One Dead Cat is Nobody's Problem
A case of animal cruelty in Kolkata
Freyja was born on 23rd March 2013 at 11:15 am. It was a beautiful Saturday in early spring. She was the last of the litter – my hands trembled as I cleaned her for Mishka, her mother. I was afraid that I would crush her under the weight of my hand. The moment I put her down into the box next to Mishka, this tiny wonder sprang to life. She wriggled around in the small space, pushing her other two siblings out of the way. She knew in her first hour in this world that she was going to be the centre of attention always. She had her ways...
We named her after the Norse goddess as our Freyja symbolised beauty, vitality and fearlessness. And, that is exactly how she was – never the one to back down or take no for an answer. She had to have everything her way and slowly over the course of four years, we adjusted to her whims and tiny tantrums. How could we not? She was just so vibrant and carefree – she filled our lives with wonder. Over the years, she unyieldingly laid her claims on my heart. In fact, she became my heart – my source of happiness.
On 23rd March 2017, Freyja fell ill with what seemed like a simple case of hairball obstruction. She died on 6th May 2017 – on Mishka’s birthday after seven weeks of sheer hell. For seven weeks, Freyja fought a furious battle to survive. In those seven weeks, we fought endlessly to help her live. Little did we realize that the person that we had entrusted with her safety, was the one inflicting her pain and trauma. Freyja was maltreated, abused and tortured by a fraudulent vet resulting in her untimely death. This vet is quite popular in Kolkata and has a well-established practice for many years. We had received his contact from a close personal reference – as is the scenario in much of India: vets are either found through google search, online forums or personal references. This vet had been our regular family vet for three years and we did not have any reasons to complain as there was never any prior episode that required serious medical intervention.
Freyja was misdiagnosed with faecal impaction by the vet and his diagnosis was corroborated by an x-ray report from a leading animal diagnostic laboratory in Kolkata. This vet administered an array of medications, injections and “colon cleanses” on Freyja causing her condition to worsen. When I took Freyja to another vet for consultation, he informed me that Freyja’s x-ray did not indicate faecal impaction in the first place. I reconfirmed this with a PhD researcher in Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol. It was then that I discovered that this vet is, in fact, a fraudulent practitioner with a police case registered against him at a local police station. He has also killed numerous other animals in Kolkata. However, he continues to run his practice as he is supported by a whole nexus of people. You may wonder that when my cat was suffering for so long, why we did not think of taking her to another vet any sooner? It is not that we did not think about it. I frantically asked for vets from all my friends and family and most people told me that this fraud is the most reliable vet in Kolkata for cats. Moreover, we were crippled with fear and felt nervous to take her to an unknown vet.
After Freyja’s death for the next ten days, my mother and I frantically tried to find help to bring Freyja’s case to light. We wanted to prevent this monster from killing more animals. However, mostly we were met with convenient activism where people were too busy giving their “personal opinions” on the matter rather than soliciting any real help or guidance. Eventually, through a friend, I got in touch with an animal rights lawyer. She recommended that we write to the Animal Welfare Board of India as well as the Veterinary Council of India about Freyja’s case. We have written to them twice and not heard back from them yet. To be honest, I am not even disappointed as I am sure they have far bigger and better cases to deal with. Isn’t that what activism is about in India, anyway? Sensationalism? Why should one dead cat be anyone’s problem when there are far meatier battles to fight?
I am writing this because I believe that every animal cruelty case should be heard. No authority or activist should be entitled enough to decide the merit of a case based on their individual motivation. In this past month, I have come to realize one thing very clearly: animal activism in this country functions from a position of privilege – those in power decide which animal lives matter more. Freyja was not just silenced by her perpetrators during her lifetime; she has been silenced time and again after her death by our system of animal welfare. We have not just failed Freyja in her lifetime, we have failed her even after her death. However, I believed that I would be able to give my cat the fighting chance that I was unable to give her in her lifetime. I thought that by sharing her story and making the relevant authorities aware, I could in some way prevent veterinary malpractice. I thought that with persistent effort I would be able to make a dent in the system. I have lost my baby and I cannot bring her back but I hoped to save other animals through her story. I was wrong.
I want to highlight here that what has happened with Freyja is not an exclusive case; this happens every day to countless animals around India. But nothing changes. We do not have a system that facilitates any change. Fraudulent veterinarians do not thrive in isolation but as a result of a pathetic animal welfare system that does not have the capacity to control them. They prosper because our system inadvertently supports them. Hence, I am not sure if anything will ever change. We will always have bigger battles to fight and many more Freyjas will get subdued in the process. Nevertheless, we will keep screaming about animal welfare from our cushy armchairs on our social media profiles. It is much more convenient that way. At least something is better than nothing. So what if a few Freyjas die grotesque deaths in the process?