I do confess to being a full blown empath and I found it so hard to hold back my tears when the sealions fell to their death as their habitat decreased, and when David Attenborough paused and hesitated and the pain was so evident in his face as he explained how we had destroyed our natural world. We were given time to contemplate before the series took on a whole new angle of hope and solutions as we collectively and as individuals can make a difference to ‘rewild’ the world and allow nature to re-establish. What a wonderful man! His words are spoken out of sheer passion to protect our most vital lifeline that sustains all of us – our natural world.
My Witness Statement As A Vet And A Mother
Sir David Attenborough gave us his witness statement in the series that was so poignantly built upon his life experience of exploration and love of nature from a very early age. He reminded us so many times of how incredibly fortunate he had been in his life to travel to every corner of the earth and experience everything that he has. It is this passion that we can draw on in Sir David Attenborough to provide us with the solutions as he is possibly the wisest person alive to help us move forward.
I too feel so enormously fortunate with the life I have led and the experiences I have had. I grew up in South Africa and never left Africa until I was an adult. Holidays were spent visiting vast game reserves or going to the clean beautiful seaside areas teeming with sealife. Life seemed idyllic and it was, although I lived completely oblivious to a world outside of South Africa. It was only when I was about 8 years old that I found out that the rest of the world did not have servants and little african children were not allowed in the same parks or school buses as us privileged white children.
I never imagined leaving my ‘home’ as my life was full of love and animals and adventure. I gained a place (after many failed attempts to get into vet school), at the only vet school in South Africa that bordered on the most beautiful natural wildlife areas. Weekends were spent exploring these areas with my boyfriend at the time who became my husband as we shared a deep love of the african bushveld on our doorstep. Everything changed when I was attacked while running our Bearded Collie in the suburbs of Johannesburg as a young student. I survived but never felt safe again and even sadly felt that I deserved the attack by a well-dressed african man as I had had such a privileged upbringing.
When we graduated as vets in the early 90’s, my husband and I made the brave decision to leave everything familiar and travel to the UK to work as vets. I was struck almost within my first few weeks of being in a new country by how kind and thoughtful the people were. For the first time in my life I felt so safe and my love affair with the UK began.
It took me 15 years to have the courage to run again as we took on our first family pet – a gorgeous black Lab cross called Slick. My husband had joined the army at this stage as a vet to provide his young growing family with some financial security. Slick gave me a deep understanding of the human-animal bond as she became my rock and my freedom and I began running her every morning. She allowed me the space to explore the areas we were so fortunate to be sent to live in – the wild and tropical island of Cyprus, the wooded wilderness of Germany and the unexplored beauty of Northern Ireland. Every tour that my husband went on leaving his young family for months at a time, Slick was always there with a happy wagging tail expecting her routine and her runs.
Upon returning to the UK after many years stationed abroad, I returned to veterinary work at the PDSA charity. I was terrified to return to vet work after years gaining ‘life experience’ as a Mum to a young family and army wife, but equally, I was terrified to work with people I had never come into contact with before as I had only ever lived on army camps. For the first time I would meet pensioners and people with mental and physical difficulties unable to work and that terrified me. But my fear turned to humility and a return to my love affair with the UK public and their pets as I realised how deeply intertwined the lives of our pets were, to the point of sometimes being the only reason for people to get up each day and keep going.
I started my business Just Be Kind in January 2020 as my witness statement is to be able to justify keeping our pets – these enormously faithful and devoted companions that we have taken on that give us our daily joy and reason for living. Watching Sir David Attenborough’s latest film shows us how we have to stop destroying the natural habitats of the remaining 4% of the wildlife of the world and the biggest driver in habitat destruction is land use for intensive farming.
What hope do I have as a vegan vet?
I made the decision quite literally to go cold-turkey and to stop eating any animal products on the day of my 52nd birthday last year as well as turn our little family dog Ruff onto a 100% plant-based diet to find the perfect balanced diet for him that he loves….. and I have. It has not been an easy road as my enormously sceptical vet husband required convincing, but making contact with Germany and the wonderful sustainable companies and individuals there where plant-based feeding of dogs is massive has been my reason to keep going. I love being 100% plant-based – it is so easy…..and I love feeding our little Ruff only plant-based – dry, homemade and treats….it too is so easy.
We all need to at least be open-minded to this wonderfully sustainable way forward in feeding our dogs as it is healthy, it is balanced and it follows all Sir David Attenborough’s hopes for a future of sustainability. It also allows us to fully appreciate the bond that we have with our pet as not only can we continue to give them human names and treat them as family members, but now they can eat like us and lick us safe in the knowledge that we will catch nothing from their saliva!
What about cats? As a vet passionate about plant-based feeding in dogs, I have been asked by many owners about the sustainable feeding of cats. As mentioned in Life On Our Planet, there are very few cheetah compared to gazelle as they have such a different requirement – they are obligate carnivores and need to eat meat. We do however keep cats as pets and feed them food sources that a cat would never eat in the wild such as fish and beef, so bearing this in mind, there is one food that I would recommend to cat owners that is very sustainable and appears to have all the correct balance of ingredients that cats need – A sustainable way to feed your cat using insect protein but still not available in the UK.
What about our insects? Just like the guilt I feel about growing up so privileged in such a warped social system in South Africa in the 70’s and 80’s, so too do I feel such guilt as a vet in how I have contributed to the decline in our natural insect world. Just as a little girl who was oblivious to the dangers of the apartheid system doing what everyone else did, I did the same thing as a vet and handed out flea treatment after flea treatment – sprays and collars initially and then spot-on treatments to owners over a few decades as that is what everyone else was doing.
Very recently, Rosemary Perkins has written such a comprehensive and needed article highlighting the need for us to change as vets and pet owners and Andrew Prentis wrote an article in March 2020 highlighting the need for us to reconsider our parasite control. Fipronil is the active ingredient in Frontline (which is used without a thought and advertised blatantly on our screens); and Imidacloprid is the active ingredient in spot-ons such as Advocate and Bob Martin flea drops and both are so damaging to our natural environment. Imidacloprid has been banned in Europe as it is very toxic to bees and other natural insects that our declining bird population rely on so heavily.
Even worse, is companies that sell flea collars and ‘blanket flea treatment’ for monthly use so even if there is no sign that your pet has fleas, they are still treated with a spot-on or collar that once outdoors will kill all living insects in their path or in rivers they may enter. Just the thought of it makes me so very sad. All practices should compensate for this decline in the insect population by selling natural life-giving bee bombs.
What is the solution?
It is so simple! Stop the use of any topical or collar flea treatment on your pet immediately. If you are signed up to a practice health plan with your vets, request the use of only oral flea and worming medication. By giving an effective tablet (as only vet practices can sell these), you can treat your pet and what I do once Ruff has been treated, is I collect his faeces for 2-3 days after treating him and throw it away immediately to protect any flies that may lay their eggs in it.
Plant-based feeding and oral flea and worm treatments allow us the most sustainable way forward to keeping our pets healthy, our lives healthy with more plant-based food, and our natural world healthy. Just 1 person doing this will have an impact on others until collectively we can have a massive impact and realise Sir David Attenborough’s sustainable and kind goals. As pet owners, we have to be that wisdom that he relies on in all of us.
Dr Arielle Griffiths BVSc MRCVS
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