The Last Vet is an article about the only veterinarian in Freetown, Sierra Leone (hat tip to Heather Houlihan who posted a link to this Granta article on Facebook).
Read the whole thing, but here is a sample:
First you notice the dogs. In all other ways Freetown is a West African city like any other, of red dust and raised cries, forty-degree heat and a year neatly segmented into two – hot and dry, hot and wet.To contribute to Dr. Jalloh’s work, email him at >> firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today water tips from the sky. Beneath the canopy of a local store three street dogs and a man holding a briefcase stand and contemplate the rain. Another dog shelters beneath the umbrella of a cigarette seller. A fifth follows a woman across the street, literally dogging her footsteps, using her as a beacon to navigate the traffic and the floodwater.
In the dry season the kings of the city are the dogs. They weave through the crowds, lie in the roadside shade watching through slitted eyes, they circle and squabble, unite in the occasional frenzied dash. For the most part the people and the dogs exist on separate planes. The dogs ignore the people, who likewise step around and over them. On the road the drivers steer around reclining animals. This city has more street dogs than any I have known....
....Dr Jalloh is the only vet in the country. No, that is not quite true. There are three government vets, employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. They wear rubber boots, but mostly deal with deal with figures, with capacities, stock and yields. There are also a small number of charlatans. Gudush Jalloh is the only qualified vet in private practice. The single person in the country to whom you might bring your sick dog, cat, monkey or goat....
....Lunch in a nearby restaurant and a conversation begun the day before is reprised. Jalloh has a television crew arriving from Holland in a week’s time. On the drive back across town from the street clinic I’d asked whether he planned to allow the crew to film a clinic. Jalloh nodded. Some of what I had seen, I’d suggested, might prove unpalatable to Western viewers.
A small silence. Jalloh wrinkled his nose and sighed: ‘Oh dear,’ and then, ‘Europeans are so emotional.’
Ordinarily his tendency is to talk about the West in uncritical terms: as an animal nirvana where pets exist as legally protected family members. I wondered if this was a habit borne of the need to flatter, to treat everyone who visited from overseas – including me – as a potential donor. At the seminars and conferences Jalloh attends on his funded trips to Europe and America, the face the West wears is typically humane, rational, superior. Next to the representatives of international animal welfare programmes such as the RSPCA whose reserves of £150 million represent twice our nation’s annual revenue, Jalloh is the beggar at the banquet....
....An American came to Sierra Leone to work for the Special Court responsible for trying war criminals, one of hundreds of lawyers and support staff employed by the American-backed court. She wanted to fly three street dogs to the United States and asked Jalloh to prepare the dogs for travel. He suggested she give the money to his programme instead. For the same money he could help a thousand dogs. She refused, spent 3,000 US dollars to transport the dogs. He remembers her name and repeats it. In time it will become a running gag between us, a byword for solipsistic sentimentality. It made him think he should be doing a ‘sponsor a street dog’ programme, like those for sponsoring children. Send a photograph of the dog and a monthly update.
That would work, I agree: ‘She wanted to be a hero.’
Jalloh repeats her name. Shakes his head and laughs.
Then there are those dogs, larger than the other street dogs, who roam the streets, tattered collars hanging around their necks.We call them the ‘NGO dogs’, adopted by aid workers, abandoned when the contract is over. Not so very different to their relationship with the country. A departing staff member at the British High Commission recently left two dogs in Jalloh’s compound before flying home for good. Last year the High Commission denied visas to two of his staff members who had been offered free training places at an animal centre in Britain....
....I will ask Jalloh what he thinks of the dogs he sees in Europe, bred beyond the point of deformity for the show ring and the fashionable, a million miles from Lorenz’s noble working dogs. Jalloh will smile and shake his head: ‘And now they call our dogs mongrels.’
Dogs at Lumley Beach, Freetown, Sierra Leone
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** What is the Work of Dogs in This Country?