Pull Quote: “I always tell those willing to listen that if they love and are kind to their animals they will be loved and protected in return.”
By Gary Eleazar
There are many that talk the talk, but few that walk the walk, and when some say that it’s a dirty job
but somebody’s got to do it, they have probably met this week’s ‘Special Person’ Syeada Manbodh.
Many of our outstanding sons and daughters of the soil are recognized for their sterling contributions to their country and countrymen in various ways, but Syeada is one who deserves a National Award for the monumental contribution she has made for Guyana’s pets and other animals, particularly those in distress.
But just who is this individual who has grown to become one of the country’s go-to persons when animal owners and those who care about animals are in need of a living, breathing hero.
Syeada Manbodh is first and foremost an animal lover/activist who sometimes shares her experiences with the public in the letter sections of the local newspapers and would also give occasional lectures about caring for animals to school children and other interested groups.
When not out on one of her jaunts working as an animal activist, she manages the Queenstown Rainforest Bed & Breakfast, catering to professional visitors, volunteers and students engaged in development activities in Guyana.
Syeada starts each day by remembering her favorite quote which provides an ample source of inspiration: “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
She says those motivational words give her the energy to take on the cruelty that faces the country’s animals every day.
Born in Bartica, where her father owned a sawmill along with a store on Byderabu Road, Syeada spent her early days living in a lovely wooden house overlooking the mighty Essequibo River.
Her family left Bartica and moved to Georgetown where they lived in a home on Brickdam which now houses the New Guyana School.
Like many Guyanese in the 1980s, Syeada’s parents made that difficult decision to uproot the family and seek greener pastures, which for Syeada, turned out to be Canada.
In Toronto, she enrolled in a Community College, studied accounting and marketing and held down two jobs in sales, marketing and accounting.
During her years in Canada, she worked hard, saved her money, and yearned for her homeland where she had always planned to build the house of her dreams.
Syeada returned to Guyana in 1993 and worked briefly in sales & marketing. She soon met some volunteers working at the Guyana Red Cross in D’urban Backlands and began to volunteer her services. She read stories to children under the age of 6 and helped clean and feed them.
On weekends she would get permission from the administrator to take the older children for drives, and occasionally, have a few stay over at her home to break the monotony of their lives. She recounted, “it was heart-breaking seeing those kids arriving at the Red Cross home looking so sad and abused, but it was heart-warming seeing them smile and laugh with just a little love and attention from caregivers, volunteers and management”.
In June of 1999, Syeada’s life changed when she met a beautiful 4-month-old infant named Malica Hercules – soon to become known as “Baby M”.
Malica was born with severe cleft palate, cleft lip and dismorphic facial features. She came from a very poor family near Mahaica, and because of her distorted features, the villagers were less than complimentary.
As a result, Malica’s parents took her to the Red Cross Orphanage.
In the summer of 1999, Syeada visited Toronto with several pictures of Malica which she took to the Hospital for Sick Kids. The administrative staff informed they could help Malica thru the Herbie Fund. The appropriate forms were brought back to Georgetown and filled out by the Red Cross Administrator and eventually approved by the Hospital for Sick Kids.
Syeada coordinated activities between Malica’s parents, the Hospital for Sick Kids, the Red Cross and multiple donors including: Harry Harrak, the Ministry of Health, Red Cross, Nigel’s Supermarket, CIOG, Former First Lady Varshnie Singh, Dr Persram, Dr Hardat Persaud and many more.
Thanks to these institutions and individuals “Baby M” made two trips to Toronto and underwent 7 reconstructive surgeries in 2000 and 2006, under a miracle worker – Dr. Christopher Forrest, Craniofacial Program Head (Sick Kids Hospital), who “fell in love” with Malica.
Now 13 years old, the beautiful Malica will be going back to Dr. Forrest for assessment on April 25, 2012.
In 1999, the Guyana Red Cross Society gave Syeada an award for her volunteer services.
