Even though no study has proved that COVID-19 can affect animals directly, nor have any cases been recorded of animal to human transmission or vice-versa, pets and strays in the Capital as suffering as a collateral damage of the lockdown. Most neighbourhood veterinary clinics in Delhi/ NCR have remained shut since Wednesday as a result of the lockdown, with no clarity whatsoever on when and how can they resume their services.
Some of them claim that they are not allowed to run the clinic by market associations since people wrongly fear animals may cause hygiene issues, while in other cases, the staff have refused to show up. But this is turning out to be a big pain for most pet parents since vet clinics are the backbone of veterinary healthcare in the Capital. Dr Ajay Guliani, who runs two vet clinics (in Green Park and East Delhi), says, “There is a shortage of masks, sanitisers and safety gear in the market. If we practice without adequate precautions, we can be challaned.”
Sanjay Kumar Srivastava from Mayur Vihar Phase 1, who has two dogs and three cats, says, “We depend on the local clinic for pet food supplies and even sudden health emergencies like diarrhoea. But since it is shut, we are running out of food and supplement stocks, including for one of my older dogs who is on prescription diet and can’t eat human food.”
Dr Ajay Sood, President of Delhi-based Small Pets Veterinary Association, which has 200 registered vets as its members, says, “The pet supplies are not coming. We are trying to ration one box per pet for those who come to buy food. Normal OPDs are shut and some vets have fixed an hour a day to treat emergency cases. However, since puppies face a lot of gastro issues in this weather, it can be fatal for many of them if the treatment is delayed.”
In an order dated March 23, the Centre — through the Ministry of Fisheries, Dairy and Animal Husbandry — clearly instructed the states that “veterinary services are in list of essential services and veterinary clinics, hospitals and other establishments should function normally”. But despite that, most neighbourhood vet clinics, which also function as pet grooming centres and food stores, were not allowed to operate.
Dr Bhanu Dev Sharma, co-founder of MaxVets, a pet super-specialty hospital in East of Kailash, says, “We normally get around 100 critical cases everyday. Even though we have shut our four subsidiary clinics in the city, the hospital is functioning for emergencies. However, OPDs and vaccinations have been completely stopped. We are also trying telephone OPD and call people in with their dogs/cats only when it’s unmanageable at home.”
There is also confusion about walking the dogs, since people are technically not allowed to leave homes for the next 21 days. Some pet parents even tweeted to the PMO for some clarity on the issue. “Sir, I would request you to allow pet parents to walk their dogs during the lockdown. My dog cries, does not have food, if not walked,” tweeted one of them. “How do we walk our dogs? I’m in Delhi. If not, some suggestions would be appreciated!” wrote another.
While human beings are suffering isolation stuck inside their homes owing to the lockdown, the strays outside are suffering starvation. With restricted movement and limited rations, most animal feeders have either given up on their daily task or are unable to carry it out. With the lockdown being extended to April 14, many feeders fear the situation is going to get worse and that many strays will die of starvation. Some of them wrote to former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, founder and chairperson of People for Animals, seeking her attention to the issue as an animal lover. Now, the BJP MP has written to all state governments seeking passes for animal feeders. “Street animal feeders in all states can obtain passes from District Magistrates who have instructions regarding the same,” she tweeted.
Some animal shelters have stepped up to help, and are collecting donations to feed their own residents and strays around them. Sood says, “We should continue to feed the strays in our area and also people should not abandon their pets in this situation, else with lots of animals dying, we may be staring at another epidemic once we have won over COVID-19 and are out on the streets again.”
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