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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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In sickness and in death ...

The Howrah district veterinary hospital and (below) a cow being treated in open air. Pictures by Gopal Senapati

Pet owners in Howrah face an uphill task when their companions fall ill because the town falls woefully short in providing veterinary medical facilities. For those who can afford it, private veterinary clinics in Calcutta, are the best bet. Others have to depend on the district veterinary hospital on Narasingha Dutta Road, which lacks even the basic facilities required for treatment.

The hospital, under the Animal Resources and Development Department, has nothing except an outdoor department. There is no provision for admitting critically ill animals, nor is there any polyclinic. The hospital does not even provide a shade where the ailing pets can wait their turn to get treated. Pet owners who come with their pets, have to wait in open air for the doctor and treatment often takes place there itself. Emily, for instance, a jet black labrador who had come with her master from Belgachhiea a few days back, had a deep gash in her paw after her nail was uprooted. For lack of a suitable place, Emily sat in the rickshaw while the doctor administered medicines on her wound.

“The district veterinary hospital was made to cater to domestic animals like cattle and goats, mainly to help farmers and khatal owners. But with time, as Howrah transformed into a town, there are now less cattle and goats and more pets. Most families have dogs with pedigree like labradors, German Shepherds, spaniels, pugs and so on and they often need to consult a veterinary doctor for various illnesses of their pets and come here for advice,” said Dr A K Jana, the veterinary officer at the hospital. With veterinary dispensaries now in every block, farmers who have cattle do not bother to come to the district hospital for treatment of their livestock.

The hospital has a doctor, a pathologist, a pharmacist and a group D staff, which is often insufficient for handling the large number of patients. The small pathology department has only facilities for urine and stool tests, blood tests are sent to the West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences in Belgachia. There is no radiology department in the hospital. “This veterinary hospital was built with provision for only outdoor and pathology departments and doctors’ quarters.

There was never any plan for a polyclinic to be included here. However, the government should think of upgrading the hospital to cater to these needs as well,” said Jana. A rate chart for different animals hangs in the doctors’ chamber where dogs are charged Rs 20 per visit and strays and cats are charged Rs 5.

To make matters worse, the veterinary doctors at the hospital are not trained to treat dogs or other pets. “When we studied veterinary science, we were taught to treat cattle and goats. I had no idea how to treat dogs, cats and other animals. I have learnt from experience that treating a dog is almost like treating humans. Birds are more difficult to treat than animals because their system is totally different. I have had to study books to understand their problems,” said Jana. There are many who keep parrots, canary, cuckoos and other varieties of birds. However, lack of diagnostic facilities leaves a lot of the treatment to assumption. When a dog comes with a broken limb, there is no way of identifying the degree of fracture. The doctor does a plaster and discharges the animal. Surgeries are impossible as there is no operation theatre. “We have applied to the department for an operation theatre here. Now we refer surgery cases to Calcutta or in some cases, we visit the owner’s home and perform the surgery there,” said Jana.

Veterinary medicines at Promila Medical Stores

Those who can afford it prefer to go to private clinics in Calcutta for treatment. They also prefer to get their medicines from there. Not all medicines are available at the hospital. “We have a large stock of medicines for cattle and goats but there is little supply of medicines for pets. We have to ask the owners to buy the medicines themselves,” said Jana. Only vaccines for cows, goats and birds are sold at subsidized rates as these come from the government.

Tapan Roy, a dog-lover who lives in central Howrah, often returns disappointed from the hospital as it does not store the medicines he needs. “When I need vitamins or de-worming medicines I have to buy them from outside. I live in Howrah and also work here. It is difficult for me to go to Calcutta every time for medicines,” said Roy. There are some pharmacies along Netaji Subhas Road that store a small amount of veterinary medicines. Promila Medical Stores in Kailash Bose Lane is the sole wholesaler of veterinary medicines in Howrah, but many are not aware of it. “My clients are those who have come to know of my store through word of mouth. I have not managed to start a retail outlet as yet as I cannot find a suitable place,” said Siben Ranjan Das, the owner of the store.

Amrita Ghosh