Her life was also influenced by an adverse situation – walking on the seawall she saw a kitten with serious injuries. She had heard about the Guyana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) and took the kitten there where it was euthanized.
In the ‘90s conditions at the GSPCA were not the best and they were looking for volunteers, so Syeada decided to get involved.
Some of her main volunteer activities for GSPCA were collecting donations of animal food, cleaning supplies and cooking gas, and seeking permission from businesses to leave the GSPCA collection boxes at their premises.
Syeada was given an award by the GSPCA in 2005 for her dedicated and consistent support.
According to Manbodh, growing up in a strict Muslim home, “I was not allowed to touch dogs or have one as a pet. I was taught that animals were dangerous and unclean, especially dogs. “However, my life changed when I met a South African lady by the name of Nicole Fitzsimmons.”
Nicole she described as a true animal lover, who made contact with the GSPCA during her first week in Guyana and started rescuing animals of all types.
She carried feed in her car, and amazingly sometimes animals would see or hear her car, and they would run after it and follow her home. Her neighbours thought she was running a zoo.
“We met at a party and exchanged numbers; Nicole would often bring sick animals to my gate to show me the condition of animals in Georgetown…At first I was embarrassed to touch or even be seen with the sick and smelly animals.”
Manbodh even opined that she thought Nicole was strange and “perhaps had a screw loose” but gradually it connected: “Here was a foreigner in Georgetown doing important work that only a handful was doing; she was slowly raising awareness, going to police pounds to help starving animals, she rescued cats and dogs, donkeys and horses.”
As such, Manbodh says that it was a very sad day when Nicole told her, in tears, she was leaving Guyana for good and “asked me to take over the work she was doing…I said yes, having no idea what I was getting myself into.”
She said that the South African animal lover taught her “how to feed, water and catch animals and how to give them basic first aid for minor injuries and skin diseases…She taught me how to use a sling for catching and tethering animals and how to put a muzzle on vicious dogs.”
Manbodh also recalls that Nicole “willed me her small kennels for puppies and cats and explained how they could be loaned to people in need.”
Syeada recalled that after Nicole departed Guyana “I was pretty much on my own but I soon learned that there are many real animal lovers in Guyana, and I started developing an informal network of persons willing to help me physically or with material and financial aid.”
She says that a friend from United States, John Rich, donated a snare to catch vicious dogs and animal lover Joyce Gomes donated kennels, gloves, cages and dog and cat food, among others.
Syeada pointed out that her main passion in animal rescue is spaying and neutering – that is preventing female cats and dogs from producing babies sometimes two or three times a year.
It is a simple surgery done by qualified vets and only takes about 30 minutes. The surgery costs (approx.) between $6,000 for female cats and $8,000 to $10,000 for female dogs.
In the end, owners have healthier and happier pets.
As Syeada stressed; “Thanks to new and old friends willing to write cheques to vets, hundreds of dogs and cats have been spayed, thereby improving animal welfare and reducing the population of strays in Georgetown.”
When asked where she gets the dogs to be spayed, Syeada replied: Many times I pick up dogs and cats from low income areas owned by people without money to pay the costs of surgery.
“I explain how to prepare the dog for surgery and then I provide my vehicle or call my friend, Noreen Gaskin, to assist in picking up the animals, delivering them to one of various vets to be spayed and returning them to their home following surgery…I feel good about this service because I know the owners will no longer have to find homes for litters of dogs or cats every six months.”
It is well known that countries around the world euthanize millions of healthy dogs and cats each year and Guyana is no exception.
In addition to her animal activism, Manbodh has coordinated visits for foreign vets to do spays and vaccination of animals in low income areas. She has done such exercises in communities such as Sophia and Bartica.
Another priority of Manbodh’s is that of responding to animals in distress. She said that when no one hears or pays attention to the cries of animals, no action is taken and the animal suffers greatly, often for days at a time.
However, she stressed that thanks to a slowly increasing consciousness among citizens of Georgetown, and the growing informal network of animal rescue volunteers, progress is being made.
