Early Saturday morning, as I swiftly walked through the open doors of Chengdu’s Greatest Love Animal Hospital, I felt a wave of relief. Little Flower, my Chihuahua-mix pooch, had been sick all night. But now, soon to be under the protective care of Dr. Qiu (or Dr. Q) and his staff, I knew she would receive the best of care.
In my previous entry, I explained that Little Flower was diagnosed with the parvo virus. With this diagnosis of a very serious illness, Dr. Q had her immediately tied to a table, an IV pouring medication and fluids through her little body, while I stood nearby.
Unlike American veterinarian clinics, owners are often present next to their pets as they receive their treatment. This kind of clinic care is nothing new in China. In fact, Chinese animal hospitals follow much the same protocol as human hospitals here.
In China, relatives or friends are responsible for the daily care of their sick loved ones. Such care includes washing clothes and bedding, supplying sleeping wear, bringing food, helping the person to the bathroom or emptying bedpans, summoning the nurse if necessary, and around-the-clock comforting of the patient. Many bring cots to sleep next to the sick, camp out on the floor or spend overnights in uncomfortable wooden chairs. They knit. They read. They sleep. There are very few, if any, TVs in the average Chinese hospital. People entertain themselves.
In China, hospitals are very busy places. People are crammed into large rooms, with both patients and care-giving relatives alike, not to mention exhausted nurses and doctors who bustle about, diligently attending to hundreds in a single day.
This is one reason why the earthquake has been so draining on all medical personnel in Sichuan hospitals. The buildings were already crowded with patients before the disaster. The earthquake only added hundreds of thousands more, and some of them have no relatives to look after their daily needs. According to the news, 300,000 were sent by ambulance caravans to provinces all over the country due to the overload.
In Dr. Q’s animal hospital, as in any human hospital, we sit with our animals. We bring them water or food if needed. We provide their bedding and diapers, placed under them for urinating as they can’t move. We pet and comfort them in this strange place. Dr. Q and his staff, meanwhile, are free to attend to all their medical needs.
Last Saturday morning, in the large room next to Little Flower’s, the TV was showing full on-the-scene coverage of Sichuan’s earthquake. Dr. Q’s staff assistants, 5 young women with one being noticeably pregnant, were glued to the T.V., as so many of us are these days. This early in the morning, only four canine patients and one feline were receiving meds on their separate IV tables. The ladies had time to spare in between checking their assigned animals, thus the relaxed atmosphere.
Dr. Q, meanwhile, was waiting for more owners with their animals to arrive. He sat at his computer in his office and searched the Net for medical supplies.
Four years ago, he would never have had such a lull in his day. His animal hospital would have been filled with 20 or more sick pets, along with their owners, and kept the staff running from early morning to late at night. But that was when breeding small dogs became a lucrative business. Several years ago, many people, on a whim, decided this was a good money-maker as they watched a sudden jump in people’s desire to own certain dogs. The problem was many of these so-called breeders were not at all aware of good breeding practices, pet care or proper health precautions. Puppies and dogs with parvo, distemper, hepatitis, and nasty skin diseases came and went, with the death rate quite high. The animals were just too sick to be saved, no matter how hard Dr. Q and his people tried.
Now, however, the Chinese public are on to other popular items besides dogs so his clinic remains somewhat quiet, at least for the winter months when diseases are not so easily spread.
Dr. Q’s background as a vet is quite unusual. After graduating from Sichuan Agricultural University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, he began a long career at the famous Wolong Panda Research Center. From 1983-1993, he and his colleagues perfected methods of breeding pandas in captivity. Dr. Q was instrumental in this venture due to his time in Britain in 1984. He and another colleague studied the UK’s success in raising pandas in captivity, controlling diseases, and the reproductive habits of the animals. In 1987, their research and top veterinarian skills paid off. The first panda in captivity was born, named “Blue Sky” (Lan Tian) by Britain’s King Phillip.
1993-1999 sent Dr. Q to the Chengdu Wildlife Rescue Center, where he traveled with pandas on their visits to Canadian and American zoos. He also was honored enough to escort the panda Tian-Tian (Sky) to Britain as a gift to the London Zoo since their previous panda had died.
He said that life among the pandas was new and different, with many opportunities to talk to well-learned DVMs who were the tops in their fields. But working in a government job had its drawbacks. The pay was low and the hours extremely long. When Dr. Q’s father became bedridden, nursing care and specialized medical care was required yet his salary at that time was not enough to cover the costs. Thus, in 1999, Dr. Q left his career with the pandas behind him and moved into private practice. His care of small animals not only proved to be a good move for him financially but also for those of us needing our animals cared for by a qualified healthcare expert in the pet world.
In China, it is very hard to find a truly experienced, qualified vet. This is due to the lax rules and regulations the government has on animal hospitals. After 4 years of study at a veterinarian school of medicine, almost anyone can easily apply and get a license good for 5 years. There is no prolonged internship requirement so a majority of these graduates have only book training and little else. Their treatments are sometimes uncalled for, their hospitals unsanitary, and the animals being cared for often die due to infections or improper diagnosis. There are thousands of such vets setting up shop throughout all of China. In Chengdu alone, they pop up seemingly overnight. These one-or-two room clinics promise proper care for your pet, but a visit sometimes proves otherwise. Taking your sick pet to an animal clinic in China is tricky and unless you truly know the background and quality of the care to be given to your dog or cat, watch out.
However, Dr. Q did tell me that things will be changing. After years of concerned DVMs pushing the government for stricter guidelines, it looks like next year will see things looking up for those of us with sick animals. Veterinarian school graduates will now be required to have a 3-4 year internship before a private license will even be considered. Licenses can only be renewed after a yearly exam which will test past and current knowledge of animal medicine and treatment. Animal clinics will be required to have an adequate amount of space and rooms with a fixed number of both lay and learned veterinarian assistants along with at least one senior vet. These drastic measures are a great relief for those true professionals in Dr. Q’s field.
Currently, Dr. Q’s animal clinic is not only the largest and best-equipped in the city, it might very well be the best in Southwestern China. Dr. Q has a number of cubicles for quarantining animals, treatment centers, and overnight stays if necessary, although these are not usual practices in China. (Owners take their animals home every evening after their IV meds are done for the day.) His clinic likewise includes a full lab, operating room, his own private office, waiting room and a small shop of animal supplies. On staff, Dr. Q has 8 assistants, two other qualified veterinarians and one intern. There is a loft upstairs where one assistant and one vet sleep when on duty at night for emergency purposes or to care for animals staying overnight. And Dr. Q’s relative, his wife’s Uncle Wang, is the 24-hour custodian who also doubles as the staff’s cook. A kitchen allows him to stir-fry meals for everyone’s lunch and dinner. Since hours at the clinic are long (7 days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. or longer), Dr. Q feels it necessary to provide his people with home-cooked meals rather than order greasy take-out.
As Little Flower completes her 3rd day of IVs at Dr. Q’s hospital, we are all pleased that she is coming along well. In another 2 or 3 days, she should be back to her happy self. A week later, despite her vaccination allergies, she will have her boosters and our walks around the Sichuan campus can once again resume.
I’ll have Dr. Q and his diligent staff to thank for that.
From Chengdu, I wish you all “Ping An!” (Peace)
REMINDER FOR AID IN TO EARTHQUAKE AREAS TO BUY TENTS, VACCINES AND OTHER SUPPLIES
United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response, China Earthquake