ABSTRACT: Five years ago, I took an active decision to develop my career as a VN through locum nursing, with the aim of trying to experience many different types of veterinary practice. As a result of that decision, I have often been able to combine international travel with my work. Throughout the world, it is always interesting to see how cultural differences dictate the way we treat our animals. Here I explore the highs and lows of working in Kuwait.

“Helen?” Jill called from the consulting room. “Can you weigh the cheetah and write up some wormer at 10mg/kg?”

I walked slowly down the corridor. I looked at the cheetah, the cheetah looked at me. I had heard her correctly. Our waiting room was full of the more commonly seen pets in Kuwait – long lanky desert dogs, fluffy white cats, African grey parrots and two pugs.

All the patients, without exception had their eyes fixed in the same direction as mine. From their vantage points of owners laps, under chairs or in carrier cases, eyes bulged as the cheetah strained against its sparkling diamante lead. My first day as a VN in Kuwait had begun.

Badgeless but beguiled

Arriving last night, without my luggage, which was, to quote the lady on the help desk, “somewhere between Manchester and Kuwait city”, meant that as I stood pondering this hundredweight of not-so- domestic shorthair, I was wearing the clothes I travelled in.

No comforting green tunic or trousers and no badge. I find something reassuring about my VN badge. I like wearing it; it makes me feel ready for anything my job can throw at me. Right now, 1 didn’t feel ready!

I approached the cheetah calmly and confidently and led her gently, but firmly, on to the dog scales in reception; 60.3 kg flashed up on the screen. Despite her gangly legs and thin frame there was muscle on this girl. She had been living with the owner since she was a baby and was used to being handled; he was confident that she would take the wormer in her meat.

My task completed 1 lightly ran a hand down her coarse fur, thrilled at being so close to such an animal. She tolerated it, just seemed like a large domestic short hair. However, as she walked out of the hospital, a brave puppy barked nervously in her direction. She turned her graceful, beautiful head and shot him a growl that sent a shiver down my spine. Then she hopped into the back of the Land Rover like a Labrador – and was gone. Images of her living in a suburban Kuwaiti apartment filled my mind, tears filled my eyes.

Home from home … almost

Six days earlier, I had been working in Hampstead and received a text from one of my favourite vets who needed a locum nurse in Kuwait (Figure 1). She was based just outside Kuwait City at the Royal Animal Hospital; and with the promise of sunshine, blue skies and adventures I packed my bag and boarded my flight.

Figure 1: Kuwait City

A private veterinary clinic, the Royal Animal Hospital works to the standards I’m used to here in the UK; a clinic with all the normal ‘bells and whistles’. My days were more or less – apart from the cheetah – similar to UK locum days. Operating in the mornings with the afternoons spent clearing up the mess from the morning!

My salary equalled that at home, I had accommodation and a car, along with the beautiful Gulf Coast Road to drive along. Culturally, as a lone Western woman exploring, working and driving within Kuwait, I was often stared at. The stares were quickly converted to smiles, so 1 never felt threatened.

The main difference to work in the UK was frequently encountering wild animals being kept as pets. Many were endangered species; many smuggled into the country illegally at the request of someone prepared to pay for the privilege of owning such a pet, paying for the attention and status that it affords.

Kuwait has the fifth largest oil reserves in the world and currently stands as the 11th richest country in the world. Not bad for a kingdom smaller than Wales. Kuwaitis generally enjoy a good standard of living; and with that, when they want something, they get it.

Ethical reconciliation

Personally, I cannot possibly reconcile myself with these fantastic animals being kept in captivity as pets. While I was in Kuwait, a rumour was circulating that there were two white lion cubs for sale. The wild-caught baby monkeys that we saw frequently were almost certainly peeled from their slaughtered mother’s body, shrieking and screaming.

Professionally, the ethics were more straightforward and we treated these animals to the very best of our ability. We chatted to the owners, even made friends, all the time trying to encourage good husbandry, nutrition and health care, while subtly discouraging the purchase of more. Although at times desperately angry with these people who I perceived as selfish, I was guided by the vet I was working with, remembering her words, “We want them to bring the animals here. We want to see them. That’s how we can help.”

This ignorant attitude towards animal welfare was not reserved for the exotic species. The hospital is located directly opposite the main animal market in Kuwait – where cats, dogs, rabbits, turtles, birds, all manner of species sit waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. Baby rabbits huddled together for comfort; traumatised and frightened, dressed in T-shirts and skirts (Figure 2). Chicks dancing and clucking around the bottom of a cardboard box, oblivious to the attention they were attracting and unaware of the fact that they had been dyed lurid colours, purple, green, orange and yellow (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Baby rabbits huddled together for comfort; traumatised and frightened, dressed in T-shirts and skirts

Figure 3: Chicks unaware of the fact that they had been dyed lurid colours, purple, green, orange and yellow

Purr-fectly normal

I don’t want to mislead you into believing that all the animals in Kuwait were ill treated. We saw owners who cared deeply for their pets, enjoyed their company, and relied heavily on the services of Dr Jill to keep them healthy and happy. What struck me as tragic were the people making money out of animals – both wild and domestic.

White fluffy cats were a favourite. A six- month-old ‘fluff-ball’ was presented for a consultation for clip nails’. The tall, handsome Kuwait owner looked seriously at me, “We cannot wash her,” he said. He looked grave, “It takes four of us to put her in the bath. She scratches and bites, then runs away.” He looked at me in anticipation.

My answer was short, sweet and, in my opinion, totally curative. “Don’t wash her,” I suggested. I went on to explain how bathing cats every week was unheard of in the UK and that brushing would be fine. He looked at me suspiciously,
and leant over, “You mean that people in the UK would not use perfume on their cats?”

My giggles answered his query. He was intrigued and we agreed that he would try brushing for a month, to see how he got on. I didn’t really believe him and was certain that the kitten would get a good soaking when she got home.    I continued with the consultation, putting kitty on the scales, clipping nails and talking nutrition.

The owner’s last question had me reaching for my stethoscope, while simultaneously wondering if Jill was free to step in and give me a hand… “This cat,” he said, “sometimes has terrible breathing problems. She makes a noise like a little drum banging.” I put the stethoscope down. I looked at him trying hard to rearrange my face into concern and interest, suppressing peels of laughter. I took a deep breath. He was genuinely concerned and difficult to convince when I assured him that the purring he had described was totally normal.

It took three clips from the internet to satisfy him! 


Helen Ballantyne BSC RVN

Helen qualified as a VN in 2005 whilst working at Mill House Veterinary Hospital. Kings Lynn. She has worked with giant pandas in China; with wildlife, in practice and at the University of Melbourne in Australia; and with an animal charity in India.

Back home Heten is a locum veterinary nurse and has just started the Postgraduate Diploma in Adult Nursing at Sheffield Hallam University. She is currently the BVNA Honorary Secretary.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2011.00104.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 26 pp 372-373.


Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 26 • October 2011 •