How can we do better as a rescue to address the big picture of animal suffering in Vietnam?
To start, we need to understand the root cause of animals ending up in rescue to begin with. The only animals people seem to pay attention to are dogs, so we will use them as an example (though they are actually suffering in the smallest numbers comparative to the other sea and land animals who are dying by the hundreds of millions here).
Den, the dog we took to the vet yesterday was hit by a car, but that is not the reason she ended up at a rescue. She was hit by a car because she was roaming the streets like most dogs in Vietnam. When we had our clinic, traffic accidents were our number one reason to see an animal. They are constantly hit by vehicles. They are hit by vehicles not because their families do not care as much as it is just what people do here. Many people do not have secure fencing so the other option is tying the animal up all day. That’s also a common method of protecting an animal from getting pregnant or being stolen or from biting people. It doesn’t work, but it is a sign that people are making an effort even if that effort means torturing the dog.
The dog was out in traffic, it gets hit, then it does not receive medical care. Sometimes, this is because they cannot afford it. Other times it is because they do not want to waste the time or they think it is unnecessary. I have had people tell me they had never heard of something called a veterinarian. I also have been told that they did not feel there was any point to bring them to a vet because every other time they have brought an animal to a clinic it died for no reason. Trust in local vets is low if they have had experience with them with other animals. They do very often lose animals for lack of understanding of a condition, inappropriate use of drugs, or very frequently from filthy surgeries that are done with wrong tools, sutured the wrong way with unsterile materials, and treated heavily with the wrong drugs afterwards. We don’t take our animal local vets because I don’t think trying to kill an animal with someone else’s ignorance is a good policy. Vets aren’t all malicious, but they are all badly trained and make horrible mistakes based on outdated veterinary practices or just acting like Dr. Frankenstein and trying something that they shouldn’t. Vietnamese living on the average salary for our region can’t even consider the costs of the international clinics in Vietnam, so they are left with horrendous local vets or doing nothing at all.
Is the problem with owners or education?
Now we need to question whether that person is a good pet owner if they deny their pet medical treatment for any reason, be that a financial barrier or simply callousness. From my experience running a vet clinic and shelter, I can say without a doubt only a very, very tiny of the human population globally has even the most basic level of competence in regards to caring for another living thing. This is not based on my experience just in Vietnam, but throughout Europe and my home country of the US. No, people should not have pets. That’s a very firm no. They are a luxury, not a right, so let’s stop talking like getting a dog is something we all are entitled to. We enslave them and then provide care for them as we feel necessary or are financially capable of the time. This is not a right to care for them.
Why did Den have to get hurt?
She got hurt because she was born into a world in which the humans responsible for her care were not capable of caring for her. She should not have been born in the first place to a life of inevitable suffering. The only true successful rescue means not having to rescue in the first place.
Rescue is a necessary evil which is the result of an unsuccessful program in prevention. Had her mother been sterilized, she would never have existed and been the pet of a family who could not care for her. The chances of her getting a family who could care for her are infinitesimal in Vietnam and around the world. The idea that we are just going to be able to take every pet from a bad home and get them to a better home is incredibly naive and impractical.
What about the costs?
The cost of Den’s vet bill is still being tabulated, but it’s not going to be small. Prices for vet services in Da Nang are no different than the same services in Kentucky, Yorkshire, or Queensland. It’s not cheap. Try paying whopping vet bills for the number of animals in traffic accidents throughout just one town in Vietnam when you are still moaning over the vet bill for your one chihuahua in Brisbane. It’s absurd to think we can manage that, not to mention absurd to think that most of those animals would even survive at all even with a good vet. In the process of slowly dying, they will be in a lot of pain. I have spent plenty of my time in Vietnam watching animals in traumatic accidents slowly die, and I can assure you, it made me want to figure out how to prevent it rather than to constantly treat it. Sadly, we did not have donors who thought the same and our clinic and all the mass sterilization work ended after 3 years.
We can reasonably do a non-profit spay at cost for under $50 without gas anesthesia. With paying staff and for the facility and everything we need to keep running which no one wants to donate to, that cost increases. But no matter what, the cost of preventing Den and her littermates from ever
making it to the streets is just a tiny fraction of what the vet bill is now. Add to that the costs for the next 6 weeks of cage rest somewhere for her to heal from her injuries, meds and food, and then the cost of caring for her in a shelter until she hits the jackpot and gets a family capable of loving her and keeping her safe for the rest of her life. Don’t forget that those costs should include experienced staff, veterinarians on staff who have $150k educations to pay off, and the cost of running the legal business for that clinic, shelter, organization/business of whatever kind that takes care of her for the unknown number of months or years before she gets a home and someone else has to foot the bill.
We have had rescues that have been with us unadopted for 8 years because of behavioral or medical issues. Sometimes they were too old or too ugly for people to want in their family even though we adore them like royalty in our shelter. Their bills have gone far, far beyond their initial rescue costs. Not every animal will be adoptable so often, we have to manage the costs of long term care. The joy of fundraising for long term anything has evaded me. When I posted Den’s story, within a day we got over $200 just for that bill. Had I asked for the staff salaries for those who managed the rescue which took hours away from the tasks of caring for our existing residents and which required a lot of back and forth calls and drives, then I would hear the crickets chirp. Rescue is not a moment with a singular vet bill. It is years of hard work by people who have to eat who have to manage a legal entity with transparent finances, constant social media to manage, and a large building to keep patching together to hold our rescues safely. Rescue is never, ever just a moment even if the donating public wants to believe that.
Why do I mention this now?
However much our fans would like us to keep taking more and more animals, hoarding them into giant packs of barking and meowing miserable animals, the public does not wake up to this every day and they are not the best judge of solutions for where we are. They think we are a Facebook post, not real people. They do not live in Vietnam and manage the day to day nightmare of trying to clean up a giant pile of elephant shit with a pair of tweezers. We want to focus 100% on prevention and in order to do so we will not take more animals of any kind for now. We will help any animal in the community that needs us to the best of our abilities, assisting with vet bills and getting fosters, but we are only providing sanctuary now to existing animals, getting animals adopted, and planning our move to a more appropriate facility to address big picture solutions.
While we are lucky to be able to use the services of an international vet nearby, having our own clinic again which will treat all species equally and provide veterinary care for animals with the least access to affordable care will make a big difference. This is what we are shooting for before the end of the year depending all on the borders opening. Prevention is the only thing that will end the need for constant rescuing which is financially unsustainable and solves little in the long run. We are happy we were able to help Den, but having had many dozens of calls for this exact same scenario over the years we have to be practical and work towards the root of the problem. It’s unfortunate that this is an either/or situation given the funding we have such a hard time acquiring as an anti-speciesist organization that does not lie to the public about the horrors of the dog meat trade while ignoring millions of other animals being murdered at the hands of humans. It is unfortunate that being morally consistent costs us so much, but we cannot just stand up for the fluffy, donor friendly animals and have any integrity.