My experience as a pet parent during the lockdown

Stories from the lockdown

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Leo plays with the boys from the neighbourhood. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

Life has been smooth for Leo, a 7-year-old Rottweiler, who grew up in a comfortable farmhouse in Chittoor. Playing among the unkempt grass that lined the lanes, chasing flies and making friends with the neighbours. However, loss of vision in both eyes last year changed Leo from being a sociable animal to a frightened one – yet, he managed to adapt. 

Leo would walk criss-cross to avoid a collision. Despite the restricted movement, vision loss enhanced his sense of hearing and smell, though not enough to save him on bad days. There have been times when a sharp metal object or a thorn in the bushes would hurt him and leave blood trickling down his face. 

Finding a home

Leo was suffering from age-related blindness, a common health problem among Rottweilers. None of the veterinary hospitals in Chittoor district was equipped to perform a much-needed surgery on him. So, in February this year, I brought Leo to Chennai and took him to the Madras Veterinary College Hospital. Besides being the first college in India to offer a bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Medicine, it is also known for performing rare and complicated surgeries. 

When Chennai went under lockdown to contain the number of COVID-19 cases in the city, the Madras Veterinary College Hospital limited its services to performing only emergency surgeries, disease diagnosis and treatment, monitoring of emergency livestock and poultry diseases, and immediate disease reporting.  

On the other hand, Leo was desperately trying to adapt to his new home. It took him some days to find friends. His first friend in the city was a female Labrador from the same neighbourhood; he would wait for her at her doorstep for hours. In the beginning, I used to take him out for walks. Soon he learnt to go out by himself, walking in the same criss-cross pattern. If I called out to him three times, he would turn around. He was a quick learner.

The hospital visits

When Chennai unlocked in mid-May, I took Leo to the Madras Veterinary Hospital. Contrary to what I feared, I found a dog-friendly autorickshaw driver. “Rottweiler kaluthu pidikum (Rottweiler aims at the throat),” he said agitatedly.  But on seeing the friendly Leo, he sort of calmed down.   

Leo puts his head out of the vehicle as if he can see around. In reality, he is just enjoying the city breeze. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

By then, the hospital was functioning with only 50 per cent of its staff and that too on a rotational basis. Many wards such as ophthalmology and Out-Patient Unit were functioning from one ward.

There I saw doctors and heads of the various departments plunging into action to help suffering animals.

No. of surgeries (minor and major)4300
Critical cases452
Blood transfusion9
Samples tested ( blood test, clinical biochemistry, urine analysis etc)4068
Various types of cases being attended to at the Madras Veterinary College Hospital during the lockdown months (March 11 to July 31). Source: Madras Veterinary College Hospital

Vehicles entering the hospital premises were disinfected and visitors’ body temperature was checked. The hospital’s designated staff ensured social distancing inside the hospital premises. 

The hospital temporarily discontinued vaccination procedures as they could lead to social distancing violations. “We usually get around 70 cases for vaccination in a day. At least two people escort a dog for vaccination. Given the situation we had to stop the service for a while,” said Dr L Nagarajan, professor and head, Department of Clinics, Madras Veterinary College Hospital.

I saw senior doctors, including Hospital Director (Clinics) Dr S Balasubramanian, advising people to wear a mask at all times. “Funds from corporates helped us to buy N95 masks and face shields for the hospital staff. We have distributed pamphlets to the general public to create awareness on the importance of wearing masks,” said Dr Balasubramanian. 

A hospital staff checks the temperature of attenders. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

Going under the blade

Surgery was not a smooth affair for Leo. He had to undergo many tests such as blood, X-ray and ultrasound to determine his fitness for the surgery. Initially, his haemoglobin count was low. Days spent revving it up could have been the happiest days of his life as he could eat liver (for improving blood) almost every day. 

Once Leo’s blood levels were up, ophthalmologists at the Madras Vet hospital Dr Ramani and Dr Niranjana who were through the scan reports suspected an enlarged heart. An ultrasound confirmed it. The slight enlargement of Leo’s heart made the planned surgery risky. However, the doctors were confident about going ahead with it and a nod from me made them proceed with the surgery. 

A view of the Madras Veterinary Hospital. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

More than ten visits and many tests later, on August 6, Leo’s right eye was operated upon in a two-hour-long cataract surgery that carried risk of “the highest nature.” Thankfully, the surgery was a success, but it was too early to celebrate.

Post-operative care meant giving him eye drops every two hours for two days, giving him tablets and having an e-collar around his neck at all times. I did not need an alarm to wake me up. His operated eye was blue, resembling the sky, due to the formation of edema caused by a slow recovery rate. 

The blueness is slowly fading now. Six months after he came to Chennai, we took Leo back to Chittoor this September. Once there, it didn’t take him long to feel at home. We know it from his confident bark and his purposeful walk. And, well, he is back to chasing flies.

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About Laasya Shekhar 1 Article
Laasya Shekhar is Senior Reporter at Citizen Matters Chennai. She tweets at @plaasya.

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