…when you see a vet doing real clinical practice, know that it takes dogged determination and passion for animals.

Dr. Modupe Obiora has practiced as a Veterinarian for close to three decades. Her fulfillment is rooted in her passion for the well-being of animals. The vet clinician now specialises in pets, exotic and pet birds including parrots, canaries. She also runs the Royal Vet Clinic and Pet Shop she established in Calabar after her youth service in 1992. In this interview, Obiora told DAYO EMMANUEL how she began her journey into vet practice and what has kept her passion in the profession she said has a very poor remuneration when compared with human medicine. Excerpts:

It is obvious that COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on virtually every aspect of human endeavour. 

How has the pandemic affected the vet sector?

The pandemic like you rightly said has taken a toll on virtually every aspect of human endeavour, the veterinary sector has not been spared at all. Though veterinary medicine is an essential service and we were permitted to operate during the lockdown but things are not as it used to be before the pandemic.

Let’s take the area of drugs, a very good percentage of the drugs we use for clinical practice are imported. They are now scarce, the few available have become expensive, all because of the breech in importation. Even the local manufacturers of veterinary drugs still depend to a large extent on some imported ingredients to be able to produce.

The feed sector has also been affected. Most of the livestock feed though produced in Nigeria still depend on some foreign ingredients especially feed additives which are now scarce in the market. Delays in getting feed to the farmer because of hitches in transportation during the lock down was another issue that affected livestock production and invariably veterinary services.

Also During the lockdown,  a lot of farmers especially poultry  farmers were not able to sell their products which include chicken and eggs because the major buyers were the closed down hotels, restaurants and fast food  companies. I know a farmer that had to dispose over 3,000 crates of rotten eggs during the lock down. This action will of course invariable affect the vet sector. No money to restock means no animals for the vet to check up, vaccinate or treat.

The capacity of pet owners and animal farmers to pay for veterinary products and veterinary services offered has also been inadvertently affected by this pandemic because many people have lost their jobs, many small businesses closed down, bigger companies are yet to recover, etc. People are cash trapped!

These are just to mention a few areas. Well, we hope and believe things to work better for good in the nearest future.

Do you think Nigeria is doing well as far as animal care is concerned going by our national economy?

Nigerian government is doing well when it comes to animal production but not animal care. There are several loans the government and banks made available to people who want to go into animal rearing/production up to N25m -N50m Naira with little interest. One can also readily access these loans. This I can say is commendable. But the loans are not for animal care. As soon as you fill in the form that you need N25m to buy veterinary equipment or veterinary drugs to improve animal care delivery, you are instantly disqualified.

This action has to a very large extent hindered animal care delivery in Nigeria.

An average private veterinary clinician will have to save for several years before he can buy modern equipment for his clinic to be standard.  Yes, saving for several years because veterinary practice has a very poor remuneration compare with human medicine. A medical doctor in a private hospital won’t charge below N350,000 – N400,000 to do caesarian section or  repair a fractured bone. Some charge in millions. So in two or three years of practice, he will have enough money to buy standard equipment.  But as a vet, nobody will pay you a quarter of that money for the same procedure with the same equipment and the same effort.

I have done a caesarian section on a goat for two hours late in the night saving the dam and the kid for a meagre N10,000. My compassion will not allow me to see a goat die in labour. I have fixed a fractured bone in a local dog for N15,000. How much is the cost of the animal the owner will ask? It is cheaper they will say to slaughter the animal or allow it to die than to treat it.

So when you see a vet doing real clinical practice, know that it takes dogged determination and passion for animals. It is easier and more rewarding financially for a vet to sell feed, drugs, vet products or to go into animal production than the clinical care or practice. I hold in high esteem those of us in practice despite our constraints.

As a veterinarian, how do you cope with African superstition as it regards keeping of some pets especially cats and birds?

Yes Africans are superstitious despite our education.

It is true, people fear to keep cats. They believe cats are witches and wizards and they abhor evil spirit. When you have cats in your house people see you as odd and queer fellow.

One of my clients had a cat, the cat gave birth to five kittens that nobody will buy or take for free. He ended up keeping them. Now with six cats, people stopped coming to buy things from his provision shop, they rather go down down the road rather buying from the wizard with six witches! The man tired of the false accusations and losing customers one day packed all the six cats, drove out of town and released them into the jungle!

Interestingly there is another client a white man that has 50 cats two streets away. He is in to bottled and sachet water production and has a commercial bore hole, but his customers are not complaining, why? He is a white man. He cannot be a wizard and his cats cannot be witches!

For the birds, the superstition is not as strong as that of the cat though people are cautious of parrots. They see them as information leakers, gossips and house monitors.  A trained parrot can tell you who came to your house in your absence. They can tell you who is passing in front of your house.

