Human Interest

Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2008, 12:00am

This week: The price of keeping pets

Being a vet can be rather routine after 10 years. If it weren't for the occasional splash of article writing, lecturing, radio presenting or television appearance, I imagine things could get pretty bland. The challenges of a youthful veterinarian become much easier with experience.

Apart from keeping up to date on new techniques and discoveries in veterinary science, the daily routine of diagnosing and treating various ailments becomes background to client communication and education. This is not to say there aren't any surprises, but seeing a dog with a fish hook in its stomach is special the first time and routine after more than five times.

Some may ask me: 'So what's being a vet good for then, what's in it for you?' Well, it pays the rent and utilities - not in any extravagant way, but it keeps me happily in middle-class country. I am going to avoid cliches like 'I love animals and working with them' because that is not a reason, but a prerequisite.

My reply usually is: 'It is one of those rare jobs that lets me repay the Hong Kong community for all the opportunities this country has given me in the past. I am often contacted to help people in need of my veterinary skills in unique situations that are sad and require charity.' And today I am going to tell you an animal story with a happy ending, for the animals at least.

A journalist friend of mine called me last week about a story he was covering. It involved a woman who was killed in a car accident. She left behind 10 schnauzers and a chihuahua for her husband to care for. The husband was living in Fanling by himself, with no support, and a delivery job that paid miserably. There was simply no way for him to care for 11 dogs and keep his job, so he cried out for help and the case got media attention.

I said to my journalist friend that I would like to provide help if it was needed. With permission, I was given Mr Ma's mobile phone number to call.

Mr Ma said he had a couple of dogs in need of veterinary attention and he would appreciate it if I could check them to make the dogs more attractive for adoption. It was a long drive to Fanling and the village where he lived was difficult to find. The area was industrial and I was expecting poor conditions, given how many dogs he owned.

When I finally arrived, I was surprised to find how pristine his home looked and how well organised the dog's husbandry was. All the dogs were regularly vaccinated. A couple of the dogs needed special diets for medical conditions and were fed separately. The dog run was very clean, and the dogs were well groomed and clean. It was surprising the attention to detail this couple had put into keeping the dogs given their limited resources.

One of my mottos for keeping pets is: never have pets, or too many pets, if owning them would have a negative impact on your quality of life. With Mr and Mrs Ma, it would appear that even living on the edge of poverty, keeping these dogs by saving money on daily living has been worthwhile.

I am not saying it hasn't hurt them in some ways, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons in this case. I still wouldn't recommend anyone keep 11 dogs if they can't easily afford it.

There was one example of this among one of their beloved dogs. On arrival, Mr Ma promptly presented his problem dog to me.

It was the odd dog of the bunch, the chihuahua. Mr Ma placed the dog on the ground and the problem was glaringly obvious. The dog's hind legs were perpetually bent with a severe case of knock-knee, meaning both knees were pointing towards each other.

The little guy had a severe problem whereby the kneecap has shifted to an abnormal position. The only hope for him to walk normally again and not live in perpetual pain was to surgically replace the kneecap in its rightful position.

As I have mentioned, these dogs were vaccinated regularly, so they visit the vet regularly. This problem had been mentioned in the past to the vet, but due to the cost, the owners had chosen not to go ahead with the surgery.

So this dog had unnecessarily suffered because of the owner's inability to afford the surgery. Obviously it wasn't intentional, but the intention doesn't change the pain the little dog has to put up with every day.

I offered to perform the surgery on both legs free of charge because the little guy was up for adoption. And over the next week, I advertised the availability of the dogs among my clients and friends, and all the dogs were snapped up in no time.

Doing good deeds makes you feel good about life. So get into the habit, everyone.