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Iraqi Veterinarian Discusses Re-Opening of Baghdad Zoo


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July, 2005

The Baghdad Zoo and its residents were an early casualty of the war in Iraq. Once the home to more than 600 animals, mortar rounds released many animals into the city who were ultimately either shot or starved to death. Damage to the zoo’s infrastructure was significant.

“The American(s) have focused on this problem, and now they (have) solved this problem; they spent a lot of money and they fixed the zoo,” said Dr. Bial Abdual Jabbar, a veterinarian from Iraq, who attended the 142nd Annual American Veterinary Medical Association Convention and the 28th World Veterinary Congress at the Minneapolis Convention Center, July 16 through 20, attended by a total of nearly 9,000 veterinary professionals.

Even under the regime of Sadaam Hussein, the Baghdad Zoo was considered a safe haven where families could inexpensively spend a day. More than 1.5 million people visited the zoo annually.

Abdual Jabbar kept a low profile at the vet conference, although U.S. military veterinarians spoke about what veterinarians are doing to control disease outbreak in Afghanistan and Iraq, preserving and protecting the human food supplies world wide and how vets work in tandem with the government on terrorism issues.

In one of many seemingly strange contradictions, being a veterinarian is considered an honored profession in Iraq, according to Abdual Jabbar. However, pet dogs are hardly ever kept indoors, and besides vets care is rarely sought out. Cats aren’t considered pets. Livestock and zoo animals require veterinary care. No wonder, for years, there have been more vets in Iraq than there are available jobs.

Abdual Jabbar worked as a director of a commercial fishery, a fish vet in a desert country. Today, his job is to serve as a translator between Iraqi and American veterinarians.

While having a watch dog is “very important” in Iraq, Abdual Jabbar says dogs are considered too dirty to be indoor pets by the vast majority Muslims, though some Christians do have indoor dogs. Most pet dogs spend their life in the family’s yard, or sometimes roam nearby streets, but return to one family for most meals.

Abdual Jabbar says as more Iraqis and Americans get to know one another on a personal level, trust and understanding will develop. He concedes he had preconceived notions of Americans, just as Americans have of Iraqis. “I am very good (impressed) when I get to know the people,” he says.

Cats Are Underdogs Among Veterinary Researchers

The Morris Animal Foundation is a not for profit organization which has long funded research to advance the health and well being of wild animals who we share our planet, as well companion animals who we share our homes. Dr. Patricia Olson, executive director at Morris, noted that investigators submitted 142 proposals to study canine health issues this past year, but only 27 proposals were offered to learn about diseases or health issues affecting cats.

“I can’t tell you why cats are being over-looked, but they are,” says Olson. “There are more cats than dogs, but it’s like they’re second class citizens. I’m very concerned, because we need to do so much for cats. It’s not as if there is a shortage of feline diseases that need to either be prevented or treated. We’re stewards for all animals, cats included.”

Olson is encouraging clients to encourage their veterinarians, particularly those who are at veterinary teaching institutions, to submit proposals to learn more about feline health.

Indeed very recent feline studies funded by Morris have led to further understanding of several medical issues, including a drug which has promise to help cats with acute kidney failure. The cause of hyperthyroidism, a very common disease among senior cats is, until now, has been unknown – but researches are now learning about cellular abnormalities which may cause the disease as a result of Morris funded research.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Olson says. “We’re just looking for veterinary investigators to take advantage of it for the betterment of all cats.”

Conference Kibble

In conjunction with the AVMA conference, the 5th International Veterinary Behavior Meeting was held, attracting veterinary behaviorists from around the world. Dr. Daniel Mills, who is from the United Kingdom, was one of several international speakers. He talked about how much our dogs truly understand. The answer may be scary, or exciting, depending on your perspective. Take Rico, a 9-year old border collie who has learned 200 words, mostly in German. Mills says some dogs may even understand syntax. However, it seems, the ability to learn language varies greatly in individual dogs. There may be breed differences, and it’s likely early exposure matters. Perhaps, what matters most is how the dogs are trained to learn human language in the first place.

Dr. Henry Childers of Providence, RI was installed as the new president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Barbara Bush was the highlighted guest speaker, recalling personal stories of family pets. The former Fist Lady said she travels to speak at conventions all the time, “But I rarely feel as comfortable as I do now in a room filled with veterinarians.”

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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