“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.”
By PACO NUNEZ
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.
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