T&T's Shelter Medicine Vets
Dr. Paul Crooks and Dr. Yaseen Ali are the Veterinarians working with these shelters. Dr. Ali works at the Trinidad-North branch on a part time basis and Dr. Crooks is at the Tobago branch. Both Doctors practice in the emerging field of veterinary medicine called Shelter Medicine.
Not surprisingly, their situation is a little different from a normal clinic setting. For starters, they deal with neglected and ownerless animals. This can mean treating severe cases of disease and injury and at worst, extreme cases of animal cruelty. Dr. Crooks will never forget an incident when he was called to see a dog that the caller said was ‘moving slowly and painfully on the side of the road’. As Dr. Crooks describes it: ‘The dog was burnt, with little to no hair on most of its body. My best guess is that someone threw hot water on the dog in an attempt to treat an underlying mange condition. The hardest part for me was that when I called the dog, and he came. He still trusted in a species that had tortured him.’
The talented Dr. Paul Crooks
A Full House
Another challenge for Shelter Vets is that, unlike a traditional clinic where very few animals stay overnight, shelters have a full house of abandoned dogs and cats with new animals coming in everyday. Therefore, Shelter Vets pay close attention to prevention and managing disease transmission in a ‘herd’ situation. Dr. Crooks is a Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Veterinarian and a committee member with the TTSPCA Tobago. He has extensive experience in both farm and small animal medicine. His advice on matters such as epidemiology, disease transmission and prevention, animal behaviour and enrichment are a great benefit to the Tobago shelter. This ability to work with large numbers of animals is critical because, without proper care and attention on the part of the Vets and shelter staff, one sick animal could result in a shelter full of sick animals.
Yet another aspect to Shelter Medicine is high volume spaying and neutering. These surgeries for female and male animals prevent them from reproducing. Dr. Ali, a graduate of the prestigious Tuskegee University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, sees this as an essential tool in dealing with the problem of pet overpopulation. He explains that ‘We are overwhelmed with homeless animals that are constantly reproducing and sterilisation is one of the essential tools.’ On his clinic days, he averages from 25 to 35 surgeries. His surgical skills ensure that, in spite of the large number of surgeries, his patients recover quickly and completely. On the Tobago side, Dr. Crooks is one of the key organisers of high-volume spay and neuter education outreach programmes that target as many as 150 animals over a two-day period.
Dr. Yaseen Ali hard at work
Doing a Lot with a Little
In addition to these challenges, there is always the issue of limited resources. If animals don’t have owners, who pays for their veterinary care, surgeries to prevent them from contributing to the stray population, and for their rehoming? The TTSPCA’s Animal Shelters are not well-funded and resources are limited. Vets have limited diagnostic tools (blood tests, x-ray machines, endoscopes, etc.), technical support and appropriate pharmaceuticals to treat animals. As a result, Shelter Vets are creative and innovative in all aspects of their work and are experts at making a little go a long way.
We’re In This Together
Why do they do it? Both Dr. Crooks and Dr. Ali see the urgency of promoting responsible ownership and are committed to improving animal welfare. They both emphasise that shelter animals can make wonderful pets. Seeing a mistreated dog find a good home, seeing the owners and the animal happy together, that is what it is about. Dr. Crooks spreads the word on his television slot on Tobago’s Channel 5 giving practical advice on responsible ownership and animal welfare. He encourages people to get in touch with the Animal Shelters. They have contact information for Veterinarians and are a good resource for animal health issues. He stresses that clients should never wait with a sick animal. The longer you wait, the more complicated a case may become, and the more expensive it can be to treat.
It takes an exceptional Veterinarian to be a good Shelter Vet. You must be passionate, creative and extremely practical. You must be good with animals and patient with people. It is not an easy job. As Dr. Ali says ‘It’s challenging, frustrating at times but always rewarding to see clients come in and adopt our animals that have been spayed or neutered’.
Thanks to Trinidad and Tobago’s wonderful shelter Vets, Dr. Y. Ali and Dr. P. Crooks. To learn more get in touch with your nearest shelter or animal welfare organisation.
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