From cats, dogs and parrots to cows, goats and horses… the Madras Veterinary College at Vepery has been providing medicare to a variety of animals and birds for over a century. Aparna Karthikeyan meets the dedicated staff who throw light on the cutting-edge facilities at the institution

At the outpatient clinic of Madras Veterinary College, a plump Labrador, carried by its owner, rests its paws on his shoulder and nibbles his ear. Cats are brought in cloth-lined baskets; a parrot arrives in a cage covered with newspaper; and in the car park, small and big dogs strain on leashes to sniff tyres.

Dr. Alpana has bought her dachshund all the way from K. K. Nagar to Vepery. “The care here is very good,” she says. “Even the attendants are so passionate, and everybody is always smiling.” We walk into the large, tidy registration hall, where puppies wait for their vaccinations. They sit quietly on stainless steel tables, and huddle close to their owners waiting their turn.

Dr. P. S. Thirunavukkarasu, Prof. and Head, Department of Clinics, walks me around the wards; we watch doctors and students examine a parrot with diarrhoea and a tabby cat with cystitis. After the consultation, the animals are, if necessary, referred to specialists for further investigations, he says. He takes me over to the ultrasound room, where a Dalmatian lies on its back; the owner holds up its front paws, and coos at it, as a doctor spreads a blue gel on its stomach and scans. “The dog is here for kidney evaluation; there, can you see the stones in the bladder,” he asks me. Next door, a Great Dane, recovering from abdominal surgery, is hooked up to an ECG machine. “It’s the same as a human ECG machine,” Dr. Thirunavukkarasu tells me, as he studies the print out. “Consultation and medicines are free when you register, paying Rs. 20 (valid for seven days); investigations are done at nominal costs; we also have a dog ‘spa’ to give medicated baths,” he explains.

Tommy, a Doberman, stands muzzled in a bathtub at the chic spa, while an attendant rubs in anti-fungal shampoo. “Aachu, aachu, Tommy; amma irruken illa,” the owner comforts him as he gets hosed down, but Tommy continues to whine. Across the corridor, two worried owners wait outside the critical care unit; inside, a Pomeranian, referred from Coimbatore, is treated for liver abscess, while monitors beep and signal, just like in a regular ICU. The owners, I’m told, are usually around, to calm the pets, and explain the problems to the doctors.

Teaching and research

As a teaching facility, as well as a cutting edge research institute, the Madras Veterinary College attracts students from all over the country, says the Dean Dr. S. A. Asokan. The current strength is 1076 students, out of which 400 are women. Dr. R. Prabakaran, Vice Chancellor, TANUVAS, says that the institute has several facilities that are unique at a national level. “We have a blood bank for dogs, haemodialysis, ophthalmoscopy, arthroscopy, endoscopy and a clinical pathology lab; cases come to us from Delhi, Assam and Chhattisgarh. We also screen samples; for e.g., the elephants that go to the health camp at Mudumalai — we analyse their trunk-wash and blood samples, and test them for communicable diseases.”

We cross the small animal gynaecological unit, where Dr. Sridevi demonstrates how to examine a Dalmatian, to determine the right time for it to mate. The owner instructs it ‘akkava paaruda’ as I take its picture; but the dog doesn’t oblige. At the large animal clinic, two small boys have brought their goats from Aminjikarai for treatment. The professor asks a girl student to examine its chest; but the goat is indifferent.

“This cow hasn’t eaten for several days and has diarrhoea,” Dr. B. Gowri tells me as she scans its abdomen for possible causes; students in blue/green uniforms and white lab-coats observe the monitor. In the huge, airy surgery ward, a bull receives IV drips; students dress a horse’s wounds; and a goat with a fractured leg is lifted on to a table. “This cow had eaten plastic bags, cloth and tarpaulin. We had to operate and take it all out,” says Dr. Ravi Sundar George, surgeon. “Cows are indiscriminate grazers, and lack of green fodder worsens the problem,” he explains.

At the sprawling large animal gynaecological ward, Dr. Balasubramanian dons gloves that cover his entire arm, and performs a rectal examination of a cow that has had repeated, late abortions. “In large animal obstetrics, the best instrument is the vet’s hand,” he says, adding that local vets refer complicated cases here. Caesarean sections are also performed to deliver calves, I learn.

At the clinical lab, Dr. S. Vairamuthu shows me the multi-species blood analyser, and a fully automated biochemical analyser — on a par with human corporate hospitals. “We perform skin allergy tests for dogs,” says Dr. Nagarajan, “and they’re available nowhere else in the country.”

As I leave the hospital, a rosy white Rajapalayam dog, swaddled in a towel, is brought in by its owner, to be treated for blindness. And the dog nuzzles the owner’s mouth, as she carries it, with hope, to the ophthalmology department.

Fact file

* Madras Veterinary College at Vepery was started on October 1, 1903.

* The college is spread over 6 hectares, and the administrative building, in Indo-Saracenic style, is almost a 100 years old.

* The veterinary college has also developed a number of unique vaccines.

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