Once Upon a Time When Puppies Were Cute

I cannot imagine anymore what it is like to look at a puppy and just think about how cute it is.  The bobbling around, the pathetic little squeaks, the yawning and sleeping in funny positions are all objectively cute, yet to me, and to rescuers in general, they represent a failure. 

While we care for the little guy who was quite lucky to get to us when he did, it is hard for me to think that his existence isn’t my own personal failure.  Here in Hoi An, we used to own a vet clinic that did sterilizations for the community.  About 80% of patients were free or had work done at cost just so that they were able to receive international standard vet care rather than be forced to deal with the extremely low standards of the local vets.  Sadly that was a really stupid business model for an organization with such little funding to start with, but I knew it was helping animals so we kept on. I knew if those animals came to us, they had a fighting chance and I knew if they went elsewhere the chances were low that they’d get a correct diagnosis and proper treatment.  I knew they would get sterilized, vaccinated, and treated with the best care available within 700km.  That clinic prevented the birth of thousands of animals into a situation in which they would be unable to access decent care and would all likely be sold or stolen before they reached their first birthday.   The mass sterilization project was by far the greatest value we had in Hoi An because ending the population of domesticated animals as pets, street animals, or meat/dairy/egg animals is the ONLY solution to ending animal suffering.

We went through hell to keep that clinic open and many times nearly lost it because people were never interested in donating to our programs there that actually saved lives.  When it closed over two years ago, I knew exactly what those animals would go through who did not get to see our international vets.  While our local vet intern had learned a lot over the two years they were with us, they were still at an extremely low level of veterinary knowledge and, as we always had international vets working with them, they were never able to truly understand basic diagnostics alone as the piss poor university education did nothing to advance that.  Now that they have their own practice, they are barely better than any other local vets with a lack of even the most basic infectious disease management protocols, lack of aseptic surgical procedures, and the same shotgun process of treatment that involves only amoxicillin, fluid therapy (done improperly), B vitamins, and whatever other random injection they can give to make people think they have a clue what the hell is wrong with their animal.  Without daily supervision by our international vets, standards of care went way down and any chance of improving are shot.  That is the best we have here and it is like getting a kennel assistant at your vet clinic in California to do an amputation on a Doberman.  That was another failure of the organization: we failed to train a local vet graduate to a standard which would mean they can work alone and be competent in diagnostics/treatment, most basic surgeries, and managing a clinic that does not end up being just another disease factory. Two whole years badly wasted on the wrong choice of intern and now we are paying for it along with the rest of the animals suffering in central Vietnam who would have been helped had our clinic been able to stay open with a local vet continuing their education under qualified international veterinary staff.

The number of cases we encounter are beyond what you could ever imagine and the number we can actually do anything about are less than 1%.  When we had the clinic, that number was about 70%, limited mostly by the lack of follow through of owners after clinical treatment, and the lack of facilities for diagnostics, lack of the right meds, and the inability to take on orthopedic cases.  But for the most part, driving around town and seeing these cases and then checking our email for the endless pleas for help was a lot less of a traumatic than it is now.  I run early in the mornings and at sunset and am always wishing I were doing so blind because around every turn is abuse and preventable suffering.  There are pregnant animals, tiny puppies in the road, cows getting beaten, piglets tossed into baskets to go to market, and chickens hanging by their feet on motorbikes to go to sales.   There is so much preventable suffering and nothing at all we can do about it now.  With a clinic, there is at least something we can do for some of the animals whereas now our hands are tied.

Taking in animals is never going to be the answer.  Without safe and lifelong adopting homes to take animals, you cannot take them in.  We have a small property and we keep our numbers low to ensure a high welfare environment, in addition to the fact that we cannot at all pay for more animals when we struggle every single day to pay for even such a small number that we have now.  With a clinic, animals can be treated and returned.  Their owners can receive CORRECT information about the animal’s health which they will never get from a local vet.  The insane BS that these local vets have told owners just perpetuates the suffering and abuse and heals no one.  Just in the past 24 hours we have had two animals who saw the local vet here who did more harm than good.  The fact that he is still in business and most locals go to him means I clearly failed at my job in our clinic.  He is a horrible veterinarian and has no business working with animals at all, but people here have no idea how awful he is because they have never met another vet or been to any other clinic.  They all think that death rate for patients is totally normal!  They think the low sanitation, the totally absent welfare standards, and the completely f***ed surgeries and mindless diagnoses are normal.  Vet clients look at him like he’s the god of animal health and he knows less than an American high school kid failing biology class. 

