Fall 2018

Do What You Can

A visit to an animal sanctuary in India revealed a lesson I brought home to my practice and my life.

By Katie Holmes, V13

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Katie Holmes, V13, with Anjali Gopalan, founder of All Creatures Great and Small. Photo: Courtesy of Katie Holmes

Surveying All Creatures Great and Small (ACGS), an animal sanctuary about a ninety-minute drive outside of Delhi, India, I found it easy to become overwhelmed. There were roughly four hundred dogs, one hundred cats, and thirty cows—plus donkeys, horses, pigs, emus, and one blind macaw—that all needed caring for. As ACGS founder Anjali Gopalan led me on a tour in March, I was stunned by the number of tripod cows, maimed donkeys, and glaucomatous dogs. The need seemed endless. The amount of work to do was overwhelming.

But Gopalan, an internationally recognized human- and animal-rights activist, had a trick for keeping it all in perspective. “Don’t look at the big picture,” she told me. “People with good intentions frequently look at the big picture, see how much work there is to do, and then do nothing.  I have learned to just look at what is right in front of me.” Right in front of her, at that moment, was a rescued pig named Pigloo, vying for a back scratch. Gopalan obliged.

When dinner time arrived, Chicku, a Doberman who sustained brain trauma from being beaten as a puppy, tried to steal seconds from another dog’s plate. As I started to shoo him away, I was told, “Let him eat.” In moments, a new plate of food appeared for the other dog, as if by magic. I could not help but be moved by the spirit of goodwill.

I had volunteered for a week to do what I could as a surgeon. And amid the happily normal and abnormal animals at the farm, a few cried out to me for attention. There were General and Shiver, two dogs with glaucoma, cowering beneath the swing. A puppy limped on a leg with a wound that wasn’t healing. I took each of these dogs to surgery, such as it was. We did not have general anesthesia, opioids, any equipment that met the standard of Western medicine. Sometimes, the lights did not work.

We made do as best we could, and fortunately each operation was successful. General, aggressive when I’d first met him, wagged his tail and nuzzled me an hour after surgery. Shiver and the puppy—we named him Tripod—romped together after just a day of recovery. If all of us brought to the world as much resilience and will to joyfully live as these animals, it would be a better place.

After my visit to India, I returned to my quiet, climate-controlled apartment outside Boston, Massachusetts. I can drink water from the tap. I’m not worried about mosquitoes. At my clinic, I see my patients and their owners in the comfort and sterility of my exam room.

It would be easy to easy to block out suffering here, where cows don’t pass their lives grazing on roadside plastic. Where I don’t see a dog pack ganging up on an outsider new to the territory. Where hungry children don’t beg for food at the window of my car. But even though the struggles of life are more hidden here, they are inescapable. I can’t block them out at home or in India. The amount of work to do everywhere is overwhelming.

Then I remember: Don’t look at the big picture. Don’t freeze. Look at what is in front of you. And then do what you can to help.

Katie Holmes, V13, is president of the Tufts Veterinary Alumni Association.

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Do What You Can

A visit to an animal sanctuary in India revealed a lesson I brought home to my practice and my life.