MY TALE OF WOE - An open letter to the public

By Dr. Abi O' Connor BVM&S, MRCVS

I recently discovered a letter my grandfather had written to himself, a year before his death. The letter was titled, "My Tale of Woe” and described his feelings of helplessness in the ever-changing world. I found it strange to read my grandfather’s letter and discover how, at the end of his life, this great patriarch of our family who had such a firm command of his own life felt so feeble and out-of-control.

My grandfather ended his letter to himself by writing, "I feel terrible and there isn't anything I can do about it. End of my tale of woe." Reading this affected me deeply.

I decided to write my own brief tale of woe. Rather than waiting until my mid-80's to express my concerns, I chose to write openly to the public in hope that change may come. And thus begins "My Tale of Woe."

I have always had a strong sense of self. I've always known what I am passionate about and have a strong sense of morals that seem to have largely kept me out of trouble over the past few decades. As my parents instructed me as a child, I have tried to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," believing in the mantras of "what goes around comes around," karma, juju, what have you...

I have tried to be a good person. And, a few disgruntled ex-boyfriends aside, I think I have done a pretty good job. I wake up early, go to bed late, work hard and love deeply. I strive to learn and teach, to improve myself and the lives of others.

It is because of this that I am affected so deeply by the cruelty and injustice I witness on a daily basis here. By the men who beat dogs within an inch of their lives leaving their bodies ruined and bones destroyed. By the rapists and perverts who violate the helpless. By the bystanders who watch these injustices occur and do nothing…

I hope we can live in a world where employers don’t beat their staff, where people and animals don’t live in fear, where hypocrisy and ignorance are relics of the past. I hope to live in a world where people love animals and each other selflessly, not selfishly, putting their loved one’s interests above their own in times of need. In this dark world, I hope the fearless can keep their moral compasses true and stand up to the tyrants and bullies that lie around the corner.

Until then, I ask you, the audience, to help me change the world. To give of yourselves freely in service to others.To resort to diplomacy instead of tyranny.To bring joy to the lives of others instead of fear. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “you cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

End of my tale of woe.

Can you help? Click here to make a donation to the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre and be part of the solution.

A Day in the Life of Tiger, the ICU Dog

By Dr. Abi O' Connor BVM&S, MRCVS

Tiger wakes up on the cold cement floor in the Intensive Care Unit. In a 1x2 meter kennel she shares with another dog due to the high volume of animals in the ICU and the limited amount of space, she gets up and hops to the front of the cage to urinate. She does not want to make a mess of her kennel; with such little free space she normally tries to hold her bladder to avoid soiling her living quarters but today she cannot wait.

At 9:00am the doors to ICU open and a flurry of activity begins. The cleaners begin hosing out the kennels and the compounders take the dogs out one by one, removing bandages and applying fresh ones. The vets attend to the most critical cases, administering IV fluids and injections.

Tiger pushes her muzzle against the bars of her kennel, intently watching the hustle and bustle of people and animals. The large Elizabethan collar around her neck scrapes against the bars of her cage as she tries to get a good view of her surroundings.

At 10:00am the cleaners walk in with large buckets of feed. The dogs begin howling, pushing to the front of their kennels, hungry and ready to fight off the other equally hungry dogs. They know that if you don’t eat quickly you don’t eat at all.

Tiger wags her tail and gives a little whine as the cleaner opens her kennel door and lays down two bowls of food. She charges forward, the cone around her head knocking her bowl over. She is disappointed to find that there is only milk and roti in her bowl this morning and not her favourite cooked meat, but she gobbles her breakfast with her usual rapidity.

Once the breakfast madness subsides, Tiger sits in the middle of her kennel, following each passer-by intently. “Will that person take me out today?” she thinks.

I go into Tiger’s kennel and whistle to her. Tiger bursts out, her entire body wagging, whining and licking my hands, searching for the dog treats I usually carry. I pick her up and carry her to the treatment room. “Today we’re going to take off that collar of yours,” I say to her. Her collar off, Tiger begins to chew and scratch all down her sides, nibbling on all those hard-to-reach spots she’d previously been unable to itch.

Tiger is an amputee. Several weeks before, Tiger had come to the ICU with a destroyed hind limb after being run over by a car. Her only chance of survival was amputation of her gangrenous limb. Now, her stitches out and her stump healed, Tiger must live her life on three legs, struggling to maintain her balance while squatting to urinate and trying to keep up with able-bodied dogs.

