01 Dec 2017
4 min read
Dr Pranav R Joshi developed an affinity for canines as a young child in Birgunj. He came to Kathmandu many years ago for his further studies; one thing led to another, and Dr Joshi soon found himself pursuing his true passion--that of being a veterinarian. Currently a resident of Bhaktapur, Dr Joshi is known for his involvement in animal welfare and for establishing Nepal's first ever dog hotel. In this interview with VMAG's Gaurav Pote, Dr Joshi talks about the difficulties he experienced when moving to Nepal's city of opportunities, where his love for animals stems from, the struggles he's seen and the achievements he's had as a vet.
Please tell us about your childhood.
I grew up in Birgunj. It was only after my SLC that I came to Kathmandu to pursue my further studies. You can imagine how different Kathmandu felt to me. It was very difficult for me to adapt to the society here. I didn't even know how to speak Newari properly. My family was from Bhaktapur, but because I'd come from Birgunj, I used to be called madhisey (a derogatory term for people from the Madhes region). That sort of reaction affected me very deeply, and I still have problems with labels, even titles that people have. These things frustrated me, but instead of feeling dejected all the time, they instilled in me a drive to change such unreasonable notions. I even took up Newari as a major when I was doing my BA from Bhaktapur Multiple Campus. That helped me develop a newfound respect for my culture and people.
How did the decision of becoming a vet come about?
After I completed my studies, I spent some five years trying to figure out what my vocation should be. I was into body-building, so I had at one point planned to go to Saudi Arabia to become a gym trainer. But my family didn't want me to settle for temporary solutions. One day, one of my uncles suggested that I study veterinary science. I knew I loved working with animals, but I'd never thought about taking it up as a career. I also initially felt that people didn't respect vets the same way they do doctors who attend to humans. But I took up veterinary science, nonetheless. And as I immersed myself in the science, I set a personal mission to change how vets are perceived in Nepal. For my final year, I interned as an apprentice at Dr Balram Thapa's clinic in Jawalakhel. I think it was from that point on that I felt more strongly about becoming an animal doctor.
I noticed something odd during my internship. I'd see Nepali dog-owners come to the clinic, flaunting dogs that belonged to special breeds, and it was usually the foreigners who'd come in with injured, diseased stray dogs. That really struck me. So when I and a few of my friends wanted to start a venture of our own, we decided to start treating and rescuing street dogs. I had my share of challenges, though. I wasn't too good with conducting surgeries, and I was lucky to meet a professor in Chitwan who helped me get an apprenticeship under a doctor in Jaipur. There I learned about trapping dogs for vaccination, and treating and performing surgeries on stray animals. But because treating stray dogs with traps and so on entailed my getting scratched and clawed so much, I started using blowpipes to tranquilise dogs. I have invented my own type of blow dart, into which I've integrated a fishing reel--which is tied to the dart--so that I can retrieve the dart after I've made the shot. Such experiments help keep my practice interesting.
You really have a way with dogs. Please explain your connection with canines.
I felt a connection with animals since I was young. When we were in Birgunj, our family raised ducks, chickens and dogs. They were my companions and my playmates. But dogs have always had a special spot in my heart. I really cannot put the feeling into words, but it's a strange connection we share, dogs and I. Even when I'd go out to the market to buy something, a horde of dogs would usually follow me. Now that I think of it, my experiences and my encounters with canines have indeed directed me towards what I am currently doing. My dog, Sheru--who was with me for 14 long years--has had a huge role to play in it as well. Sheru needed to get vaccinated regularly, but in those days, there were hardly any veterinary clinics in Birgunj, let alone people who cared about getting dogs vaccinated. We used to take Sheru to a government hospital for his vaccines. But it was very disheartening to see the way the doctors treated him. They would force the poor animal into a cage to get him vaccinated, and he'd remain traumatised for days. My dog, whom I cared for like my child, was being treated so harshly simply because he wasn't human. I couldn't take it. I can also vividly recall this one time when I was in my mamaghar in Mahaboudha. My cousin and I would go around the neighbourhood to feed and take care of strays. One morning, I saw 10 to 15 dogs lying dead on the street. Turns out, that was the handiwork of the people from the municipality--who viewed dogs as pests. It was a horrifying scene, one that left me devastated for a really long time.
Can you tell us about the challenges you faced while establishing Vet For Your Pet?
Vet For Your Pet was my first venture, but it didn't do too well initially. There were times when I'd be dealing with only about five clients (that too only for worm medicines) in the span of one year. Just to keep the establishment going and to give the place the feel of a proper clinic, I would line some of the cupboard's shelves with empty packages of medicines, with the actual medicine in other shelves.
I believe that you can achieve anything with the support of your near and dear
ones. My to-be partner at the clinic left before things had stabilised, and it was only because of support from my friends and family that I was able to pull through. It might not be the busiest clinic in the world, but I have clients who come looking for me not only from the Valley, but also from places like Nepalgunj, Butwal, Pokhara and Birgunj.
Do you think your appearance affects the way people perceive you?
I have lived as a misfit from the moment I stepped into Kathmandu. Maybe my outward appearance has a part to play in it--owing to all my body art, piercings and what not. But I look the way I do for certain reasons. My piercings are a tribute to the Bushmen, from whom I learned the techniques of using blowpipes. I grow my hair for cancer patients, so that I can donate them for wigs. I have tattoos of my parents, and symbols that represent the peacekeeper and the rebel in me--every little art detail on my body has a meaning.
What does becoming a vet entail?
Though veterinarians are mostly associated with animal health, they are widely involved in the maintenance of the overall health of human beings as well, because animals interact with humans too. When a new disease surfaces among animals and a human contracts it, the vet is crucial in diagnosing the disease. For example, many of us think that rabies is the only deadly disease that can be contracted from dogs, but there are various other problems and skin diseases that people should be aware of too.
I also want to debunk some wrong notions people harbour about raising dogs. Most of my clients think pups younger than six months should not be fed meat, and resort to cerelac or lito and milk. Dogs require eight to ten times more protein than humans do, and that requirement is obviously not going to be fulfilled by cerelac and milk. They are animals that came from the wild, after all. I also plan a reasonable budget for a dog's living cost, rather than have people spend unnecessarily on dog products, so that more people are encouraged to adopt dogs.
Why did you start your dog hotel?
I knew that vets' clientele pools here weren't too large, and I therefore began exploring other ways to put my knowledge to use. In Kathmandu, a lot of people own dogs, but there are hardly any places where dogs can socialise with other dogs. Therefore, to encourage interaction between dogs and dog owners, a friend of mine and I started a free platform called Coffee With Your Vet, in Patan (which has been in operation since last November). Another venture of mine is a dog hotel called Paws--Play and Stay, where people can leave their dogs in our care. The hotel, which sits on a three-ropani compound, provides the best available boarding facilities for dogs.