‘Years ago when I was younger in my profession, a maid who used to work in our house found out that I was a vet and asked my wife if I made enough money, “Guzara hojata hai”? chuckled Dr Abrar Pirzada as he injected Penzy, a seven-year-old Siamese cat who had been neutered rather late, much to Pirzada’s chagrin.
Twenty years after his maid’s earnest enquiry, Pirzada is now one of the most respected names in veterinary care for smaller animals.
“I emphasise on neutering so much because nearly every female cat develops cysts and uterine infection. Through the years I have learnt that a cat repeatedly showing symptoms of heat and being irritable has a cyst. Instead of a regular procedure, it blows up into an emergency. Neutering adds many healthy years to your cat’s life”, he says.
Pirzada did his first cyst-removal surgery 14 years ago. “It was of TV actor Sania Saeed’s Siamese cat, Raw,” he recalled. “At that time I had started my practice and more people had dogs and thought that I was a specialist vet for dogs. Now it is the reverse, more people have cats. The reason is that dogs are expensive to feed. Half to one kilo of beef a day plus milk and medical care adds up. Now, people think I am a specialist vet for cats.
“Dog-owners tend to have a different attitude from cat-owners. Servants and hired help bring dogs to the clinic, while cat-owners are very hands on,” Pirzada said. As if on cue a Suzuki pick-up pulls over in front of the clinic and Pirzada walks out to examine Max and Tiger, the two beautiful German Shepherds who have been ferried in it.
“There is a difference when you do something yourself and when you instruct a servant to do it. Obviously, it won’t be done with the same love and compassion. In many cases the servants even resent the dogs for having better living conditions. When dog owners become too busy they just give away the animal or sell it off without any regard for the animal’s feelings. If only animals could speak!” he says with a shake of the head.
Habitat is important for all animals. “In Pakistan if they cannot be kept inside due to religious reasons then they should have a proper kennel. Instead they are kept in dirty outdoor environments with flies which are lethal for dogs. In a second, a fly can lay an egg on a little scratch and maggots will develop.”
A chocolate-coloured Labrador is then brought in for a check up. “This colour is rare and fetches a high price,” says Dr. Pirzada as he gives the dog an expert once-over. “Pedigree dogs are a status symbol. On the other hand, many cat owners coming to my clinic have adopted strays as pets instead of going for pedigreed ones.”
Suddenly one sees another dimension of the clinic, as a meeting place, as the clinic is now bustling with Siamese and Persian cats, huge German Shepherds, a Springer spaniel, a couple of Golden Retrievers, a very sad looking pug and their owners — some distraught, others happy to meet their fellow pet-owner friends.
“Cats add order to our otherwise chaotic lives,” announces Nusrat Nasrullah, a renowned journalist who walks in carrying a wad of money and registration books for his seven cats: Kajal, Mottoo, Laddoo, Cherry, Cheekoo, Bunty and Milo. Pirzada had vaccinated them at Nasrullah’s home and he had come in to get the treatment documented and to settle bills.
Amidst a veritable zoo of pets and their quirky owners, Pirzada sat down to have a cup of tea. “I became a vet because I was inspired by my father who established the pet clinic in 1964. Even when people advise me to go to Dubai where just the consultation fee is as expensive as pet medicine here, I am content to be in Pakistan. Although some people think that since being vets is our family business, we must own at least half of Karachi!” he quipped, a reference to the amount of money some people think he makes. The reality, he says, is quite different.
“Being a pet vet is not as lucrative a business as being in livestock and poultry which the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from our universities is designed for. Currently there are about 250 vets in Karachi but most of them are not working with pets. Even then the profession is still looked down upon, and many vets still get embarrassed about being an animal doctor or ‘danggar doctor’.
Then there is people’s attitude towards animals. “Pakistan is not an animal-friendly country. If there are four people in the family, at least two will hate the animal. In the US, a family will love the pet a hundred per cent”.
Obtaining medicines is one of the biggest challenges for vets in Pakistan. “For every legitimate medicine brand there are two fake ones. We usually use human medicine because pet medicines are expensive, not locally manufactured and aren’t feasible for distributors to import.
A 100ml oral rehydration salts (ORS) for animals will cost you Rs800 whereas the cheaper alternative is a sachet of ORS for humans for only Rs5. For certain infections, antibiotic injections and vaccinations, we cannot administer human medicine as a cat cannot be injected every six hours. Pet antibiotic injections work for longer.
“We are trying to grow in terms of introducing new technology or develop into a hospital or a complex but the law and order situation in the country hardly allows an environment for progress. As the political and economic conditions grow worse, we are becoming backward.
“When I was young, my father (who still works at the pet clinic in KDA area) used to open the door even at 2.00am in the night if someone turned up with a pet emergency. Today I would not open my door because times have changed”.