Our orphaned puppy is just representative of the failure of this rescue, the clinic, and me personally for being so useless in my job as director for not being able to raise the funds and convince the uneducated donating public of the necessity of building veterinary infrastructure in a country where there is none.  I cannot do my damn job here and more puppies will be born, more kittens will be dumped, more BBQ restaurants will pop up all over town as a result of the failure of animal advocates worldwide.  We have failed the animals and it is difficult to have hope when this is the situation here which no one wants to look at.

Jackpot, our new disabled dog is a story that we have heard again and again here, nearly daily when we had the clinic.  Dog running around the streets, owned by a loving family, gets hit by a motorbike and receives either NO veterinary treatment, or horrendous and nonsensical treatment from a vet who can’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground.  In this case, we have an incredibly sweet boy who is so loved by his family and was still just running around at the coffee shop he lived at.  He was hit by a motorbike and taken to the vet who said he would be fine in 2 weeks.  Anyone with half a brain could tell you this is insane when you see him.  The dog has a severed spinal cord which is obvious due to the total lack of sensitivity beyond the break in his back below his ribs.  It’s not rocket science.  The odd bit is the amount of swelling he has in these back feet and the 2 complete breaks in those legs. There are ligature marks on these back legs where the break is, which we feel is likely a result of the horrendous bandaging, possibly whatever “therapy” the dog was getting.  We also do not think those breaks are from the motorbike accident itself.  None of the story adds up to the wounds we are seeing.  We do know the insane crap this “vet” has done over the years for “therapies” so there is truly no way to know what happened.  Clients never question “doctors” here, and they are clueless themselves, so the truth is always going to be elusive. 

The issue is that there is a dog who did not have to be hit in the first place, but he was an unneutered male left to roam free as usual.  The insanity that “education” is going to change fates for dogs like him is too much to even fully comment on here.  This is an animal loving family to the extreme.  They have a wild bird they say was injured and they are healing it.  They have 3 hedgehogs as well, sadly living in an itty bitty cage a goldfish would be claustrophobic in, but they bought them as pets to “love”.  They have 2 squirrels in a cage that they are considering releasing.  Their Dalmatian is basically a huge lap dog and is in perfect health. These are the Vietnamese who adore animals and yet are incapable of providing decent care for them regardless of the amount of contact they have with a vet.  The owner did not even know what a vaccination was, this in spite of a ton of contact with this local “vet”.  She literally did not know that animals could get vaccines.  Education is only going to go so far when the most basic animal care information is being given by veterinarians still living in the dark ages giving out horrible information and being the worst role models of animal welfare. 

The only solution to this is mass sterilization and veterinary training through a international veterinary center in Da Nang that can actually do safe and sedated surgeries and teach local vets to do the same year round to reduce the population of domestic animals in Vietnam.  Neither Jackpot nor Liam should ever have been born.  Vets can only do so much for the number of cases we have to see that are the result of just gross negligence not only by owners, but by the local vets who have not received any training that makes them understand basic veterinary science.   We need to focus on solutions now and quit wasting time picking up the pieces of a broken system. 

Rescue is only a success if it addresses prevention.  Without that, we are just Bandaids on bone cancer.

Rescue done well would have prevented his birth and saved his mom from dying from complications. His life represents a failure of rescue in general.

Today, right this second, if someone asked me to talk about the dog meat trade I would tackle them to the ground and break their nose.  I can’t stand that this is even a topic when the true solutions are in-your-face obvious and not a soul gives a shit. As long as people keep focusing on non-issues that they have no capacity to solve without a veterinary industry that is far better than this shit we are dealing with here, there will be no change. I’m so sick and tired of the distraction of the dog meat conversation from the reality of life here for the vast majority of species, not to mention all countries who lack investment in the veterinary industry. Addressing preventable suffering of ANY kind (including the dogs going into the dog meat trade who are still a tiny minority of those needing care) requires VETERINARIANS who know what the hell they are doing.  Avoid that subject and we will continue pissing up a rope. 

You want to save animals?  Awesome.  Let’s open this clinic!

We still have time to get the building we want! Please donate today so we can put our money down and sign that lease!