Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How to improve animal welfare in Siem Reap with market thinking

Fully aware that I "just" arrived in Cambodia in June 2016, I think it's still worth to share some thoughts and observe rations regarding pets and how to treat them in Cambodia –  mainly dogs since this is my field of passion.

I moved to Cambodia in 200, moved then to Vietnam and lived in Laos and Thailand for three years each. We always had  our two dogs with us, and in Laos the pack grew to four and in Thailand to five dogs. Living in Siem Reap means there is no registered local vet, there is a lot of parvovirus and rabies and other diseases. But there is also hope.

Buntha is quite busy these days since parvo virus is spreading.
I visit frequently Buntha, who studied veterinary medics for a while, but did not graduate. He runs a local vet clinic and serves hundreds of animals a month. The clinic is very basic, not lab, not surgery table (he is not allowed to use anesthesia medicine). People come when the dog is sick, and he does his best. But there is not much of a awareness for the need of prevention, like vaccinations.

So here are my initial conclusions how to improve the welfare of dogs in Siem Reap.

1. Time will heal. My experience in other neighboring countries was that when living conditions change, pet care will follow. People start moving into apartments and taking pets with them. That reduces the risk of infections, but also increases the quality of living conditions because it is a more clean environment. And since a lot of those pets are so called toy dogs which cost a lot, people start caring more about there "investment". So behavior changes, first in the upper middle class, but they are always the first to do.

2. Improve and support local initiatives. I donated some cages (and other did too) to Buntha's clinic, so the dogs do not have to share a metal bed where feces and urine is dropping on the concrete floor. There is still a need for a big cage, in case you want to support too. (Leave a comment if you are interested, its about 45 Dollar)

3. On a longer term, Siem Reap needs a local registered vet who runs a clinic as a business. That includes money making services like grooming and even boarding. My friend Analin did this at just without a resident vet in Vientiane. Right now, nobody wants to take the risk of an investment (Angkor Vets did on a small scale). My idea was to give a loan and/or becoming a shareholder if money is an issue, but it still needs the right person. Education in veterinary medicine is of low quality, most students never do a surgery during their studies, and the focus is largely on live stock rather than pet animals. And since Siem Reap is considered province for Phnom Penh students, they like to stay in the city and get a job in bank.

4. There is a need of awareness, but I think it needs to be marketed instead of education. People in general jump on everything that is marketed nicely. So instead of teaching pet owners about viruses, diseases and reproduction, a more business style approach would help more. Make a poster offering 5 percent discount for vaccinations during a certain period. Give discounts for vaccinations of more than two animals. Start issuing a member ship card and collect email addresses so you can send newsletters with new offers. Make brochures with incentives, offer a coupon while explaining why vaccination is important. Give people a card with the five most important signs that the dogs is sick and a emergency phone number. 
It took 6 days and a 12 Dollar "investment" to save this dog after a parvo infection.
The owners detected it early, called me and I took him to the vet every day.
In exchange, I got water melons and morning glory. 

5. Never give up. I spend some hours at Buntha's clinic with sick dogs from my neighbors I take care of. Since waiting time is about an hour, I could observe a lot. Local Khmer people care a lot about there dogs, that's why they go to the vet. It's only mostly too late. They also pay for treatment, so there is awareness that service isn't free. This  means there is a local market, it just needs better served.

What I will do is soon make a small leaflet in Khmer language to sell vaccinations. Next will be one about spay and neuter. Simple language, few pictures, straight to the point. Not sure about printing costs, maybe I can cover it myself. Als I try to reach out to vets in Phnom Penh figuring out if they would be interested to open a business in Siem Reap.

I do not think that visiting vets or nurses will make a change. It might help short term as the World Vets and the GeoVets did, but I strongly believe this is a local issue and shall and can be solved by Khmer people.

These are my thoughts form observations I made. I may be totally wrong – in this case please tell me why in the comments field. Also, please comment if you just disagree with me, or if you have any suggestions and further information.

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