Lanzarote vet Jane Burke tells us about the lessons that were both learned and ignored during lockdown – unfounded fears of infection, fat pets, heroic volunteers and valuable insights into animal health.

I shall be eternally grateful that Covid-19 does not affect our furry family. I lost a few weeks of my life to the terror that someone would insist that cats or dogs could carry this contagion. Nevertheless, despite the failure to involve our pets in the pandemic, there was still widespread abandonment and slaughter in some countries. Research finally proved that, at the very worst, the virus could briefly exist on the membranes of pets living in close, enclosed contact with infected humans.

These few positive swabs only demonstrated that the infection could very occasionally survive briefly in their nasal passages as it does on furniture and bedding. Nonetheless, I lost a lot of sleep, and what little is left of my sanity, panicking that the mass media would insist otherwise.

So many facts have been distorted and hidden by the politicians and media throughout the nightmare. This pandemic has shown clearly how little some countries ( e.g the UK) cared for their elderly and vulnerable,and it has constantly demonstrated the selfish behaviour of politicians and public alike. Common sense always seems the first victim of a disaster but, thanks be to God, our pets were not scapegoating this time.

Welcome Relief

I will also be forever thankful that the Spanish government allowed veterinary surgeons to continue working throughout lockdown. I am in awe of the speed with which authorities responded to the crisis at Sara by providing an extra grant and even further in awe of the Sara staff who looked after all those dogs with no relief, day in, day out. I sympathise with the dreadful frustrations of the many other devoted charities whose work was interrupted and vandalised; the anonymous caring few who trail round day after day helping to feed and care for cats and dogs produced by the uncaring many; the unsung and unpaid folk that work so hard.

Feral cats and our amazing animal workers have suffered the worst from lockdown. Hotel feral cats and street cats were suddenly left high and dry. Starving, desperate for water, susceptible to disease and forever reproducing. Thank heavens special permits were soon organised to enable the few to feed the many. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the drastically short-sighted restriction on TNR (trap, neuter, release).

Whilst there is no doubt that this nightmare we have lived through showed us clearly the real heroes in this world – the doctors and nurses, the hospital cleaners and carers, the supermarket staff – it also illuminated that, whilst they stood on the front line of a lethal infection, many of those they protected flouted the regulations imposed to limit the suffering and death.

Then there are the unseen heroes who quietly organised and mobilised to provide food and shelter for humans and animals facing real and desperate hardships. Somehow, sadly, this pandemic, as well as showing us so many brave caring wonderful people, has also seemed to have encouraged the very worst in humanity. Across the world we see a rise in the ugly, sick face of racism; the cruel disgusting pursuit of animal cruelty thinly disguised as hunting or other so-called traditions; the continued evil face of modern animal agriculture regardless of its costs in human disease and climate disaster; trophy hunting for the wealthy deranged; and here in Lanzarote an equivalent increase in the pointless cruel vandalism and violence towards those doing their best to help helpless creatures.

This has included repeated violent acts against feeding stations for feral cats, as well as verbal and physical violence towards those involved in feral cat feeding and TNR. These crazies are dangerous. And if cat welfare is of zero concern for you, then please consider that this destructive and cruel behaviour will not stay limited to animal charity workers! These despicable cowards will, if unchecked, undoubtably progress to other vulnerable targets.

Lockdown Health Lessons

My veterinary experience in the lockdown here in Lanzarote confirmed a number of clinical suppositions that we have only ever been able to surmise. For instance, dogs kept on leads during walks show a dramatically lower incidence of stomach upsets, diarrhoea and swallowing foreign bodies. Just as clearly, cats with company at home get into fewer fights and less mischief, and suffer fewer flu infections.

The dramatic drop in the presentation of such conditions may, to some extent, reflect financial structures, but in reality most of my clients would go without food before neglecting their furry family, and pets left to endure stomach upsets and physical injury almost always need veterinary attention further down the line for chronic abdominal complications and severely infection.

Let’s share some sparkling clear water with our human and furry friends and say a prayer for those who are no longer here to enjoy the toast.