Words and images by Ellie Paton BSc (Hons) RVN
Volunteering with Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) has advanced my skills massively as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN). We are privileged in the UK to have an abundance of equipment and facilities to hand when treating our beloved pets but forget that not everyone is so lucky! I have known some Malawians to walk for hours in the early hours of the morning to get to their clinic and queue all day to get treatment for their pet. Although the relationship between animal and owner is very different to what we would consider the norm in the UK it is still very special.
Working at the Blantyre SPCA you see a lot of the extremes; most conditions that would be noticed and treated fairly early on in the UK would be left a lot longer in Malawi purely because of the lack of knowledge and accessibility to veterinary care. For example, Tiger can be seen in the picture with a sever tick burden which the owner thought was some kind of growth from his ears. Thankfully he was brought to the right place and we could very easily treat him with an antiparasitic and make him much more comfy.
Many of the dogs in Malawi are used for security as theft is unfortunately very common. Therefore, the most common injury we see are wounds resulting for panga knife attacks. The worst of which I saw last year, a beautiful dog named Zebra was brought to the clinic missing his distal forelimb and his tail was hanging on by a skin flap. He was very stoic and after an amputation and some TLC he went home with a very grateful owner.
I am always amazed at what these resilient dogs will endure and survive with little to no intervention. You rarely come across a dog without old scars from fights, burns or other injuries. Nearly all the dogs are bred naturally and subject to natural selection so the resulting population is a sturdy one. They are loyal and often protect their owners with their lives and as a result they are big part of the Malawian culture.
My dog Savannah is actually Malawian born and bred! I met her 4 years ago on one of my first trips to Malawi when her owner brought her to the clinic after a suspected RTA (road traffic accident). She had a broken femur but seemed otherwise unscathed. When I explained that the only possible treatment was amputation the owner opted for euthanasia. This is unfortunately commonplace as they don’t believe a three legged dog to be as competent at guarding their properties. After a short discussion it was decided that he would sign her over to the BSPCA as she was a beautiful young dog with a lovely temperament and I was sure she would be rehomed in no time.
Long story short, she was still there a year later and had developed a very sassy character, she stayed with me whenever I was there and I decided to keep her. When I decided that I was going to start a permanent position here at Southern Counties Veterinary Specialists and my travelling would need to be cut down I realized I had to take the step of actually bringing her back to the UK. It wasn’t the easiest ordeal but she took it like a true Africanis and wasn’t bothered in the slightest. She arrived in the UK almost a year ago and you wouldn’t know she used to be a street dog foraging for food and living outside. She now sleeps all day long in a very cozy bed, gets belly rubs and walks and hasn’t looked back.