It's about animals, not vets

“Either for reasons of pride and insecurity, or for financial gain – whichever you believe – local vets are willing to tolerate the suffering of more animals in the short term than would have been the case had they allowed the original plan to go forward.”


Tribune News Editor

THIS country’s animal lovers are very angry.

For years, they have watched helplessly as thousands of stray animals suffered, starved and were subjected to some of the cruelest abuses imaginable at the hands of their fellow citizens – mutilated, stoned to death, lit on fire.

Try as they might, all attempts to stem this tide of misery were swallowed up by ever-larger generations of unfortunate animals, the logical consequence of uncontrolled breeding.

Now, finally, it seemed, an effective weapon had been introduced into this fight – a sterilisation programme led by highly competent and experienced vets and volunteers from around the world, willing to pay their own way here and do the work free of charge.

The first Operation Potcake managed to spay and neuter more than 2,300 dogs in the space of just five days – a colossal achievement surpassing anything even attempted in the past.

With the volunteers willingness to continue on an annual basis, and with the blessing of the government, it seemed there was finally light at the end of the tunnel.

That is, until The Veterinary Medical Association of the Bahamas (VMAB) decided the project would be better if they “declined” foreign help, a move that effectively blocked the entry of the volunteer vets, as for some unexplained reason – probably to do with votes, popularity and being seen to “Believe in Bahamians” – the government defers to local vets on what should be an issue strictly for the Immigration Department.

Since this story broke, it has been claimed that the association merely wanted to open dialogue and raise concerns. But language of the VMAB’s letter makes it clear that the original plan is indeed dead in the water: “Firstly, we politely decline the offer to have the additional veterinarians come in to assist in surgeries, inclusive of the cat clinic at the BHS. We apologise for any inconvenience that it may cause any person, as advanced notice is preferred under such circumstances. We do feel as though we are capable of carrying out a considerable number of surgeries, and would like to make a concerted effort to accomplish a realistic goal all on our own.”

But how would the project be better under the VMAB plan? Or rather, better for whom?

Certainly, it wouldn’t be better for the mass of suffering animals who roam our streets under the burning sun, on a constant search for a scrap of something resembling food, a dirty puddle to drink from.

In their letter, the VMAB admitted that on their own, they wouldnʼt be able to replicate the numbers of the year before. In fact, they don’t even have the manpower for the full five days, suggesting a three-day project instead.

And, whereas the volunteers worked for free, our local professionals said they would require $50 per operation to cover costs.

Now, of course, even with the donation of time by foreign vets, surgeries still cost money, but according to the Bahamas Humane Society, the necessary supplies can be secured for around $19.

The local vets have been accused of being greedy, of blocking the foreigners for personal gain, of regarding the suffering of helpless creatures as an economic opportunity.

Knowing some of them personally, I do not believe this to be the case.

The real reason for the VMABʼs very late intervention (the project was scheduled for January; foreign vets had already bought tickets which they had to cancel) seems to be outlined in a particular portion of the letter.

Apparently, local vets feel the need “to send a clear message to our fellow Bahamians, that we are an entity more than capable of managing the difficult task of reducing our strays, and it should be none but our own that assume that responsibility.”

This was elaborated upon by one VMAB member, responding to the wave of criticism from animal lovers. He said that while he had worked for many years to help suffering animals in the Bahamas, he has now “become tired by the lack of respect shown to vets in the Bahamas by the animal welfare community.”

He added: “Recently animal welfare seem to be intent on dictating to Bahamian vets how their profession should operate in their own country. Of course this is hard to take. I hope the new generation of vets now entering our profession will take pride in their contribution to their country and that they will be able to earn the respect that currently is not being shown to our profession.”

So the issue has boiled down to a question of pride – professional pride, national pride, but pride nonetheless.

Many are the times and places for pride of this kind to be asserted. I would argue that this is not one of them.

It has been said that some local vets feel The Tribune’s coverage of this issue misrepresented their position. This is an unfair criticism, firstly because we printed the VMAB’s letter in its entirety so that members of the public could make up their own minds.

As far as the story itself is concerned, all it did was boil the issue down to its essence. That is: either for reasons of pride and insecurity, or for financial gain – whichever you believe – local vets are willing to tolerate the suffering of more animals in the short term than would have been the case had they allowed the original plan to go forward.

To put it even more simply, the vets have said: “Defending our pride is more important than ending the suffering of as many animals as possible, as soon as possible.”

True, some of them claim that in the long run, they have a plan that will spay or neuter 3,000 a year, surpassing the achievement of Operation Potcake on an ongoing basis.

Wonderful. But considering how long the problem has been allowed to fester and grow, many are asking why this solution has only now occurred to them, now that they feel upstaged by the unwelcome outsiders.

