The Failure of Vietnam to Produce a Viable Veterinary Industry

It was a big day today for our youngest kitty resident who was neutered and now is recovering at home.  His eyes have been swollen today and we are concerned about that, and frankly, the vet should not have done the surgery based on the fact that he was not well, but we are watching him closely.  The need for consistent, well-trained vets is something we cannot ignore in central Vietnam and today was just another reminder why.  

We would be happy to help any international qualified veterinarian interested and able to set up mixed practice clinic in the region where we could bring our rescues for medical treatment, but so far no one has come forward with the will and investment.  I am not giving up, however.  The lives of our animals are on the line and the constant messages for help from within Vietnam never end while my answer to everyone has to always be “I’m sorry, but as we do not have any decent vet care in the region, we are unable to rescue new animals or carry out any programs impacting animals in the long term such as mass sterilization or veterinary training because we have do not have vets or a clinic right now capable of handling this”. Saying no to absolutely every request is infuriating when I know full well that my experience over the past 6 years in rescue in Vietnam is more than enough to run yet another vet clinic and mass sterilization program. 

There is no such thing as responsible rescue without access to competent vet care.  For those who think otherwise, I’d invite you to fly on over to Da Nang and I’ll happily show you what it is like to bring a critical patient to a vet in Hoi An.  If it does not drive you to drink heavily or fly away immediately, then you’re either insane and like watching animals suffer unnecessarily or you’re a moron who has no idea what they are looking at.  It is shameful what we consider vet care in central Vietnam and for those who want to criticize my criticism because we should be supportive of local vets, take your best friend to them with kidney failure or any kind of traumatic accident and tell me how well that goes.  If you have not had to do that, I am going to ask you politely to STFU. 

Veterinary medicine is just a practical application of a conglomeration of many different sciences which must be applied by someone without an ego clouding their judgement and nothing to prove while saving lives. The one thing I know about animals is that I know nothing about animals and the best vets I have met in my life including those working for the US Equestrian Team where I used to live would admit the same. Proper application of medical science involves constant inquiry into how to do things better, something completely absent in vets in the central Vietnam from my experience with hundreds of cases, not a single pet here and there that managed to survive a vaccine or two as some other pet owners can say.  Culturally, men here who have gained any kind of age or social/career status as a professional are completely immune to questioning and they are unable to ever accept that there is more to know than what they were taught 20 years ago by someone equally as clueless.  This is the main reason vets, mostly men, have failed to be useful to animals in Vietnam.  They can do no wrong, thus they have nothing left to learn from the moment they leave the university, in spite of the fact most vets go through 5 years of vet school without touching an animal and ever having seen the inside of one dead or alive. 

If you are reading this in English, you likely could not fathom what I am talking about.  It would blow your mind how little vets in Vietnam know about animals, medical science, and even the most basic modern diagnostics and treatment.  I feel no shame for criticizing them as my job has always been first and foremost to protect the animals in my care, not the fragile egos of the local veterinarians who are above reproach and have zero interest in providing adequate care for their patients.  It certainly makes me no new friends by being so critical of these incompetent people claiming some kind of medical knowledge they clearly do not have, but I would rather have healthy animals than friends.  Having lived in Vietnam for 7 years, I can say I spent the first several years being nothing but supportive of local vets and anyone who does not believe that is welcome to look through 6 years of organization Facebook posts. I took expats’ pets up to Dr. Son in Da Nang, tried other vets, and did all I could to get those guys training while losing the battle every time we needed decent medical care for our animals along the way.  

During the entire two years I had our vet intern, I was incredibly supportive of her despite the daily evidence in our clinic of how little she was taught and how little she was interested in learning. She had a hard time dealing with patients who didn’t trust her doing surgery or didn’t want to talk to a woman, a young one at that.  I told her to stick her chest out and stand up tall and tell them you are a damn doctor.  I regret that very much now.  She did not deserve that.  The clients were right. Building confidence of idiots does no one any good, especially the animals that suffer from her incompetence now. She was a dumb kid and still is.  Now that she has her own clinic and her learning has been completely cut off as a result of the lack of international training and supervision she only got in our clinic, I am constantly faced with her screw ups from her and her husband with zero clinical training and yet other shelters run by people with no medical experience support her blindly.  Internationals love that crap.  They love to sound culturally sensitive by making people who aren’t doing good work sound better than they are.  But when you are watching an animal in a critical condition struggle to breathe or needing surgery the last thing you want is a vet with an ego, no scientific understanding of his/her job, and some dumb shit white people blindly supporting them.  You want a professional.  We don’t have any.  We have to change that.

So why bother with veterinary training if I think local vets are incompetent?  Because no international organization has anywhere near the capacity to solve the crisis for animals in Vietnam without the full support of a fully functional veterinary industry supporting programs to end animal cruelty.  There are many vets who still want to learn as well.  They sure as hell are nowhere near central Vietnam from my experience and based on doing things all wrong for 20 years and being taught that they are beyond reproach, none of them are capable of getting the necessary training to be good enough on a daily basis to support any rescue mission.  NEW graduates are the only vets worth teaching.  They still are trainable.  They do not have years of bad habits to correct.  They often still are able to be taught that there is no end to learning in the medical sciences and there is always room for improvement.   

Frankly, like or not, I am tied to Vietnam.  Historically, through karma, or however else you consider my family legacy here, I am tied to Vietnam as the child of a Vietnam veteran and former CIA agent’s kid. My dad killed here and I choose to correct that in whatever way I can. Most days I hate it.  The food and a good day at the sea keeps me interested but running a vet clinic in a country hell bent on being as inefficient and corrupt as possible on a shoestring budget with constant preventable death coming through your doors is not what I want to do with my life anymore.  I hated it then but kept going because it is not something you can leave so easily.  And I hate it now because we totally lack the support within Vietnam that we had at the time we opened our clinic and other organizations and locals still bothered to work with us. Now it is just a battle with people who think I am a crazy vegan who is an asshole for telling people the dog meat trade is fuck all compared to the suffering and death they pay into daily with the other species they consume.  Being adamantly for the end of animal suffering without any preference for species makes this work significantly more difficult.  Being an organization that is critical of hoarders, does not support incompetent local vets, and will not adopt out animals to people who let them roam the streets makes this work tough.  But NOT talking about the dog and cat meat trade and avoiding the raging psychopath speciesists in that sector has definitely been the nail in the coffin we did not need when trying to get a clinic going again. 

And still…. We are opening a clinic come hell or high water.  I hate myself just a tiny bit less than I love my animals, so they win every time. Currently I am in France for the summer for a surgery and recovery before I go home to Vietnam and will be working hard to find vets and funding for this to work as soon as I am up and moving again. Knocking down doors will be my summer job to save our rescues and get back on track in doing the veterinary capacity building work we need to do here.