Tiger has become somewhat of a staple of the ICU. A once fearful dog, she now hops around the Unit, nuzzling cleaners, compounders, vets and clients. Whenever a client brings a street dog to us in critical condition that needs limb amputation, I show them Tiger. She does not sulk, give up and lay down to die. She gets up each day, waits at the bars of her cage, hoping for those simple acts of kindness she has been deprived of her whole life: food, attention, caring, love.

Dogs and cats all over India wear their battle scars with pride. Limping dogs hop on atrophied legs after cars break their bones. Street cats missing eyes hunt birds and mice for their next meal. All the while, these animals carry their burdens with humility and grace.

My friend once told me that if shelter dogs and cats were people they would be the wise ones, the ones who had lived and survived despite all the odds being against them. They would not be the cast-offs of society, but the fascinating and inspirational ones with the best stories to tell.

I think we as people have a lot to learn from shelter animals. Dogs and cats recover from injury and live with disability in a positive and noble way. They are able to open themselves to love and trust again after insufferable abuse and abandonment. They respond with courage after being dealt a bad hand. If you bring a shelter dog or cat into your home, you open yourself to the innumerable gifts they have to offer.

Would you like to adopt a shelter animal and give a dog like Tiger a home? Visit our website at to find out more and give a shelter animal a second chance at life.

About the Author
Dr. Abi O’Connor BVM&S, MRCVS graduated with distinction from the University of Edinburgh in 2011. After spending the past year volunteering in shelters in Central and South America, Dr. Abi has come to the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, India, working between the shelter’s Intensive Care Unit and Operating Theatre.


The Little Things - What charity means in India

By attending veterinarian, Dr. Abi O' Connor BVM&S, MRCVS

Working as a veterinarian in India can be a pretty thankless job at times. In Europe and North America veterinarians are respected as intelligent, caring professionals who have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in college loans to fulfill their childhood dream of treating animals. In the West it is widely recognized that veterinary doctors undergo an arguably more rigorous and competitive course than human doctors to learn and understand the physiology of not one but all animals.

I must admit I was unprepared for the manner in which many of our clients received the veterinarians at the shelter. Dogs and cats unceremoniously plopped onto our examination tables by impatient men and women, tapping their feet and demanding “an injection to cure their dog.” Far from the pristine examination rooms and tightly scheduled appointment slots of my Occidental past, the open clinic here literally means open doors, first come first serve, try and find an empty exam table if you please, sir.

In the West, providing a free service is generally met with respect and recognition of the efforts made by the volunteers. In India, charity seems to be somewhat taken advantage of. Although the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre’s Intensive Care Unit provides free treatment for injured or ill street dogs, every day we are met with people trying to cheat the system. Clients wearing Ralph Lauren polo shirts who drive up to the shelter in Mercedes Benzes claim their pet is “not my dog, it’s a street dog” and they simply cannot afford the nominal fees to diagnose their pet’s condition or provide it with life-saving treatment. Upon explaining the shelter is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that relies on donations to stay afloat and continue to treat animals, like theirs, that suffer from life-threatening conditions, we are met with the same blatant lies and stingy attitude. When we finally tire of begging hard-headed owners to simply donate food for their animal while he or she is interned at the clinic and admit the patient, the owners pat their pet on the head, telling us, “by the way, her name is Ruby and she only eats milk and chicken, no bread or rotis!”

You feed the dog, you name the dog, you bathe the dog, you put a collar on the dog, you drive the dog to the vet when he’ll ill, the dog looks longingly at your back as you saunter out of the consult room… He’s your dog, not a street dog.

On days when I cannot cope with such obvious deceit directed at us purely at the expense of the suffering animals I find solace in the little things of life. Those little things you can control, those small victories you achieve, the slight difference you can make in someone else’s life that day… These are the things I turn to.

Pulling out a bone that had wedged on a dog’s tooth and locked his jaw shut, allowing him to open his mouth and chew again. Saving a goat from slaughter. Taking an abandoned newborn kitten and nursing her onto a mother cat with a few kittens of her own. Performing a caesarean on a very sick, pregnant dog who has been in labor for days and finding one healthy, perfect puppy still alive.

Even now as I write a golden three-legged puppy, whose hind limb I amputated two weeks ago after being destroyed by a car, lays wrapped around my feet, snoring. A puppy who was lucky enough to be taken to a shelter that had the resources and medicines necessary to save its life.

As each day passes and I am met with more lies and less charity I become afraid. I fear we will lose patients that can be saved because we are understaffed and lack resources. I am scared we will waste time begging owners for small donations instead of treating animals. I am afraid we will become so disillusioned by deceit and disrespect that we will stop caring about the work we do and the lives we save.

