I met Tommy in Uganda. He attended the Laminafera Primary School with the students. His favorite student was a boy named William. Tommy had helped the school win the World Animal Day parade the year before when he was a wee puppy. He now lives at the school or in the huts that the teachers live in beside the school.
In Uganda, dogs are not treated the way that they are here. They are viewed much more like livestock and much less like companions. Dogs tend to be only useful when they hunt or protect people or property. Certainly, there are some inroads to appropriate caretaking, but there are still some serious issues.
We were visiting Laminafera school when I met Tommy. He was one of the typical dogs: short hair, stick up ears, tan colored with a long tail. He also had burn marks on his skin. There is still a certain amount of fear about all dogs in Uganda. In order to discourage dogs from getting around the charcoal or wood cooking fires, the villagers will throw boiling water on the dogs. Tommy was habituated to people from the school and probably approached a family group as they were cooking. When he came back to the school, he had burns. We cleaned the wounds, but they were mostly healed.
We saw another dog with worse burns. One night on emergency, we saw Freddie for significant burns. Freddie’s wounds were more serious and we anaesthetized him and shaved up his burn areas. (Shaving meant a half of a double-edged razor in a curved surgical instrument.) We taught Dr. Arnold some Western medicine and had some antibiotic, topical pain medicine powder that worked wonders to accelerate healing. By the next day Freddie was back running and playing. Still we were relieved to hear that Freddie’s wounds were not intentional. Freddie had run up to a small boy who was carrying boiling water. Freddie scared the boy and the water was spilled on him. (The boy was safe also.)
Because of Tommy’s wounds, we decided to bring him back to the hospital. While he was there, we would castrate him and update his vaccinations. Tommy is one of the dogs that has become a companion and the school kids all like him. That does not mean that he is comfortable on a leash or has what we would consider good manners. Because people were ‘helping’ me, when we got Tommy out of the van, Tommy bit me. Not seriously, but enough to have blood running on the back of my hand. Dr. Arnold used this to decree that I would be the one to castrate Tommy. And I did. Things were not as sterile as I would like, but they were better than they had been in the field for World Rabies Day surgeries. (The next day we worked on sterility.)
The school did not have transportation, so we set up to return Tommy at the World Animal Day celebration. Although it is not a big holiday in The States, World Animal Day is celebrated throughout the world. The mission of WAD is “To raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe. Building the celebration of World Animal Day unites the animal welfare movement, mobilizing it into a global force to make the world a better place for all animals. It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology. Through increased awareness and education we can create a world where animals are always recognized as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.” It is celebrated on October 4th, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
There was a parade through Gulu, led by police canines and a marching band. I had hoped to pass off Tommy before the parade, but the headmistress said she would take him back after the parade. George and I carried the banner for the Comfort Dog Project. (PTSD victims are paired with a dog and trained for twenty weeks to become Comfort Dog Project members.) The leader of the Comfort Dogs is Francis who happens to be blind. (Yes, that was me with banner, Tommy and Francis as I was trying hard to keep Francis from falling into a pothole, tripping over a bump, walking through water and just continuing in the parade for 2 miles in the hot African sun.) The comfort dogs were followed by 125 Animal Kindness Club members from 5 schools participated along with local leaders and representatives of the criminal investigation division.
World Animal Day continued with a luncheon and then the final round of school debates concerning criminal penalties which should be imposed for acts of animal cruelty. There were plenty of distinguished local leaders including the Hon. Resident District Chairman, the District Education Officer, the District and Municipal Veterinary Officers, and members of the Criminal Investigation Division Gulu. All advocated that we must live in harmony with our fellow animals and protect their rights.
I might have missed a small portion of the children’s debate after the dignitaries short speeches, because of the effects of the marching followed by lunch and then combined with the African heat and thick accents. I did wake up when Francis started presenting awards. Awards were presented to the best marching group (Lakwatomer Primary School), the Luo debate winner (St. Paul Labongologo Primary School), and the English debate winner (Laminafera Primary School), among others.
At the end of the awards, I moved back to the exit. Several of us lined up to give the children gifts. A soda, small bag of popcorn, gift bag of pencils, erasers, small items and a dozen exam books are not what most American children would expect, but these children were grateful. I was also sure to give Tommy back to his headmistress as she came through the line. He had been with me all day including my short nap. I wished him a good life and then he was on his way. I last saw Tommy as he got on the bus with his children to go back to school.
The theme of World Animal Day 2018 was KWO WENG PIRE TEK which means EVERY LIFE MATTERS. Even Tommy’s.
Dr. MJ Wixsom owns and practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center on Bellefonte Road in Flatwoods, KY. 606.928.6566 and online at www.GuardianAnimal.com and has her fourth book out.