Promoting animal welfare amidst conflict

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In early March, Dr. Inayat H. Kathio took a leave of absence from his Pittston, Pa., clinic to travel to Israel at a time when suicide bombings and military reprisals were occurring with frightening regularity.

His intention was to promote animal welfare in a region convulsed by civil strife, while also trying to improve the lives of animals caught in the violence.

In addition to its political troubles, Israel is afflicted with an overpopulation of cats. They roam the streets, sick and injured, living off garbage. The cat population has gotten so out of hand that some municipalities are poisoning them. Sometimes strays and pets are wounded by the blast of a suicide bomb.

Animal shelters are filled to capacity with pets that conflict-weary Israelis can no longer afford to keep or are simply unwilling to look after.

An acquaintance familiar with Dr. Kathio's crusade for animal welfare in America and the Third World told him about Israel's cat problems, encouraging the Pennsylvania practitioner to visit the Middle East.

Dr. Kathio frequently travels to impoverished parts of the world to advance veterinary education and technology. He is a consultant for the United Nations and continues to oversee three veterinary clinics in his native Pakistan.

 A van used to transport cats to the Cat Welfare Society

Not long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, rumors circulated around Pittston that Dr. Kathio, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was a terrorist manufacturing anthrax at his clinic, causing him to delay a trip to Pakistan (see JAVMA, Jan. 1, 2002, page 11). He says the controversy is over now, and that he weathered the crisis with the help of supporters, the media, and politicians.

This was his first trip to Israel, which he financed with his own money so as not to take needed funds from charity groups, he explained.

While he was overseas this March, Dr. Kathio did return to Pakistan, as well as the United Arab Emirates. He treated animals in all three countries, and tried to raise awareness about animal welfare.

Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sent a letter to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv on Dr. Kathio's behalf to prevent any possible problems. "[Senator Santorum] paved the diplomatic way for me so that I could perform in the Middle East," he said.

Dr. Kathio coordinated his volunteer work in Israel with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Tel Aviv, the Cat Welfare Society in Even-Yehuda, and Hakol Chai, an Israeli animal charity that promotes humane education. He visited Tel Aviv, and Netanya, among other cities.

Despite the bombings, Dr. Kathio was not afraid nor did he allow the violence to dissuade him from his mission. "I felt that I was doing something good for the animals, even though the tension was very high," he said. "But it did not affect my objective at all."

Compared with people in other parts of the Middle East, Israelis have an appreciation for companion animals, Dr. Kathio said. But their attitude regarding animal welfare still needs improving. For instance, the SPCA and Cat Welfare Society are criticized for euthanatizing animals not being adopted.

Many shelters are overflowing with abandoned animals. The SPCA had taken in pets from victims of suicide bombings. "The public did not understand the problems caused by the overpopulation of animals," Dr. Kathio said, adding that only one out of 10 animals is adopted.

Dr. Yerrer Rudman (left) and Dr. Kathio with a cat whose right forelimb was paralyzed by a suicide bomb in Netanya, Israel.

So Dr. Kathio held public seminars to discuss how these humane organizations actually improve the lives of animals.

Also while he was there, Dr. Kathio taught laser surgery to Israeli veterinarians in Tel Aviv. For no charge, he treated animals for various ailments, spayed and neutered more than 50 cats in a single day, and delivered suture supplies to the Cat Welfare Society.

There is a lack of veterinary supplies in Israel, Dr. Kathio noted. Suture needles are crooked and dull from overuse; euthanasia drugs are of a poor quality, too.

The quality of the practices he saw ranged from being on par with a practice accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association to others in need of just basic upgrades, he said. Exposed wiring was visible in the examination room of one hospital.

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has so depressed the nation's economy that veterinarians are cutting their prices to keep their much-needed services affordable. Dr. Kathio watched as Dr. Yereer Rudman of the Cat Welfare Society charged a client $30 to amputate the limb of a cat injured in a suicide bombing. "We charge $30 just for an office visit here," Dr. Kathio said.

Dr. Kathio learned from a professor at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine in Rehovot, the only one in the nation, that veterinary medicine is a popular career choice among Israelis now. Currently, the demand for veterinarians is high, and many Israelis are studying at veterinary colleges in Europe.

The professor worries this will lead to a glut of veterinarians in Israel, with practice standards compromised by competition.

The entire time Dr. Kathio was in Israel, the people never once showed any sign of animosity toward him, even though he is a native of Islamic Pakistan. "The Israelis are a fair, educated people," he said, and he hopes to return to their country later this year.