if you thought kangaroos were bad,
elephants are worse. Anyway, the deal was very simple, in the morning we load the truck up
with the dogs that are due for release, we drive down, we drop the dogs off,
pick up some new dogs, bring them to the clinic, they stay in overnight
and have the surgery done the next day. It’s a very straightforward deal. So the first village that we came to,
we’ve worked there a few times before, they were pretty good about it,
and they were very curious. We were still at the stage
of giving out flyers and telling people what we’re doing. We met these three guys,
and they remembered us from last time. They got excited and said, “Hang on,”
and they came back with their pet dogs, that they had already
had desexed and vaccinated. So that was great. So for the most part, the people here were really welcoming
and open to what we were doing, but on the other side of town
it was a different story. There was community resistance. To put it simply,
they were scared for their dogs. You could see it,
and you could feel it in the air. At one stage we spotted
this black Labrador-looking dog, and a rather dramatic dog-catching
in front of the whole village followed. It took us a while, but finally we managed to chase down,
corner, and catch this dog, when this very angry man turned up. One of the kids had gone to get him,
and he was clearly the owner of this dog. We’d spent all this energy
catching this dog, and we didn’t want
to have to do it again. So we were really nice, and tried to explain in the nicest
possible way what we were doing and how this is about healthcare, and we’ll bring your dog back
in a few days. But he wouldn’t hear a bar of it. At the end of the day, the bottom line
was he didn’t want his dog taken away, even if it’s for healthcare. “Give us our dog back,” and that’s him carrying it up the hill
in front of the whole village. They were watching. So while we went around and caught
lots of other dogs in the village, we also saw a lot of people
actually actively hiding their dogs, or if not, chasing the dogs
away from our truck. As we were driving back
to the clinic at dusk, the local team leader, who has worked
on these projects for quite a while, said to us that it’s always
a bit tough in the beginning. What’s happened is
that these people in these villages have had the authorities or bounty hunters
come in over the years, culling or shooting their dogs, not
in a nice way, sporadically and for years; even pet dogs, because pet dogs
wander the streets during the day, that’s just what they do. They often catch these dogs with ropes,
there’s a lot of manhandling involved, so the dogs often bleed from wounds
inflicted by the ropes digging into them, or they’re bashed, or thrown around
with no regard for their well-being. Sometimes they’re shot
in front of everyone, or poisoned to death with strychnine, which means that they convulse
to death on the streets. So no wonder these guys are scared
for their dogs; nobody wants that. So in order to regain the trust
of these villages and the communities, what we have to do is basically bring
the dogs back in good or better health, but more importantly, make sure
we catch these dogs in a different way. To show, from the very beginning,
that we’re not here to harm but to help. So they can recognize that. So we use and teach a method
using butterfly nets, obviously they’re modified,
they’re much bigger; they’re dog size. It actually turns out
it’s more efficient anyway, you don’t have to muck around
with ropes and nooses, getting things
in the right spot and stuff. When I was out there
with them on the road – I’m not a dogcatcher – and they said, “Charmaine, maybe stay
in the truck and take photos.” I said, “I can do that,
I don’t want to get in the way.” It was really cool to watch; they would take the ropes and walk around
and pretend there was nothing happening (Laughter) and the dogs would be looking at them, and when enough guys surround the dog
they’re like – Bam! – and they catch it. Obviously, the dogs react,
no-one really likes being netted, so they do cry and stuff, but the magic happens when we pop them
in the truck with the other roaming dogs. And all of a sudden they’re like,
“Oh, there are other dogs here, and I’m OK, and you’re OK,
and I wonder what’s going on.” (Laughter) They do, and they check each other out
and sniff bums and make friends. (Laughter) They do. Occasionally, they’ll fight,
but most of the time they don’t; they’re too busy just wondering
what’s going on. It’s actually quite cute to watch. So as a result of the whole thing
and because we don’t hurt the dogs, we actually enjoy now that the villagers
watch us catch the dogs. It gives us a real opportunity
to bond with the people and let them understand what we’re doing. It’s the same deal bringing the dogs back. When we bring the dogs
back to the village, we make sure we drop the dogs off
exactly where we found them. So record-keeping and using collars
or painting their heads for identification becomes really important. Most of these teams are pretty good
at identifying the dogs and remembering where they’ve come from. Sometimes people do get lazy,
and they just drop the dogs off wherever, but that is essentially a disaster,
because these dogs have just had surgery, they are weaker, and they haven’t got the strength
to fend for themselves in the new place. Sad to say but we did have this happen
at one of our projects a few years ago, so we had to get in a big fight, put our foot down
and say that’s just not acceptable. It’s completely detrimental
to the whole project. Everything that we have done before that
will be completely wasted. But the team I was with that day,
they were pretty good, and as we drove past the cricket fields, there are cricket fields
everywhere in India, and in the morning sun, we had just dropped the dogs off. The dogs run off straight away, sometimes they’ll even turn around
and give you one last look before they go. The nice thing is
there’s no fear in their eyes. During the drive we often meet other dogs
that we’ve worked on before, and they have no fear either. To me, that’s a job well done. So, in the best of cases, and at one project in Sikkim
where we’ve been for over eight years now, it gets even better. So instead of having to go off
to catch dogs sometimes, some of the villagers do the catching
for us because they trust us so much. These are the kids bringing the dogs
to our clinic, which is great. I think this is
the best case scenario, really. So something so seemingly simple,
like dog catching, can actually make a huge difference
and make or break these projects. Training dog catchers,
