LIVINGSTONE, Zambia – Mike Sitali took his pups, Tiger, 10, and Lion, 9, to the vet this weekend for the first time ever.
He's owned the pair for 8 years, and the coffee-and-cream colored pooches with open and raw wounds on their ears stood in line with him and many, many children with puppies outside a church courtyard in a neighborhood of the tourist capital of Zambia. Here, Livingstone Animal Protection Services was offering free vaccinations, flea dipping, and other treatment for pets in conjunction with the district veterinary office.
"This program is nice," Sitali said.
In Africa, the "Big Five" species – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo – get all the attention, said Lynne Mendelsohn, one of the LAPS' five directors, all "muzungos" (whites). She wants people to see dogs as valuable, too.
"I do understand that people are interested in conservation," said Mendelsohn, who also owns the ZigZag, a lodge in town. "Frankly, I'm not. I've given up.
"I'm interested in animal welfare."
In Zambia, people can still see the iconic and threatened "Big Five" species But Mendelsohn believes it's too late for at least one.
"We're losing 80 percent of the elephant population in a decade. We're not going to save the species. There's no political will," she said.
In one day, though, the directors and volunteers treated more than 300 dogs. By midday, the team ran out of printed intake forms and started writing record sheets by hand.
The clinic was scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, but demand was so high that the volunteers returned the following morning to help some 500 dogs in all, until they had used up supplies.
"The turnout is massive," Mendelsohn said. Plus, she said, "There's nothing for domestic animal welfare in Livingstone."
Most people hadn't gone to a vet before, and most owners couldn't afford it: The services were worth some $15 in a country where the average monthly wage is $80, Mendelsohn said.
At the same time, she said taking care of pets isn't part of the culture. She was pleased to see that many of the people standing in line were children, a generation growing up with a different appreciation for dogs and cats, and one she can relate to.
"I'm just soft-hearted for anyone who can't speak for themselves," Mendelsohn said.
The Scotland native was also capable of delivering a tough lesson to those who might harm their pets or neglect them. She managed the crowd of people and dogs, showing children how to hold their puppies and reminding them their pooches, some with prominent rib cages, needed food.
A handwritten sign hanging near a tree said this: "Amuyande mubwa wenu, awalo alamugunda" ("Love your dog, and your dog will love you").
It said, "Your dog needs water, food, prevention, and love," or "luyando."
Many people in line used chains as leashes, and many children waited with broken shoes or none at all. One boy stood with a dog that had clipped ears.
"Why did you cut your dog's ears?" Mendelsohn said.
He said he hadn't. When he scoffed at her repeated question, Mendelsohn threatened to call the police.
"My friend, animal cruelty is a criminal offense," she said.
The boy said his father had cut the dog's ears, but Mendelsohn made sure he understood the problem.
"Do you want me to cut your ears? Do you want me to cut something else?"
The project would help protect dogs and people in the community, said Catherine Luhaha, who stood in line with her children and Babylon, a 2-year-old pooch.
"This project is important because some of the dogs here, they have diseases," Luhaha said.
She has four children, including two twins, Martin and Patrick, 9, and the boys have the responsibility to give Babylon fresh water. Sometimes, Luhaha said, people kill dogs, and then other pets grow ill from eating the carcasses.
"They give them poison and throw them in the riverside," she said.
Like many in line, Luhaha learned about the clinic by word of mouth, and she hadn't taken the family pet to the vet before because it's expensive.
"It's the first," she said.
The dogs were receiving rabies vaccinations and other immunizations, flea dipping, de-worming, and treatment for internal parasites. A group of veterinarians from Sweden, home to one of the organization's active members, would arrive later in the year to conduct a neuter and spay clinic.
Kawa Chomba, a veterinarian, said the rabies vaccinations were particularly critical. Public health concerns include the transmission of rabies to humans, as well as diseases passing between dogs and from dogs to wild animals.
"Finally, we just have to keep the dogs healthy," Chomba said.
As he talked, another volunteer at the dipping station poured a bucket of solution over a dog standing in a metal trough. After the bath, Mendelsohn said, the pets feel cooled off and happy, so they get frisky.