A woman whose husband went out of town to work for some months was having extra marital affairs. It was the parrot that leaked the affairs to the husband when he returned. The parrot kept mentioned the lover boy’s name and kept repeating romantic words like My Love, kisses, honey, sweetie, etc. The man knew a stranger has been coming around his wife. This is what a parrot can do.

You operate in the part of the country labeled unsafe for dogs as it is projected dog meats are delicacy in some quarters. Is this assumption true and how does it affect dog keeping in the area if true?

It is true that dog meat is a delicacy in the southern part of Cross River State but it is not a household meat. People eat less than five percent dog meat but rather 95 percent of beef, fish and chicken on the average. Dog meats are offered in very few designated eating joints. Majority of restaurants and eating joints serve the other kinds of meat. So it not as people think.

Ironically people here love pets may be because of their interaction with the early Europeans. They keep pets especially foreign breeds and take good care of their pets more than people from other parts of the country that I know. And when they want to eat, they eat the local breed of dogs, not the foreign breed.

How did you chose this career path and what are the challenges in your profession?

How I came to choose veterinary medicine as a career.

Between the age of 7 and 8 when I could read, I stumbled on a very big book in my father’s room, three or four times bigger than the Holy Bible. My curiosity made me to open it and read. It was a drug encyclopedia containing all the known and unknown drugs, their uses and dosages. I immediately fell in love with the content of the big book and the coloured pictures of different ailments of the body and I would read and memorise every evening as long as I had the time from that day onward. Soon I got to know which drugs will cure what sickness at what dose. I had few opportunities to prescribe drugs for my fellow friends and classmates in school. It usually gave me great joy when they will come back and thank me for my perfect prescription. My ‘breakthrough,’ came when my mum retired and opened a patent medicine store; the only one in my community. At every opportunity I had, I would tell people which drugs to use and they always came to thank the little me for the wonder working prescription. I chose pharmacy as my career so that I could have opportunity to be prescribing drugs. I did JAMB and I was admitted at the then University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University to do pharmacy at the age of 15.

A twist of fate came. One of my father’s friends asked after me one day and my father said was in Ife doing pharmacy. He said why not medicine, that I will be better in medicine aside I  was  just 15 years and I had always looked far younger than my age and that means by 19 when I would still be looking like 13,  I would be through with School.  My father told him I may find it difficult to practice medicine because he noticed that things like vomit, blood, pus, excrement or any body exudate irritate me greatly. The friend then asked if I love animals and if animal exudates, it irritates me. My father told him I really love animals and I feed his pigs, his agric chickens, his goats and clean their houses and cared for them without complain. So the friend concluded that I would do well in veterinary medicine because of my love for animals and my passion for drugs prescription and it would also make me stay longer in school instead of finishing at a young age.  My father saw light in what his friend said. One of my senior brothers was at that time about to graduate from veterinary medicine, he never thought of me doing the same course.

Fortunately the son of this my father’s friend was the Sub Dean of vet medicine then at the University of Ibadan. I then applied for a change of course and change of University which were easy in those days (1984).

Talking about the challenges of the career, well, because of my love and passion for animals, drugs and the great joy of seeing sick animals recover, the challenges of the profession meant little or nothing to me. I am happy and always happy with my chosen and God given career.  I love what I am doing in spite of all the odds I face every day.

What is your advice for young people who may be nursing interest in your profession?

My advice for young people wanting to choose vet medicine as a career is that they must love animals and be passionate about animal health.

They must put services before money because compared to one’s efforts; there is little remuneration especially for those who will practice in developing countries like ours. Your reward will be the joy of seeing the animals in good health and the ‘thank you’ you would get from some grateful animal owners.

Also because Vet medicine as a course is wider; studying different species of animals which make it harder than human medicine, one must be prepared to study very hard to excel.

Kindly tell us about your outfit and how it has served your immediate community.

I graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1992 and I was posted to do my National youth service in Calabar, Cross River State. After the service year I decided to stay back and the outfit Royal Vet Clinic and Pet Shop was opened in November 1992, two months after my service year to enable me do what I had always wanted to do without hindrance.

At the beginning of the practice, we as a company was involved in small animal clinic, large animals practice, sales of poultry drugs, supply of day old chicks, sales of pet products and we had several poultry, goats and  piggery farms we consult for.

As the work became busier and with the opening of three more annexes, we zeroed in to the first love which is clinical practice, we stopped supplying day old chicks, stopped selling poultry drugs and reduced the various farm consultancies to a handful.  So today, I am mainly a vet clinician specialising in pets, exotic and pet birds like parrots, canaries, etc., with well stocked pet shops. This doesn’t mean the outfit Royal Vet Clinics does not treat other species of animals. We treat and care for cows, horses, ostriches, monkeys, deers, poultry, sheep and goat when the occasion demands in and around the community. We are happy and the community is happy with our services.