Challenges Against the Odds in Companion Animal Practice in Asia
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2015
S. Sivagurunathan
Animal Medical Centre, Malaysia

When Dr Sivagurunathan commenced the practice Animal Medical Centre in 1972, veterinary education was mainly focused on livestock and utility animals. The prime focus was to rear animals for food and work. Welfare for animals was least understood. During the 70s, the economic statuses of most Asian countries were not up to mark; the per capita income was considerably low. Therefore, animals that provided for economic returns were given prime importance and these animals were mainly livestock and utility animals. One must take note that during this time, dogs and cats were also reared mainly for utility purposes and not as companions. In fact, the need for companion animals was almost nonexistent. This plight resulted in a lack of clinics to provide veterinary services to companion animals, leading veterinarians to seek jobs in pet shops and work during the evening after having completed their morning government services. The economic hindrance further impeded Asian countries to hold back from investing in continuing education.

Apart from economic challenges faced by Asian countries, the cultural and religious preferences also paved the way for even more challenges. Religious preferences for keeping cats over dogs as companions amongst Muslims; not opting for euthanasia of sick, old and injured animals; and not opting for castration and neutering were some of the hurdles faced at the time.

Rearing of pets for food consumption in certain countries such as China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Korea was also viewed as a challenge in enhancing companion animal practice. The fact that pets were utilized for food and utility purposes paved the way for pets to lose their relationship with their owner as a companion, and the emotional bond that should exist between a pet and a human was diminishing. It was amidst all of this that the practice for companion animals began.

The speaker initially had a vague understanding of companion animal welfare and he humbly began the practice with 2 staff, which today has grown to 105. Starting from day 1, the practice was well structured and day and night supervision by staff was made available. The early patients that came in were not well-socialized, showed fear and were uncooperative for treatment. Many were infested with parasites, in poor condition and with maggot wounds. Gradually, the situation began to change in the next couple of years with the provision of good education to clients about responsible pet ownership.

There are 4 main factors that the practice functions around. They are:

1.  To uplift the standard of practice

2.  To provide good nutrition

3.  To strengthen the human pet bond

4.  To continuously invest in education, technology and innovation that would further ensure pet owners that their pets would receive quality care and service

These 4 factors became the foundation of the practice's philosophy. It took about 8 years for this assurance to become concrete.

In order to further enhance the quality of veterinary services offered, in 1975, the speaker attended the annual American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) conference. Becoming a member and annual visitations to AAHA conferences led to the ability to enhance the veterinary practice. AAHA proved to be the provider of the standards of veterinary excellence, which the speaker wanted to incorporate slowly but steadily into his practice. Information brought back was put into action to the best of one's ability, in order for client to realize the value of the services offered and the impact of quality services in companion animal health.

The appearance and presentation of the practice was changed to meet quality standards. All veterinarians and staff were uniformed. The practice was equipped with latest appliances and technology in order to provide quality diagnostics and treatments. The laboratory/surgery and x-ray facilities were further enhanced along with diagnostics aids in order to provide diagnosis within the first 24 hours. 24-hour emergency service was also made available for cater to the needs to clients and pet health. Surgical and theatre fees were also upgraded in order to stay ahead of time and also meet the needs of people who began to recognize the value the services offered.

During the mid-80s, as families became smaller, per capita income increased, the number of younger generation youths increased and the need for companion animals also increased. The rise in per capita income led Asian countries to become more financially affluent. This opened gates for clients to confidently invest in their pets' health and welfare. The demographics of families changed. Owners, plus their children, along with their pets started to visit the practice. Veterinary education started to focus more towards companion animals over livestock. All of this further called for the need to put the education received from AAHA into action.

Continuous education of clients about responsible pet ownership and the need to provide preventive health care for their pets at all walks of life changed the psychological and emotional response that owners had with their pets. This change was starting to show in the 1st and 2nd generation of pet owners and this change was proof enough that the practice was heading in the right direction in providing the quality of service pets and their clients need.

During the late 80s, Hill's Pet Nutrition was commenced. The prescription diet complemented well with the practice and its treatments. The introduction/change in pet nutrition further helped to contribute towards the wellness of the patients as well.

In 1996, Dr Doug Bryden, the director of the post graduate foundation of veterinary science, University of Sydney, helped VPAT set up its continuing education program in Asia by making Thailand as its center. This made veterinary education accessible to the developing countries that once found it difficult to pursue continuous education. Hence, the standards of practice began to improve now that veterinary education was made affordable. TAFE Institute from the University of Sydney also offered a nursing school that provided a 2-year supervised training both online and in practice in order for veterinary nurses to graduate under certification. This training contributed to the practice with qualified veterinary nurses that became the backbone of the hospital. Animal Medical Centre also became a center of training for students from the local university, University Putra Malaysia.

In 1990, the Malaysian Small Animal Veterinary Association (MSAVA) was established for veterinarians to receive continuous education in order to uplift the image of the profession. This association also commenced to build fellowship and comradeship within the fraternity. In 1997, at the 25th anniversary of Animal Medical Centre, the Malaysian National Animal Welfare Foundation (MNAWF) was formed to serve as a platform to address animal welfare issues. The foundation educates people about animal welfare and addresses challenges risen up by public complaint to the right sources.

In the early 2000s, the Animal Assisted Activities program was commenced. This program is a dog obedience-training program that was designed to nurture and develop the human animal bond and to socialize and harmonize pet and pet owners. This program also helps to develop responsible pet ownership. Dogs, after having completed this program, are awarded the Canine Good Citizen certificate. To date, 1,800 dogs have successfully graduated as canine good citizens. In the year 2000, the First Day Covers was launched to commemorate the National Animal Welfare week. This launch aimed at making pet owners realize the value of companion animals. In 2003, the Animal Assisted Education program was introduced in order to educate children about the need to be compassionate with pets and the ability to share and grow with their pets in a harmonious way. The aim towards enhancing the veterinary profession is by offering yearly seminars, courses and projects and by establishing national bodies that are at the forefront of animal welfare.

In conclusion, the veterinary community and veterinarians individually must maintain our commitment towards animal health and their welfare. Companion animal practice in specific cannot be sidelined and compassion is the fundamental element or soul to our practice. Addressing those challenges that hinder the goal of meeting the standards of practice is not only a responsibility but a relentless commitment. Speaking of foundation and stability, on a more personal note, the three pillars of mentorship will always be profoundly significant to the practice. The 3 pillars, Dr William G. Whittick, Dr Leo Bustad and Dr Mark Morris, have paved the way for exactly what a veterinarian should offer and for what companion animal health deserves. The acknowledgement offered to these 3 gentlemen stays immortal and the knowledge received in return is of profound significance to the veterinary profession.

Quote by Milan Kundera, "Humanity's true moral test, its fundamental test...consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy...and they are animals."


Speaker Information
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S. Sivagurunathan
Animal Medical Centre

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