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Dogs and Wildlife in Abundance: A Vet Student in Ooty

Thu 9th Nov 2017

Ashley Clayton, a vet student from the Univeristy of Liverpool, is just one of the participants who recently attended an ABC course at our world-class ITC in Ooty, India! But it's not all about the surgery...

When you think of India, you tend to think of a hot, busy electric environment. If I tell you Ooty is 2240m above sea level and has an average temperature of just 14 degrees Celsius you wouldn’t believe I am talking about India.

To get here, you travel through some of the lushest jungles! I was fortunate enough to be travelling in the monsoon season, where the vegetation is at its greenest and the wildlife is in abundance.

In Mudumali and Bandipur tiger reserves, I saw elephants, axis deer, bison, and tons of bonnet macaques – but unfortunately no tigers – next time! There are plenty of things to do in the area and I spent most of my free time going back to the tiger reserves, being a bit of a wildlife junkie, but I also visited an amazing tea factory, a chocolate factory, and spent time wandering the streets of Ooty, buying handcrafted souvenirs and eating very tasty food!

The tea plantation opposite our accommodation provided a great opportunity for scrambling up a steep hill and exploring the countryside. We saw tons of wild bison and it felt incredible to be exploring such an exotic country.

But why was I in Ooty?

This hill station, situated in Tamil Nadu, is home to the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) International Training Centre. The Animal Birth Control clinic at WVS provides a vital service in neutering dogs which are stray or owned in the province of Tamil Nadu. As a veterinary student, I was so excited to have the opportunity to travel to India to assist with this project, and also provide treatment to other animals who came to the clinic – including an injured horse, a calf and a goat!

On the weekend, I also helped with vaccinating dogs against rabies. This work is vital to ensure the numbers of stray dogs in India remain stable, and the level of rabies is controlled and hopefully one day eliminated from the population of both dogs and humans. A massive 36% of all rabies deaths in the world occur in India, and most human deaths occur as a result of a bite from an infected dog, with 30-60% of the victims being children under 15 years old.

These statistics speak for themselves, showing just how important this work is. For me, it was incredibly rewarding seeing the owners delight when their dog was returned to them healthy after surgery, and when you vaccinated their animal and told them it was now safe from rabies, or seeing animals who arrived in a terrible state looking much happier and comfortable at the end of their stay.

Walking around the local villages there were dogs everywhere. It was madness! I don’t think I had ever seen this many dogs in one area. In just one afternoon we vaccinated over 100 dogs!

The problem is that, unlike in the UK, it’s not always clear here which dogs have owners. Most people allow their dogs to roam during the day, and they come home in the evening for food. Some dogs are owned by local communities collectively, with people taking it in turns to feed the animal, and others are simply strays who mingle with the semi-owned population.

The project has done amazing things for the local community, reducing the incidence of rabies in the immediate area to virtually zero. This work helps control the dog population and build the trust of local people who now routinely bring their animals to the clinic for veterinary care. The WVS ITC has also trained hundreds of local veterinarians from all over India, who are now competent to set up ABC clinics in their own villages and further reduce the spread of rabies and provide treatment for animals in need. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it and will definitely be returning to Ooty again in the future!