Be that as it may, had the vets simply let the project go forward while instituting their own new plan, say at a different time of year, it would have meant 5,000 animals sterilised in a year, and a real end to the stray problem on the horizon.

• What do you think? Email questions or comments to pnunez@tribunemedia.net, or join the conversation at: www.tribune242.com


BiminiHomeowner 8 years, 7 months ago

Supporting the mission of Operation Potcake goes beyond the concerns of "animal lovers." This is a quality of life issue for all residents of the Bahamas.

Having such a serious problem with strays makes the Bahamas look bad as a country, turning away tourists and investors. These stray, uncared for animals also often become nuisances or dangers to residents and visitors.

This problem also contributes to many Bahamians viewing dogs and cats as "pests" that should just be killed or exterminated. This perception that some locals have also makes the Bahamas look "backwards" to many people who would are looking to invest here.

The VMAB's decision has only made these problems worse. Worse for the animals, worse for the people that live here, and worse for their reputations as care-providers for these animals.

It's a shame.


shantelle 8 years, 7 months ago

Id like the know who will pay for the vets 'intended' plan to spay/neuter 3,000 per year. They are certainly not going to finance these surgeries themselves. Currently it is dedicated volunteers of the local animal organizations that work tirelessly to raise these funds for spay/neuters along with generous donors that believe in the cause. The most effective use of this hard earned money is to perform as many spay/neuters for the least cost possible which is what will happen at Operation Potcake where they provide the materials, buy in bulk at minimal cost and vets donate their time.
Allow the foreign vets in, let them do another 1,000 spay/neuters and believe me there will still be enough dogs and cats left if local vets still want to carry our their proposed plan as well. When you have starving and suffering animals on the streets there should be no time for pride, egos and a need for power or control. Arguing politics is taking valuable time away from helping the animals, the volunteers certainly would rather be spending their time being proactive - why don't the vets?


TERRI 8 years, 7 months ago

It seems pretty simple to me, the foreign volunteers would be here for 5 days under Operation Potcake. Last time I checked that would leave 360 days for local vets to continue on with the spay/neuter programme and gain the respect they are looking for.


ThisIsOurs 8 years, 7 months ago

Terri for Prime Minister! And Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Labour. You'll have to be able to work with Leslie though.


ETJ 8 years, 7 months ago

Very succinct summing up, Paco. Kudos to you. I had the utmost respect for private vets in this country prior to this fiasco, as I do know what they are up against what with so many people thinking motor oil, sea water, and bush medicine will cure all; never mind the multitudes who do not even attempt bush medicine but just allow their pets to suffer and die horrible deaths without a second thought. I just do not understand why the VMAB would obstruct anything meant to educate and mitigate animal suffering. I find it incredulous that all local vets are ok with this position. I am sure there are some that are embarrassed and not supportive but obviously if there are, their voices are not being counted. If they can't donate their time, God knows, we would all understand that, given our current economic climate. But to hold hostage animal welfare groups who bust their asses day in and day out already, to insist they raise even more money to pay them more money to do fewer sterilizations? Not to mention reneging on their word from months ago at this late date. Not to mention turning down FREE help. It is beyond any normal person's comprehension. That takes the cake and whether it's pride or greed or both, either is just plain immoral and wrong.


AnOutsider 8 years, 7 months ago

I am an outsider. Sometimes the observations of outsiders can be relevant. We have been visitors to GBI since our honeymoon in 1971 and have seen enormous changes there over the decades, some good, some not. Our recent visits have been tainted by the animal problems evident in the strays we have seen on the roadways and at the resort. We have driven the length of the island more than once and have witnessed ourselves dogs roaming deserted roads. One can only imagine the harsh cruel life they face. It makes me heartsick that the animals are being used as pawns in a game of oneupsmanship in the veterinary arena. Ego seems to be the reason the island's vets are saying "we will take care of the problem ourselves", like spoiled children. Pride is when you have put ego aside and accomplished something for someone else's welfare beside your own. I used to care about the island and its residents. I loved sitting and talking with the people working at the resort about their homes and families. We supported the Humane Society as best we could trying to help them care for the innumerable needy animals. We watched the news of government and economic progress with hopes things would get better for the residents and the helpless animals who live there. It makes me ill to watch the decline in so many areas, especially the welfare of those unable to care for themselves. It's difficult to care about a nation who says "we will take care of it ourselves" when it's been proven they are either unwilling or unable to do so, and refuse to cooperate with those who are. Where is the government oversight on this problem? Anyone can plainly see that the government of the Bahamas is very self-absorbed and self-serving to the detriment of real progress in many areas. Ego, not pride.


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