Vets Beyond Borders has been running Animal Birth Control and Anti-Rabies (ABC-AR) programs in India for nearly 15 years in collaboration with local stakeholders and supported by Fondation Brigitte Bardot.
Having seen the benefits of the Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health (SARAH) program in the northeast state of Sikkim, the program eventually spread to Ladakh –the ‘Land of the High Passes’ renowned for its spectacular Himalayan mountain views. The program has become an important activity of the Ladakh Animal Welfare in Action (LAWA) program with increasing community support.
VBB Director and Treasurer Dr David Gray recently visited Sikkim and Leh, Ladakh to appraise the progress of the projects and volunteer in the day-to-day activities. Having volunteered in Sikkim and Ladakh several times over the years, Dr Gray has once again had a very positive experience.
“It was great to see the progress that the projects in Ladakh and Sikkim have achieved, particularly developing to stages of self-sufficiency,” he said. “I was very heartened to see local partners are collaborating very effectively and community support for what they are doing is evident.”
Dr David was principally been involved in the ABC-AR programs in both locations. While in Leh, he also attended field camps, involving long day trips with the entire team – dog catchers, para-vets, vet nurses and vets – to desex and vaccinate dozens of street dogs.
“We have to take all our equipment with us – tables, cages, drugs, sterile packs – and be prepared for anything; there is often no local power source,” he said. “On the return, we clean, sterilise the instruments and replenish stocks ready for the next day.”
Though it was his eighth volunteer trip to India, Dr David found the experience “so fulfilling, at times very tiring, but most rewarding!”
“Sikkim is so clean, green and friendly; it is always a pleasure to go there,” he said, reminiscing. “I sat on a balcony with the magnificent view of the lush valley, many bird calls, the sound of rushing water and the fog rising from the valley and hovering over the town. It doesn’t get much better … was just stunning to be able to experience this again.”
The views from the venues can be quite a distraction and reinforces the sense of privilege one feels in being able to participate in such programs with VBB, he added.
“In over a decade of volunteering with VBB in India and elsewhere, I have had experiences I could never have had visiting as a ‘tourist’, and have met some inspiring individuals as well as seeing some stunning parts of the world,” he said.
In Sikkim, Dr David was invited by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Livestock, Fisheries and Veterinary Services to give a presentation at their new headquarters at the Namchi Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Polyclinic.
Dr David talked about VBB’s work there, shared his personal experiences relating to advocacy for animals and how working together and learning from one another can build a better future for animals and communities alike. He was gifted a beautiful scarf – a symbol of welcome and respect.
“Though the projects in Ladakh and Sikkim have progressed to greater self-sufficiency, there will always be areas where the knowledge and skills of VBB volunteers will assist local SARAH staff in assessing and handling cases which arise,” he said. “Similarly, VBB volunteers will learn a lot from local personnel and the experiences they have working in these projects.”
The SARAH program would not be the success it is without the direction of the wonderful veterinarians and staff in India, said Dr David.