ANIMAL WELFARE HANGS BY A THREAD

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Due to the lack of veterinary products and equipment, surgeries and treatment related to animals have been halted, Dr. Vasundara Somadasa, a veterinary surgeon from Anuradhapura stressed.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, she said in these tough times, pet owners are bringing their animals for treatment, even though they can’t afford it.

“The charges for surgeries including sterilisation have spiked with inflation. This is not an issue which is limited to Colombo anymore,” she said.

Due to the high price of pet food, she urged that pet owners must introduce their pets to home-made alternatives.

Speaking to Ceylon Today on the prevailing crisis, Dr. Nuwan Wickremasinghe, Director of Dr.Pet Hospital, one of the leading animal care hospitals in Colombo, also commented about the present issues related to animal care.

He said two to three years ago, veterinarians had predicted a shortage of veterinary products as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the present shortage in foreign exchange, however, they never imagined the crisis would escalate to this level.

“The veterinary field is more dependent on imported products and equipment than other medical fields, as we are not able to produce them in Sri Lanka. As we had predicted this situation several months ago, we started to purchase veterinary products in large quantities. However, now we are at a very critical stage, as some products are out of stock. This was the last thing we expected.”

At this juncture, performing surgeries on animals has become a very serious problem, as there is a shortage of anaesthesia. Despite all these difficulties, veterinarians are doing their best to provide a good service to both pets and their owners, he said. He also added that sometimes they have to use off-label drugs and other suitable alternatives that are used to treat humans.

Dr. Wickremasinghe stressed that at the moment pet owners have to spend around Rs 6,500-7,500 for anti-venom drugs, which were priced at around Rs 2,000-2,500 before this crisis began, and if a pet is bitten by a snake, they have to give 1-10 vials of anti-venom drugs, which now cost Rs 35,000.

Further, he said there is also a shortage of pet food in the market, as most of the importing companies cannot open Letters of Credit. According to him, the prices of pet food have shot up by 50 per cent. He also said pet owners cannot afford to pay these inflated prices, therefore they will not buy them even if they are available in the near future.

“There was no problem in supplying the pet food as the importers have made the payments on time. Because of the dollar crisis, it is very difficult for the importers to import these products. The Government is also helpless. They cannot even fulfil the basic needs of people. We are not going to strike, as we know that animals will suffer in the end,” he added.

Meanwhile, also commenting on the price hikes, Yasiru Madusanka, a 28-year-old caretaker of 13 dogs said he finds it hard to provide for his dogs with the ongoing economic crisis.

When Ceylon Today queried about the situation, Yasiru said he recently gave away four dogs to his close friends. He said with the recent price increase of pet food, he finds it difficult to provide proper meals for his dogs. However, he said he would somehow find food for his dogs, even if it is unaffordable.

“The pet food that I buy has increased by Rs 600 and Rs 1,000, therefore, I thought of training my dogs to eat rice with spinach, pumpkin, and salaya (sardinella),” he said. He also said even though he trains the dogs to eat those, he still has to feed the puppies their pet food.

He said he owned five puppies and eight adult dogs, however, after giving away four of them, he presently has nine dogs.

When queried about the well-being of the pets, Ceylon Today learnt that Yasiru has spent around Rs 120,000 for a Caesarean section that was performed on one of his dogs.

He said because of some complications, the mother dog wasn’t able to produce milk, therefore the puppies were prescribed a special brand of milk. He said 300 g of the milk powder costs Rs 9,750 and that is only enough for 4 days. Another pet owner said her pet couldn’t undergo a surgery, because of the lack of veterinary medicines. “In many vet hospitals, they have stopped performing major surgeries including sterilisation. Thus, animal breeding has increased and it may cause an increase in rabies. We know that there is a shortage of medicine used for rabies. So, we cannot take this issue lightly,” she said.

In Sri Lanka, 20-30 deaths occur annually due to rabies, mainly caused by exposure to infected dogs. The root cause is non-vaccination of dogs against rabies and not getting post-exposure treatment.

In countries such as the United States and Canada, animal rights laws receive much attention. In the United States, animal care laws can be enacted and enforced at every level of government. According to the Act of Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture, one of the most recent Animal Protection Acts which was signed into law in 2019, most forms of animal cruelty, especially crushing, drowning, suffocating, impaling, or sexual exploitation is a crime.

Compared to other countries, it is obvious that we do not pay much attention towards animal protection. In a country where animals are ignored, these issues will persist.

Many pet owners understand the joy of owning an animal. They understand the companionship and how beautiful bonds can be formed between animals and humans. All in all, it is the duty of relevant authorities to probe these issues and find solutions, as we know that the crossing of human and animal paths so often results in pain and suffering for animals.

By Sahan Tennekoon and Aloka Kasturiarachchi