On a sunny morning a few weeks ago, I walked down the street receiving more than my fair share of strange looks. In a fun reversal of the norm, not even the morning beer drinkers at the local tienda offered catcalls; it turns out that nothing silences cat-calls like having an actual cat howling from a duffle slung over your shoulder!
It was a Saturday in Barranquilla, Colombia, and I was off to get my cat castrated. Even though the number of stray cats is universally recognized as a problem, in this part of the world, fixing pets is far from the norm. From the menfolk’s cringing reaction to the idea of it, to working out the basic logistics, my cat castration turned into a bit of a saga. Let’s just say, there was a lot of hubbub on my street in the days leading up to the castration.
Fortunately, all went well. After everything, not only was my cat Zany’s fatherhood-potential removed, but I learned a lot about obtaining veterinary care in this part of the world. To help out in a similar situation, here are some of the things I learned– tips for any aspiring pet owner planning pet-care in a developing country:
1) You can bargain!
In a place where bargaining is almost always an option, veterinarian services are no exception. In my case, my friend’s cat was also ready to get castrated so we got a discount for doing two cats at the same time! If there are several vets in the region, check out their prices and then offer to pay the lowest price to the vet you liked the best.
2) Vet care: Home-delivered
Save yourself the hassle of trekking around carrying upset pets: local veterinarians will often make neighborhood rounds. If you have the space to set up shop at your house, veterinarians are often willing to come to the house to perform everything from check-ups to surgeries, at any time of the day or week. Best of all? The house call will very likely be for little or no added cost!
3) Meds not included
Besides the most generic medications, veterinarians often won’t stock medicine at their practice. Ask your veterinarian or local drugstore where to find the best deals on animal medications. If you’re going in for a planned surgery, ask about medications beforehand so you can pick them up while your pet is under the knife.
4) What’s that you say?
In the absence of internet listings, word of mouth is your best veterinarian-locator. Quality veterinarians may be operating on their front porch without even a sign as proof. Ask your neighbors and pet-owning friends who they’ve been to and who they trust.
5) Do your research
“Luxury” procedures like castrations or hysterectomies are not something your local vet may normally do. Knowing a little about what needs to happen will help you explain the whats and hows to your vet. Look up all the words that might possibly be involved in the local language before setting out!
Bonus: When I picked up my cat from the vet, the vet proudly showed me the separated testicles as proof of his procedure! There’s nothing like seeing the evidence of a job well-done.
After everything, it was good to finally set my mind at ease, knowing that my cat won’t be contributing to the heartbreaking presence of so many starving and injured street animals. Even more, however, Zany’s castration became a bigger event than I was expecting; his castration actually started local conversations around the topic of responsible pet ownership. In a region where almost nothing is done to to help prevent the growth of street animal populations, it turns out that even small actions can help start raising awareness. Zanycat, embarrassed as he himself may be about the whole situation–is held up as the example of the “right thing to do” with pet cats.