Saturday, July 4 2020


Expats pioneer animal care

Update: May, 14/2015 - 10:30
Best friends: Cathrine Besche plays with her dog at her shelter in Hoi An city. The shelter is home to more than 100 dogs, cats, chickens, and ducks.

by Hoai Nam

Catherine Besch of the US keeps busy caring for dogs, cats, chickens and ducks at a shelter in Cam Ha Com-mune, 2km from Hai Ba Trung Street in Hoi An.

When Besch arrived in Viet Nam in 2012, she saw an enormous gap between the amount of sick and injured animals and the availability of adequate care.

After having saved, treated and fostered more than 150 dogs, cats, chickens, ducks and a single pig called Julian through her nonprofit, Vietnam Animal Welfare Organisation (VAWO), Besch is setting up a social enterprise – a veterinarian training clinic in the ancient city.

Besch and Emma Bolton, a Brit living in Hoi An for the past six years, joined forces to start VAWO in 2013 when they both started rescuing animals brought in by locals and tourists.

Besch said VAWO aims to provide medical care, sterilisation, and vaccination for local animals as well as to build veterinary capacity and general awareness about how animal welfare is inextricably linked to human welfare.

"My parents lived in Viet Nam in the 1970s," she said.

"Throughout my childhood they told me wonderful stories about Viet Nam and its people. That's the reason I first came to Viet Nam, but I fell in love with it quickly and decided to stay and set up the organisation.

"Some people don't think animal welfare is important, but there are many reasons to improve animal welfare in Viet Nam. How our animals live say a lot about how our communities live. For example, I find it so sad that people in Viet Nam still die of rabies when it is so easy to prevent. Always vaccinate your animals in accordance with Vietnamese law and never eat cat or dog meat.

"When people are not aware about the right care, vaccination, and nutrition for dogs and cats, they put their communities and themselves in danger of diseases."

Hogging the limelight: Catherine Besch poses with her favourite pig, Julian, one of her fostered animals in Vietnam Animal Welfare Organisation. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh

She said local veterinarians are not trained to treat domestic animals, and this results in misinformation, horrible maltreatment by vets, and the unnecessary deaths of many beloved pets. To prevent this, Besch has opened a professional vet clinic that will house international volunteer vets and vet nurses, and train Vietnamese veterinary graduates to utilise modern veterinary techniques in their own clinics.

"The vet clinic is a social enterprise, and its profits will be spent on giving support to poor families in rural areas for vaccination, sterilisation, and medical treatment of their animals," she said. "We have accomplished great things in our first two years, but this is only the beginning."

Another VAWO prog-ramme works with schools in Viet Nam to teach children the basic tenets of animal welfare, Besch said.

VAWO's Junior Rescuer programme allows kids to come see the shelter and meet the animals while learning about what they can do to combat animal abuse.

"It's an unforgettable experience for the kids because they meet the star of the animal shelter: Julian," she said.

Besch said Julian (a seven-month-old pig) takes up a lot of her time. It eats a lot, but it's worth the trouble.

"He's so smart," she continued. "He knows how to open the refrigerator for food, he can follow my verbal commands, and he is really good at getting a lot of attention from visitors. He's still a piglet."

As we talked, a dog named Barney, who is recovering from a skin disease, was playing. Besch brought it to the shelter two weeks ago. Since then Barney has become more confident and healed.

"We try to take in and give medical treatment to animals that need it," she said. "When Barney is healthy, he will go back to his family in the local commune. They were so happy that we offered to treat him."

The organisation spends about US$2,000 on food and caring for the more than 60 animals housed at the shelter every month.

"We have to raise more funds to continue caring for animals and the communities in which they live," she said.

"Sometimes people want to help us, and sometimes people want to make our work more difficult. We are happy to see Viet Nam moving in the right direction with a strong animal rights movement and hope more people will join in this effort." — VNS

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