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  • Writer's pictureAngel Gracia

Animal Cruelty in the Veterinary Faculty

My memories of college are as bad as my memories of secondary school.

I never got along with my professors and I always considered them to be very unprofessional and even cruel. To "anesthetize" animals, they used an instrument they called el torcedor de morro. It was an instrument that was made of a stick with a double rope on one end. They would put it on the muzzle of the animals that were going to be operated on and when the animals complained about their pain the doctor would twist their muzzle more and more until they were quiet. The pain that came of this was far worse than the pain from the surgery, so they learned to keep still in order to prevent the squeezing of the muzzle. It was like medieval torture. Today, I’m extremely sorry to have been a part of all that.

I never had a favorite class. If I had to choose, I suppose I would say that I enjoyed sports the most. We had three required classes: politics, religion, and sports. For me, there was nothing like sports. My second year at the University of Zaragoza, in the veterinary faculty, I got a good score on an exam and they failed me anyway. The same exact thing happened the following year. I ended up taking a second-year class during my fourth year at school. Indeed, I honestly can’t say that I enjoyed my time there.

When I compare the university of that time to the universities of today, they seem like two different worlds. We only learned theory and there was hardly practice (at least in my University). I used a microscope only once throughout my entire time there, and it was out of focus because the teacher who adjusted it for the class was nearly blind and set it as it suited him. So when I had the chance to finally see through a microscope, I did not see anything.

And we had to keep our hands behind our back. They also did not allow me to perform an injection. Can you imagine a graduate in veterinary medicine that had never performed an injection?

Later on I learned everything I did not learn at college and I set up my own veterinary clinic with great success in Caracas, Venezuela, but honestly I had much to learn between theory and practice.

I was one of many Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese that emigrated to South America in the 1950s. We were leaving out of hunger and political frustration. Life was supposed to be easier there but when I arrived I found that in Venezuela there was, like in Spain, a dictatorship. Life was not as easy as I had been told and I didn't have a job for 9 months. Then, I found work in the National Center of Cardiology in the specialty of parasitology. We studied a disease called chagas.

In Caracas, there was an Institute of Hispanic culture that was presided over by a veterinarian who was a rebel against the dictatorship. Through him I got to contact a friend of his, a fellow Spanish dissident, who introduced me to the La Salle Society of Natural Sciences as "Conservator of Parasitology in the Department of Fauna".

One of the researchers in our group was threatened with death. The dictatorship in Venezuela had the very common tactic of ‘disappearing’ those who held opposing beliefs. To do this, they used La Carlota airport located in the capital. From there the planes took off with the ‘political prisoners’ and threw them out of the plane over Guyana.

The President of the "Sociedad de Ciencias" planned a trip to an Amazon region to hide and protect him. The adventure would take us to live with the Yanomami for almost a year.

Here I am (left) holding a snake in the rainforest

Our group consisted of two parasitologists, a laboratory technician, and myself. We went to study diseases caused by parasites: Mansonella ozardi, Dipetalonema perstans and Wucherellia vancrosti. We also looked for samples of flora and fauna in the Amazon right at the Brazilian, Venezuelan and Colombian Amazon.

Chagas is transmitted by parasites that live in the branches of the roofs of the churuatas (a type of Yanomami hut).

One of the natives of the group died of this illness and we did an autopsy on him. But we had to keep it secret and hide from the natives because they would obviously have killed us if they had realized this sacrilege. We had found the larvae in his blood but we did not find the adult parasites.

In the evenings, my partner said that the natives were going to kill us because we had touched the corpse. He would wake us up in the middle of the night to look for our shotguns and to stand guard. There really was not anyone but he imagined it.

Shooting an arrow in the rainforest with the native children

We conducted our research using microscopes

We ate paba (a type of bird), snake, monkey, and cassava. Their churuata (hut), was huge (about the size of 3 houses together) and totally dark. There were 27 bonfires in each and only one hole in the center of the hut to release the smoke. We slept in hammocks, despite snakes with poison strong enough to kill 12 people with a single drop.

Now-a-days there is generally a lot of fear of mosquitoes and the supposed diseases they transmit, but it did not affect us. Honestly, that's part of the multibillion dollar medical industry that uses the media to terrorize us so we live under the fear of countless threats.. The worst thing that happened to me was that once I wanted to bathe in a stream and some ants called chipitas attacked me. Each bite was the size of a coin. It was the worst attack I had.

We collected parasites from animals and did a study on lizards. The little children brought us the lizards on their arrow tips and we gave them a cracker in return. They had their own language but they had learned some Spanish in lessons taught by the priest from La Salle.

Having fun in the river with the native children

We swam in the river all the time together

The studies we did on taxonomy were important because they were published in science journals and that gave me prestige back then, but now I really consider it a waste of time. My doctoral thesis was based on the parasites of the amazons.

Today, when I say that I lived in the Amazon, people are generally impressed, but at that time it did not matter much. I was always in touch with friends from the field of natural sciences and to them it wasn't that crazy to spend some time with the indigenous people. It was a time of great adventure for me and I love to remember it.

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