Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Veterinarian in Freetown, Sierra Leone

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.

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.’
To contribute to Dr. Jalloh’s work, email him at >> steriliseit@yahoo.com
Lumley beach
Dogs at Lumley Beach, Freetown, Sierra Leone


Kimetha Ann Meyer said...

I do ponder, if those aid workers in Sierra Leone have problems getting those dogs out of the country due to some red tape and extra fee costs and would be a reason why those animals are abandoned when the aid worker's contract is up.

PBurns said...

AID workers leave countries often without knowing where they are going to, their living situation in the next location, or how long they are going to reside there for. On arrival in a new country, however, they are often lonely and "rescue rangers," by temper. On exit, however, the logistics of a dog become both expensive and very problematic. Vaccines and innoculations of animals coming into the US, at least, are NOT a big deal. We have rabies all over, and every other kind of dog-borne disease under the sun as well. No reason to exclude a dog for a few shots and a stool smear/float.


grapfhics said...

Sorry, I can't agree. Didn't the vet suggest that the money was better spent locally, not trying to export 3 dogs when that money could help 1000 dogs instead?

PBurns said...

Yes, and the vet (Dr. Jalloh) is 100% right if one is assumig that the money is available either way... but it clearly wasn't.

People are motivated by a lot of parochial emotional interests, and the need to "rescue" and demonstrate self-worth by having done that is pretty common.

In theory, people should be willing to give money to help the maximum number of dogs in the poorest country in the world. In reality, however, they shrug off the misery over the horizon (out of sight is out of mind) and buy more toys for their own dogs, or they buy flowers for the church so their name is in the program at Easter, etc.

Issues of charity and ego and self-satisfaction are always in collision. It's rarely as simple as: "Here's $3,000 with no strings attached, what do you think we should do with it?"