HCMC animal lovers struggle to care for pets amid pandemic

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenSeptember 8, 2021 | 05:16 am PT
Pets are not immune to the privations of the Covid-19 outbreak in HCMC: Their owners are unable to get them food or veterinary care amid the lockdown restrictions.

Nguyen Huy Hoang was thrilled when his groceries finally arrived last weekend a week after he had ordered. The resident of HCMC’s District 1 now has enough food to last a week, but has no idea how to buy food for his two cats.

He says: "They are not a fan of rice and meat, so I feed them dry cat food and pate, but it is takes too long to get those things at the moment."

When HCMC authorities imposed social distancing and required people to stay at home, many pet stores had to shut down since they are not "essential."

Hoang resorted to ordering online in local supermarkets, but had to "book 3-4 times and wait for days" due to the shortage of delivery workers.

He is among a large number of pet owners in the city who have struggled to buy food for their animals or take them to the vet amid the month-long lockdown.

Cats adopted by CJ van Vuuren and her team at Animal Welfare Awareness Movement and Cat Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Animal Welfare Awareness Movement and Cat Sanctuary

Cats adopted by CJ van Vuuren and her team. Photo courtesy of Animal Welfare Awareness Movement and Cat Sanctuary

In a locked-down area in Binh Thanh District, Nguyen Quynh Tram, a student, tried to feed her two cats shredded chicken and fish after she ran out of cat food two weeks ago.

"But they only eat one or two bites and sometimes do not come near their bowls," she laments. She contacted many pet stores, but the waiting time was too long.

"And of course I could not ask the volunteers to help me buy pet food since it is not listed as essential."

She was jumping for joy when city officials allowed delivery services to resume operations in high-risk areas on August 30, but found that like Hoang she had to wait for days before her orders arrived.

While food is a big concern, many pet owners are also anxious they cannot take their furry friends for veterinary care.

CJ van Vuuren, founder of Animal Welfare Awareness Movement and Cat Sanctuary in District 2's Thao Dien Ward, says it is a desperate time for pets, owners and animal rescue groups since only a few vets are open and it is hard to reach them due to the travel restrictions.

"I am very frustrated because three cats at my shelter died recently."

Some illnesses can be treated at home but others require serious veterinary care and treatment, she points out.

In July netizens were shocked to know about two youngsters in the southern province of Long An who were fined for taking a cat to a local veterinary clinic after it was deemed an invalid reason.

"Veterinary services are not ‘essential,’" Duong Minh Tri, deputy head of Long An’s veterinary department, said.

A dog owner and his canine in HCMC, July 2021.  Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

A dog owner and his canine in HCMC, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Many people are also worried about their pets’ mental health since they have been cooped up inside for too long.

Vuuren says some of her friends’ dogs are now "depressed and destructive."

"Since they were trained to [poo] outside, they refuse to do it on fake grass indoors. Some said their dogs are frustrated and running around and destroying things inside the house," she worries this could lead to serious kidney problems.

Some people are unable to take care of their pets because they have been sent to quarantine.

Many families have hung signs outside their houses asking strangers to feed their dogs and cats through the gates while they are away.

Some others have come to grips with the fact they cannot take care of their pets anymore because of the financial burden.

Hong Anh of Tan Binh District wrote in a Facebook group called ‘Nhan Nuoi Cho- Meo Bi Bo Roi’ (Adopt Abandoned Dogs And Cats): "I have to move and cannot afford to have my puppy any more. I can give him for free as long as you love him and can come to my place to pick him up."

A dog plays with a box of grass on a balcony in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Anh

A dog plays with a box of grass on a balcony in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Anh

Helping hands

Online groups have become a place for pet owners to seek support.

From finding pet stores and making pet food to looking for new shelters, the online community offers Saigon pet owners well-meaning advice, hoping they can overcome the lockdown.

Many people and groups have adopted cats and dogs they saw on the streets before finding them new homes through Facebook groups like Nhan Nuoi Cho- Meo Bi Bo Roi.

In District 2, Elizabeth Homfray and her team at Laws For Paws Vietnam, a volunteer organization working for the welfare of dogs, have rescued numerous abandoned dogs and cats amid the lockdown.

Homfray tells VnExpress International: "We adopted Richie, who was left behind by a woman who moved back to England. And also Buddy. He was adopted after a foreigner had a mental breakdown and had to move back to England for treatment."

With HCMC still in the throes of the Covid outbreak and with more than 265,000 patients and a lockdown without an end in sight, pet owners know they have to adapt by changing their pets’ food and hope they have no health issues in the absence of veterinary services.

Those with Covid and isolated at home keep away from their pets too, fearing the animals will get infected.

In guidelines issued last week on how to take care of Covid-19 patients at home, the health ministry said patients and their family members should neither come into contact with pets, nor let the animals come into contact with other people and animals.

"I put my two cats in one bedroom while I stay in another bedroom with Covid," Nguyen Truong Thinh of District 11 says.

"I wanted to install a camera in my room so I can see them all day, but no one can do that at the moment," he lamented.

"With people dying and struggling with this outbreak, some people might say we are selfish since we only care about our pets. But pets are [also] family members."

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