Friday, January 04, 2008

Veterinarian in Iraq Risks Life to Care for Sick Animals

Now here is an example of a human who knows the meaning of sacrifice. Thankfully he continues his work in such a dangerous place.


Baghdad vet risks all as he tends to sick animals

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Nameer Abdul Fatah has shrapnel holes in his vehicle and wounds in his leg suffered during hazardous trips across conflict-ridden Baghdad to treat injured and sick patients.

But Fatah is not an ambulance driver. His patients are animals that receive expert care thanks to one Iraqi veterinarian who is determined to keep on working.

Treating all creatures great and small, from pure-bred poodles to fierce guard-dogs, parrots and even tigers, Fatah has been on duty in Baghdad for 26 years.

Since the US-led invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, he has continued to tend to needy animals in the violent and chaotic times that have engulfed the city.

"People in Baghdad still want to look after animals despite everything," he told AFP during a short break in his daily round of house calls.

"More Muslims keep dogs as pets than is generally believed," Fatah said, despite Muslim tradition that holds dogs are unclean and discouraged as pets.

"There are many expensive dogs like Pekinese in the city. People keep them inside at home and don't take them for walks because of the danger."

Fatah, 46, who qualified as a vet in Baghdad before specialising in small animals while training in the former East Germany, rushes around the Iraqi capital with a large case crammed with surgical instruments and medicine bottles.

"It was very difficult to get the right drugs under Saddam because taxes made it impossible to travel and UN sanctions difficult to import anything. Now I can buy the medicine I need privately from abroad," he said after injecting an adopted stray cat with antibiotics and vitamins to help it recover from a road accident.

He said he had worked with police dogs during the rule of the ousted dictator, but like many Iraqis he declines to talk in detail about his career during those years.

Fatah said that since Saddam's fall, which triggered sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of lives, he has had many near-misses from shootings, rockets and mortar attacks.

"The windows of my car were blown out once when I was driving to examine a client's dog, and another time I got bad wounds in the leg from shrapnel.

"But I was never the target, and I would never stop because of the dangers."

Just days after US troops arrived in Baghdad, he was trying to visit clients in Baghdad's southern Dora neighbourhood when a gunfight broke out around him.

"The Americans blocked the road and said I couldn't go forward. But I had to go, so I took the risk and drove straight on. I got through to treat the animal."

Just a month ago the stocky and energetic Fatah saved the life of a German Shepherd dog that had been punctured with 20 pieces of shrapnel after a mortar landed near it in Baghdad's western Yarmuk neighbourhood.

The dark-haired vet, who has a small clinic equipped with an operating theatre, said many of his clients are wealthy families or diplomats but that his main concern is for the animals.

"This is how I have survived. I go to big houses but I don't ask questions. I keep myself away from politics."

Having such clients has meant that he has been called on to deal with an exotic menagerie, including rare birds, bears, monkeys and even tigers and lions.

"Only recently I had to remove a bullet from a bear that was shot," Fatah said, adding that Iraqis keep large animals in cages as prize possessions -- although US troops have confiscated most lions and tigers from private owners.

The vet prefers to treat smaller domestic animals and often looks after seriously ill pets in his clinic overnight if they need constant supervision.

"Sadly I can't have my own pets because during the day I am out of the house for 15 hours," said Fatah, who believes he is one of only two vets in the whole of Iraq specially trained to treat small animals.

He said he has turned down prestigious and highly paid job offers in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt because he prefers to continue working in Baghdad.

Fatah's seven-year-old son wants to become a vet and often accompanies his father on his rounds -- giving hope that in the future there will at least be one more person to care for Baghdad's much-neglected animal population.

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