As the three-legged puppy shifts in her sleep, her bandaged stump now sticking straight up in the air, I think back to all those wonderful little things that go on at the shelter. When met with a constant sea of interminable cruelty and treachery, the little things mean a lot.

Can you help? Click on this link to make a donation to the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre and turn a little thing into something great.

About the Author

Dr. Abi O’Connor BVM&S, MRCVS graduated with distinction from the University of Edinburgh in 2011. After spending the past year volunteering in shelters in Central and South America, Dr. Abi has come to the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, India, working between the shelter’s Intensive Care Unit and Operating Theatre.


By attending veterinarian, Dr. Abi O’Connor BVM&S, MRCVS

As we pulled into the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre on my first day of work the shelter manager, AmbikaShukla, turned to me, smiled and said, “I hope this is going to be a wonderful experience.”

I can’t remember exactly what I felt at that moment. Fear?Excitement?Dread? Anticipation?Probably all of the above. I had prepared for my trip to India for months, been pricked by more needles than a pin cushion in the vaccination process, studied basic Hindi so as not to appear an ignorant tourist… I was ready for India. But was I ready for the shelter?

I was first struck by the flurry of activity just within the gate of the shelter. The Out Patient Clinic at the centre attends to 150 – 200 patients and owners each day. Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and their owners stream in through the gates upon their opening at 9:00am and keep coming until well after dark.

Boasting one sixth of the world’s population, I was prepared for the sheer mass of India’s human population but somehow I had not factored in how immense India’s accompanying animal population might be. As I opened the car door I was met by a friendly pack of 10 – 15 of the shelter’s resident street dogs, wagging their tails, sniffing my foreign scrubs, licking my hands… Everywhere I looked there were loose dogs, cows, donkeys, all of them playing, grazing, roamingthe courtyard alone or in small groups. After initially balking due to my American-European upbringing where all dogs are kept on colourful leashes and large animals are kept behind white picket fences I began to appreciate how happy and full of life these animals were. Here the animals were truly allowed to enjoy their 5 freedoms: fear from hunger, discomfort, pain, distress and able to express normal behaviour.

Ambika showed me to the Intensive Care Unit where critically-injured dogs are treated and where I would be working for the next 6 months, warning me that “it needs a lot of work and some solid organisation.” I walked into my own personal hell. Sweltering 40°C heat, musty, dark kennels, dogs in dirty bandages running loose, injured dogs with extensive maggot wounds fighting in their group kennels… The initial cacophony of sights, sounds and smells paralysed me. I had been hired to organise and run the ICU but how could I manage a unit so overrun and understaffed?

I dove into the deep end, head first, eyes and ears open so as to learn and understand what the current protocol was in dealing with 80+ critically-ill dogs. Upon learning there was none and realising I had a blank slate with a small team of eager and enthusiastic staff, I realised we had the potential to transform the unit into something great.

I do not remember the cases I attended to on that first fateful day, so overwhelmed was I by the utter insanity of it all. At one point I became so exasperated by picking maggots out of an enormously necrotic wound while having the sweat stream off my forehead and onto the poor dogthat I walked out of the unit to get a breath of fresh air and ponder the horrific suffering our patients were enduring. As I leaned against the doorway of the ICU watching the red Delhi sunset, three massive camels casually strolled by and peered into the unit.

I’ve come to expect this of India – just when you’re at your lowest and utterly disgusted with the cruelty you witness on a daily basis you are met with something so unexpected and beautiful it stops you in your tracks.

And so, I remain an optimist. We at the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre are faced with an incredible uphill battle: to implement a spay/neuter programme to reduce the street dog population by humane methods, eliminate rabies, treat a seemingly endless sea of injured animals and cause a paradigm shift to end animal cruelty once and for all. Where there is great cruelty there isgreat kindness, and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.

Can you help? Click here to make a donation to the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre and be part of the solution.

  • This puppy was placed in bag and tied to the shelter gate. He is now up for adoption.

  • Braying at sunset.

  • One of the shelter’s camels.

  • This little puppy turned up at the shelter with 3 broken legs after being repeatedly kicked. Bandaging supplies are limited due to the need for daily bandage changes on the shelter’s injured dogs.

About the Author

Dr. Abi O’Connor BVM&S, MRCVS graduated with distinction from the University of Edinburgh in 2011. After spending the past year volunteering in shelters in Central and South America, Dr. Abi has come to the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, India, working between the shelter’s Intensive Care Unit and Operating Theatre.

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