sometimes easily overlooked, is actually one of the most critical parts
of these programs. Which brings me to the second half
of the equation, which is about skill. So with desexing, there’s surgery
which is usually performed by vets. The question I usually get asked here is,
“Don’t these guys have vet schools?” And yes, they do. But livestock, so cattle, goats, poultry,
donkeys, that’s everything to them. That’s their livelihood,
and that’s what puts food on the table. So vet schools teach 90% livestock work and 10% about dogs and cats,
from textbooks. Vets anyway learn most surgical skills
from our mentors when we get thrown out
into the real world. So when there aren’t enough good mentors
to teach good surgery, it gets tough, particularly in rural areas. Even with the best of intentions,
some projects just don’t really take off. Maybe the vets don’t do
enough surgeries in the day, or maybe they’re not done
as well as they could be. These surgeries are tough, we think of them as routine
here in Australia but there’s nothing routine
about them over there. These dogs are older, they’re bigger,
they’re harder to operate on, sometimes you don’t know what to expect, and it’s even harder when the equipment
and the facilities aren’t great. So I remember doing surgery
in the middle of summer in China, when the electricity died halfway, and you’ve got a headlamp on your head,
sweat pouring down your face, you’re trying to see what you’re doing, and at the same time,
not sweat over the wound. It’s a very stressful situation,
and it’s tough. Unfortunately, on some of these programs
some dogs do experience complications, and some dogs do die, which really makes us question
what we’re doing in the first place, and what’s the point of it all. Some dogs also don’t get enough anesthesia
or don’t get enough pain relief, which actually makes them worse off
than they were in the first place. So yes, these programs have their critics, which explains why in some places
they’d rather cull the dogs if they haven’t got the expertise
to set these programs up. To go into a little bit more detail, tell you a bit more
without going into gory details, I met this girl not long ago, last year, she’s a welfare champion from Pakistan,
and she was visiting Sydney at the time. She asked us very genuinely, “Is it normal for my dog to moan
when she’s being desexed, on the surgical table,
with her abdomen open?” No. I had another friend
who was living in Sri Lanka at the time, and she called me up
here in Australia and she said, “Charmaine, there is a dog
who has just been desexed recently, and her guts are hanging outside her body. It’s been days now,
and she’s going to die. What do we do?” And the thing is
there’s nothing you can do. The vet clinic is miles away. To be honest, I wasn’t sure
about telling you guys this; as you see it’s very emotional for me. I feel it’s like a bit of an exposé,
like I’m betraying my profession. But I feel the need to tell it
because it happens. Really, it’s no-one’s fault. All vets around the world
want to do the right thing, especially with welfare work
for dogs and cats. That’s why we’re in it in the first place,
because we want to help. There’s no glory or money in it, we’re just there because we want
to make a difference, and it’s not their fault that they haven’t got access
to the level of education or support that we have here. So that’s what we try to do
at Vets Beyond Borders, we’re trying to close this gap. If these guys haven’t got access
to education, training, and support, and it’s going to take too long
to change the system, let’s just bring our vet schools to them. So we already train
our ground staff pretty well, but a couple of years ago, we launched
a very special project called VetTrain, together with AusAid and
the University of Queensland’s vet school. That’s one of the surgeons there. With VetTrain, what we do is train
only vets committed to animal welfare, and over two weeks we train them
from the beginning to the end. So from starting by sewing two pieces
of cloth together all the way to the end. We teach them how to manage
anesthesia and the need for pain relief. We also teach them what to do
when the unexpected happens, and when the going gets tough. Because let’s make sure blotched surgeries
don’t happen in the first place. This is the second time
we’ve run this project, the first time was with
the Marchig Animal Welfare Trust and RSPCA International in India in 2009. This second time we wanted
to do it on a bigger scale, to prove to the Indian government
what could be achieved, and it was a great year. We trained over 300 vets and para vets,
this is one of the groups in Sikkim, on how to run these projects, and by the end of it,
we had a huge waiting list. When you think about it,
if one vet desexed ten dogs a day, in one year, you’re talking 2,400 dogs. If 300 vets were doing it,
that’s over 700,000 dogs. And if one vet vaccinated 100 dogs a day,
that’s over 7 million dogs in a year. So through rethinking the way
we deliver these projects, capacity building is absolutely
the way forward, and that’s what we want to do. Now we’re in negotiations
with the Indian government to hopefully make
this a permanent program. So, for animal welfare,
basic healthcare is the key, in terms of animal welfare
and human healthcare as well, but only if it’s done well and done right. Only then can we stop the rabies in kids, as well as have happier, healthier dogs
as part of these communities. So through catching these dogs kindly and bringing them back
in better health than before, only then can we get the community support
so they help us rather than hinder us. Also with skill, with good surgery
and good pain relief, will we definitely now know that the dogs
are better of because of us. This is what we live by at
Vets Beyond Borders, and it is what we do, and this is what has led our projects
to be successful so far. We’re just at the beginning. So when you think about it,
Pippy is a really lucky dog. She was brought into a shelter
by caring people, she was vaccinated and desexed
without a hitch, even as an old, sickly little thing. The dogs in these communities
are not quite so lucky. Not only do they not have access
to basic healthcare, they are blamed for disease
over which they have no control, and they are hunted down
relentlessly for it. The good thing is that there are people
who care in all of these communities. So if we can give them
the skill, the hope, and most importantly a vision
of what the future could be like, then they can help themselves create
their better world, or better health, for animals and people. Thank you. (Applause)

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