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    • International
    • 17 Dec, 2020

    Meeting Dr Mo, our Country Director of Mayhew Afghanistan

    Dr Abdul-Jalil Mohammadzai DVM, affectionately known as Dr Mo, is an animal welfare pioneer.

    He has been instrumental in improving animal welfare and raising veterinary standards in Kabul, negotiating with the authorities to stop the culling of free-roaming dogs and developing a mass canine rabies vaccination programme and a humane dog management programme in the city. He has also spoken at conferences worldwide and received several awards in recognition of his innovative work and dedication to animal welfare.

    We caught up with Dr Mo to hear first-hand how Mayhew Afghanistan is faring during this exceptional year. We also found out more about his passion for animal welfare and his groundbreaking achievements in Kabul.

    How did your interest in animal welfare develop?

    I’d always wanted to work with animals, but when I qualified as a vet I didn’t know that would eventually lead to me working for a charity. I trained as a vet at Kabul University, but I then left for Britain in 1997, where I started volunteering (and then working) at Mayhew. Previously most of my experience was with livestock, but my time at Mayhew in London changed my focus to animal welfare. I was driven to want to help animals and bring positive changes in the lives of dogs and cats.

    How important is vet training to Mayhew Afghanistan’s work and vision?

    Not many vets in Afghanistan are experienced in small animal care (the majority work with livestock), so training is a crucial part of our work there. Our vet staff learn the latest surgical techniques and protocols, such as anaesthesia protocols and kennels protocols, so that they have the skills and knowledge to carry out the rabies vaccination and Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programmes to a high standard, while also ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of the thousands of animals we treat.

    What part does education play in improving people’s understanding of, and compassion for, animals?

    Education has a key role in our programme: people need to understand our enemy is the rabies virus and not the dogs. We have a community engagement officer who works with the local people, community leaders and schools. Our education programme began in April 2019 and since then we have organised 33 educational workshops and have met with over 3,800 students and 170 teachers.

     

    “I managed to convince the authorities to stop their dog culling programme in Kabul city and with this agreement in place we've been able to save thousands of these beautiful animals.”

    Dr Mo

    Mayhew Afghanistan Country Director

    In our education sessions we give information about topics such as the rabies virus, dog bite prevention, how to behave around street dogs and staying safe around aggressive dogs. The session material is adapted according to the age and level of the students.

    Winters are notoriously harsh in Kabul – what is the impact of the freezing and bitter conditions on the teams on the ground, and on the animals you are trying to help?

    Kabul has some of the worst winters possible and they last for three months. There are heavy snowfalls and temperatures frequently fall to between -4 and -6˚C. Our vaccination and TNR teams find it difficult to work, not only because of heavy rain or deep snow, but because it is hard to locate dogs as they are often hidden, sheltering from the cold.

    In the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Centre we have 40 indoor kennels, and in winter we can close the doors and put a heater on to keep the dogs warm. Although this means our vaccination and TNR programmes can continue, we do have to reduce the number of surgeries as we cannot use the outdoor kennels during the colder months. If there are funds available this winter, we would like to put rubber mats in our kennels to help the dogs stay warm and be more comfortable. This period of harsh weather is a challenging time for our staff and dogs, but we adapt as we can!

    Your team has done an amazing job reaching significant milestones despite restrictions imposed by Covid-19. How are things currently in Kabul?

    When there was lockdown in Kabul from the end of March to June we had special dispensation to continue our work as it was deemed a public health matter. According to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), Covid-19 cases are increasing (as of November 2020), but we are not currently restricted in carrying out our programmes – we are a registered charity in Afghanistan and are following the MoPH guidelines. Unfortunately, no one knows what to expect and what the impact of Covid-19 will be on our lives or the programmes in the future.

    What do you think is needed next to protect animals in Afghanistan?

    I am hoping that one day our programme can be expanded from Kabul city to other provinces in Afghanistan so we can then stop the government’s culling programme across the whole country.

    What has been your proudest achievement to date?

    Signing the agreement with Kabul Municipality in 2017 to stop the inhumane culling of dogs in the city. The municipality was poisoning dogs with strychnine and had killed over 100,000 dogs in a five-year period. I managed to convince the authorities to stop their dog culling programme in Kabul city and with this agreement in place we’ve been able to save thousands of these beautiful animals.

    What are the hardest things about splitting your time between the UK and Afghanistan?

    I spend several months of the year in Afghanistan overseeing our projects and by far the hardest thing is to be away from my wife and children in London. However, I know that our work there is of vital importance and is saving human and animal lives.

     

    Find out more about Mayhew Afghanistan

    Mayhew international has been working in Kabul since the early 2000s, but was officially registered as an NGO in Afghanistan in 2016. The work our team carries out is vital in securing healthier and safer futures for free-roaming dogs in Kabul, and the communities in which they live.

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