One of the biggest risks facing animals in the third world is lack of access to basic healthcare. This disparity accounts for a large number of dog culls, rabies outbreaks and street dogs. In Kampala, with the help of private donors and public campaigns, progress is being made.
The third annual free community clinic set up by the Uganda Society for the Protection of Animals (USPCA) and the Zina Foundation set a new record with pets in the most vulnerable communities. With donated needles, dressing, vaccinations, leashes and collars, vets and volunteers headed to the Katanga slum in the country’s capital early last week. They clinic organizers had originally planned to use a local church as its base, but after some parishioners raised complaints about unclean animals on the premises, a scramble was underway to find another site.
Thankfully, the Protea Hotel donated tents and transportation. With a few additional tables and blankets, a makeshift camp was created in the center of Katanga slum. Volunteer vets and student vets from around Kampala made their way to the clinic for a massive operation to neuter and vaccinate as many dogs as they could, with zero access to electricity or running water until sunset.
Stepping over streams of dirty water and mazes of shanty homes to get to the clinic, the inhabitants came from all around with their family animals. Kids, in an attempt to be helpful and gain some USPCA stickers, rounded up stray puppies and brought them in, while braver animal handlers chased down some of the slum’s more aggressive strays. The most common pets here are street dogs that are taken in by families for protection from thieves and for companionship.
The chaos of the morning included a number of challenges such as shipping in jerry cans of fresh water, aggressive dogs and containing the constantly growing crowd. Early on, more than one staff member suffered bites and scratches from the cats and dogs.
One dog in particular took three attempts at sedation before it finally calmed down. The owners, upset at seeing the operations performed in full view, resisted the animal being neutered. However, with some calm reassurance from the head vet, they finally relented.
It was this open air environment that led to fear and trepidation by many in the community. Although spay/neuter surgeries are incredibly common and safe, many owners would hesitate if they had to watch the full procedure. Surgery is never beautiful, but the result was. In one day, which ran from 8 am – 6 pm, almost 50 dogs where spayed/neutered, and 104 local animals were de-wormed and given proper vaccinations against rabies and other deadly diseases.
Midway through the operation, one owner shuffled in a dog whose injury on his leg was so severe, the vet recommended amputation right then and there. The dog’s leg, which had suffered a cut, had become incredibly painful and unusable due to a severe infection. The leg was removed and the dog was placed in the recovery tent with an IV. Checking in on him two days later revealed a happy, healthy animal who greeted us at the gate of the USPCA hopping around on his three legs.
As the operation came to a close, contact information was given out to locals, who were interested in the USPCA services, but had dogs that were too young to be spayed/neutered or given a full round of vaccinations. For these people, a call to the shelter will bring a volunteer down to pick up the dog, take it in for surgery, and then returned to them at the end of the day, ensuring that regardless of the means of the individual, their pet’s health will be taken care of.
Programs such as these are absolutely necessary for stopping inhumane culling, rabies deaths and educating the public about animal health and safety. With proper funding, vet clinics such as the USPCA would have the means to run community clinics like these throughout Kampala and Uganda with regularity. However, with scarce funding and donors, this has turned into a once a year event. Between those times, the USPCA functions as a shelter for animals of all ages, as well as a vet clinic and a rescue service for animals stuck in dire circumstances all around the city.
At one point, late in the day, a man brought his litter of puppies to the community clinic, and stuck one on my lap. “This one is yours now,” he told me, “I don’t have any use for it.” The puppy wagged its tail at me, and climbed onto my shoulder. An organizer told me they’d take it to the shelter and try to get it adopted, but I was already smitten. That puppy, now named Rafi, is currently biting my toe.