Ian Battersby recently went to India with Mission Rabies.
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Why did you get involved with Mission Rabies?
I have been friends with Luke Gamble, founder of the charity Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS), since vet school. Our careers have taken us in different directions but we stayed in touch and I have always wanted to get more involved with a WVS project. Mission Rabies was the right project at the right time for me. I work at Davies Veterinary Specialists who decided to support to project as well. DVS purchased the first 50,000 vaccines for Mission Rabies and countless members of staff set about fundraising over the summer for this great cause, which was amazing.
Have you done anything like this before?
No, and I will admit to being slightly nervous as the trip got closer because there was an element of the unexpected, but it was such a great experience. If anyone reading this is thinking about getting involved, but is a bit unsure, my advice would be to go for it. You won't regret going, but will always regret not doing it.
What are the aims of the project?
The project aims to reduce the incidence of rabies in dogs and people in India, a hotspot for the disease. Because 97 per cent of human cases of rabies come from dog bites, managing the incidence of rabies in dogs has a natural knock-on effect – in a nutshell ‘animal welfare and saving lives’.
What did you do in India?
I joined a group of volunteers in Ranchi in northern India. Each day we would start around 5.30 am catching dogs in designated areas of the city. Each of the four teams had trained dog catchers using nets; once the dogs were caught we would vaccinate and mark them. The nets were a humane way of catching the dogs and, when caught, the dogs were well restrained. Any that required treatment were transported to a central hospital. We would break around 11.30 am and restart at 3 pm because of the heat. Each team aimed to catch and vaccinate 125 dogs a day. Areas were very different; some days we hit our target by lunch time.
How long were you there?
Ten days, but most volunteers were on the project for two weeks and some stayed for the whole month. In Ranchi we slept in a local hotel and our meals were provided by Auntie Rita, a supporter of a local dog charity (HOPE). Auntie Rita and her husband were incredible and opened their home to all the volunteers and dog catchers.
Did you enjoy the trip?
When you do a trip like this it is inevitable that you gain a different perspective of life. I felt privileged to see the non-tourist parts of a country and see all aspects of the culture and I want to get involved again. In the meantime I will support the charity in any way I can.
Was there anything you didn't enjoy?
India is India really. It is certainly more chaotic than most countries I have visited and things inevitably take much longer than you are used to. Initially that was frustrating, but I was surprised how quickly I moved into that swing of things. With the great ‘team Ranchi’ spirit even potentially unenjoyable experiences turned into fun. The first night when I joined the team we travelled on a sleeper train in third class. If I am honest, the thought of the journey didn't fill me with joy, but we soon found the funny side to the situation, which made it hysterical.
Was there a special moment?
There was an overwhelming response from the local people and the enthusiasm of the local children was infectious. There were days when some of the teams were able to catch dogs with rabies and get them safely off the streets. The team spirit we developed with the dog catchers was special, as was the hospitality of people living in slums, which at the same time was humbling. One child in the slums told a Mission Rabies volunteer: ‘You being here gives the children hope’, which says it all.
Did you find out anything surprising about yourself?
I coped better with the heat than I thought I would. It may be the time of my life, but I found myself reflecting about some of the things I saw much more than I would have done previously, in particular, some of the conditions children lived in in the slums, but that may be because I have young kids now.
Did anyone give you a particularly good (or bad) piece of advice before you went?
I was given lots of advice by friends and colleagues mainly focusing on my health, in particular ‘Delhi belly’; but I think the best advice was when I arrived and one of the volunteers said: ‘Just get out there and get stuck in, so you know you have done the best you can and you enjoy it.’
Any embarrassing moments?
As you can imagine they mostly revolve around toilet humour, although everyone from team Ranchi will have a story about toilets with no light!
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