All Creatures Animal Welfare League in Malawi
I visited All Creatures Animal Welfare League in Lilongwe, Malawi in July and brought them supplies donated to AKI by a few individuals and organizations, visited with the staff and the dogs at the shelter, and interviewed two of the veterinarians at All Creatures: Richard Ssuna (All Creatures founder and director, originally from Uganda) and Pacifique Basirwe (originally from Congo).
It's always interesting and I think it's really important to understand how attitudes towards animals are shaped in different countries and cultures. I took advantage of my time in Malawi to interview Vets Richard (2nd picture below) and Pacifique (1st picture below) about how they came to love dogs and cats and how they decided to dedicate their lives to the well-being of animals.
Karen: What influenced you most to care about cats and dogs--your parents, your friends, your teachers, your pets, or were you born feeling a love for animals?
Pacifique: We are born with feelings that attach us to pets, but sometimes those feelings are disoriented by our environment in which we live. As kids, we were shown that cats and dogs are dangerous animals and we had to stay away from them. But upon growing up, I learnt that they are not so bad to us if we are kind to them. Once a friend told me to bring some food to their dog if I want that dog to be my friend, so I did, and after that I could even touch him. That was my first experience with dogs.
Richard: I believe that the idea of caring for animals was a personal calling, although it was aided by my late mum. In addition to the first cat that was given by my grandpa (blamed for my asthmatic state as a kid by all the villagers because of my close association), my mum allowed me to keep all sorts of animals at home. There is a time I had over 12 cats-all collected from the neighbourhood. I’m lucky that I survived and didn't catch rabies.
Karen: What were the dominant attitudes towards cats and dogs of the people around you when you were growing up? How did those influence you (for better or worse)?
Pacifique: When I was growing up, people around me were keeping dogs for hunting purposes, and for some it seemed to be abnormal to keep a dog since dogs can bite at any time and bring problems. For that reason we were afraid of dogs. About cats, it was normal to keep a cat if he is a good mice hunter. I grew up knowing that cats are kept for mice hunting purposes only, and we had a cat for that use. Now I have learnt a lot about animals, it is different from the past. Pets are friends to human beings.
Richard: There was no special interest in dogs and cats apart from the benefit of security and keeping the house free from rats. I do not recall any attempts to treat or vaccinate any animal as a child. I had seen many vets with their trademark motorbikes but I had never seen any attention paid to cats and dogs [the vets treated livestock]. This is what inspired me to channel the opportunity of being a veterinary professional in the neglected area of cats and dogs. I now think though that the scope should be broadened as ALL CREATURES deserve a quality life.
Karen: Do you think attitudes and behaviors of people in Malawi are changing (improving or getting worse?) towards cats and dogs? Why?
Pacifique: People still need to be well informed before they completely change their attitudes towards cats and dogs. When I try to chat with some, I find many lack information and that leads them to be negligent to pets. We still have people who stone dogs or cats along the street, I think they do so by ignorance.
Richard: Yes. When I started off with LSPCA, no one made their voices heard about animal welfare. But we now hear people--Ministers, Principle Secretaries, Members of Parliament--talking about various animal welfare violations. People now surrender animals to us instead of abandoning them in areas far from their houses, the public calls-in to report ill-treatment of animals. All these are signs of an enlightened society.
Karen: Have you ever changed someone's mind about how they feel and act towards cats or dogs-if yes, tell me about the experience. If you tried but were unsuccessful, tell me about it.
Richard: I have changed very many. I would start with the All Creatures’ staff. Invariably all the staff start off with the apprehension of an ideology that is novel but they gradually appreciate the need for animal compassion to the extent that I feel comfortable to leave them with the responsibility of caring for the animals. Our slogan is compassionate and dedicated which serves as a constant reminder.
Karen: What do you think needs to be done in Malawi to improve peoples' views and care of cats and dogs?
Pacifique: I think a thorough campaign about how people should treat animals can help to reach a certain level of understanding because some people think that animals can not feel pain nor suffer from an ill treatment.
Richard: 1) Strengthen and enforce the animal protection legislation; 2) Increase public awareness on the responsibility of an animal owner; 3) Provision and access to veterinary services; and 4) Close collaboration between government and the animal welfarists.
Karen: In Malawi, what do you think most influences peoples' views of cats and dogs-economic situation, culture, education, other?
Pacifique: In Malawi, I can say that it is a kind of imitation. People don't have sufficient information about how they should take care of their pets so they imitate what they see others do, sometimes that's not good behaviour. Some accuse their economic situation after failing to take responsibility.
Karen: Is there one particular story that you can think of where someone (in Malawi) made you feel like we are moving in the right direction (or a direction needs to be changed) to improve animals' lives?
Richard: I see this all the time. Receiving calls from the public and demanding ALL CREATURES action on a lot of things is one of the most vivid indications of success that we have attained. Unfortunately, due to resources, we are unable to respond to all the call outs. But this is a good sign and an indication that a good seed was sown.
Karen: Of the people you deal with at All Creatures, what are most peoples' feelings about spay/neuter?
Richard: I feel that this still needs to be emphasized. I have included this in the City Council of Lilongwe By-law to institutionalise spay and neuter as the preferred means of dog population management.
Pacifique: I think people at All Creatures are informed about the importance of spay/neuter. They are themselves witnesses of what they used to see around where they live or around certain corners on the town: a great number of stray dogs. It seems normal to them if that number can be controlled by spay/neuter.
All Creatures Animal Welfare League, founded in January 2016, one of only three animal welfare organizations in Malawi, has a shelter, they hold community spay/neuter and vet care clinics in poor sections of Lilongwe, they undertake rabies vaccination campaigns, and they educate the community about good pet care. At their shelter location in Lilongwe, they have a vet clinic that serves private clients and helps to support All Creatures' activities, but it does not yet raise enough money to fully cover the non-profit arm of the organization.
All Creatures is expanding their reach in Malawi beyond Lilongwe, to Mzuzu, a city without any vet services or animal welfare organization. Luckily, Mzuzu City Council had informed All Creatures that it was planning to reduce the dog population by shooting all stray dogs, and All Creatures offered to help the city control rabies and manage the dog population in a much more humane and sustainable manner. Currently, All Creatures and the Mzuzu City Council are in negotiations about implementing a dog population survey, training personnel as animal welfare officers, conducting a rabies campaign, and holding spay/neuter clinics. The city has never had a major rabies vaccination campaign and has had several human rabies cases. Hopefully, this joint plan between Mzuzu and All Creatures will materialize and relieve the suffering of both humans and dogs.
Although not an AKI partner organization, we are excited about All Creatures' mandate, goals, activities, and staff. Currently, AKI provides technical support to All Creatures and depending on future donations and needs-of our current partners and of All Creatures- we plan to consider bringing them on as an AKI partner organization in the future.
You can read more about All Creatures on their website, https://allcreaturestrust.org/wp/
Pictures of the All Creatures shelter, vet clinic, and two community spay/neuter clinics are below.