Syeada pointed out that volunteers, public-spirited citizens and the fire department, among others, have rescued many animals, including horses and cows from trenches and many dogs and cats from roadways.
When asked about her personal experiences in rescuing animals she said: “I once helped to rescue a dog in 2006 that had been locked in a pen for three years by its owner and survived only on the remains of cut coconuts given him by his owner. The nails on his paws were extremely long from lack of exercise and he lived with a large colony of ticks. Another dog was stabbed in the eye and about her body and left on a piece of wood by a trench for over two days.
She was still alive but had to be put down (which was done humanely, by injection). Several dogs and cats have been rescued after being dumped over the seawall. My dog Millie (one of five) was rescued from the Seawall and has lived with me for two years now.”
Manbodh gleefully recalled that on the eve of Mashramani last year, “I received a call around 7:00 am about a dog in distress in a trench by Ogle.”
She was a bit hesitant at first thinking it might be a hoax but she enquired as to how the person came to have her contact number and to describe the location.
“When I arrived at Ogle on the embankment, with my rescue tools, I called the number of the animal lover and saw a woman waving at me; it turned out to be our present First Lady, Mrs. Deolatchmee Ramotar.”
Mrs Ramotar proceeded to explain to Manbodh that the dog was in the trench and crying, and she had ventured into the caiman-infested canal to get the dog but it was snapping at her whenever she would get close to it.
The day of the rescue happened to be very rainy and the trench was at its capacity, and to compound things, the dog had a chain around its neck that was tangled in the grass and mud.
While the grass and mud was keeping her from drowning it had also inadvertently kept her “secured” in what could have been a watery grave.
The dog had been barking and crying for so long she had lost her voice and could only barely manage a wimper when the heroic team arrived for the rescue.
“Fortunately, Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority Khurshid Sattaur had an inflatable boat and his two sons and I were able to rescue the dog using my snare.”
It was determined that the dog was apparently thrown into the trench with the chain on her neck to drown.
She was later named Carliza and to date lives with Manbodh who was touched by the plight of the small defenseless animal.
“After one year she still cannot bark properly and begins to shake at the sight of water, but she is the sweetest and most friendly dog you could wish for. Her smile never leaves her face.”
Manbodh recalls that the occasion provided an opportunity for her to show the now President Donald Ramotar, Sattaur, and the First Lady her photo album of over 100 photos of cruelty to animals.
“They were all shocked to see such cruelty! Our First Lady gets the thumbs up for her bravery and determination.”
Syeada described how some animal abuse is caused by frustrated or just mean people, while most of it is simply caused by ignorance of man’s responsibility to animals.
“When children grow up with the idea that animals are dirty, dangerous beasts of burden, it is no wonder they don’t think twice about hitting, beating and throwing bricks at animals of all types.
During my many rescues (of stricken animals) I have come across terrible abuses to donkeys, especially those in the hands of boys and young men. In one case acid had been thrown on a donkey’s ear, resulting in him being blinded in one eye. There were bruises all over his body from being beaten and his tail had been chopped off. I thought he had suffered enough and bought him from the owner who was happy to get rid of him.”
Many donkeys and horses are forced to lug impossible loads of scrap metal, lumber, sand, cement and other items, sometimes without proper bits, and in many cases the horses have no shoes.
“My dear friend Nicole still sends me horse bits from South Africa and I donate them to responsible animal owners,” she said.
“My work to improve conditions for animals takes me into schools and communities where I give talks about responsible animal ownership. We talk about leaving clean water for animals, giving them good food, checking their collars to make sure they are not strangling the pet, spaying females to stop over-population, and, when walking their dogs, to be socially responsible and walk with a plastic bag to pick up after their dog. I always tell those willing to listen that if they love and are kind to their animals they will be loved and protected in return.”
Manbodh’s journey in helping animals took another interesting turn in August 2011. She reminisced: “I went to a police pound and saw animals tied up in the sun, some with their tethers knotted so tight they could barely stand. The pound was filthy and the animals were nearly always without water and food.”
With permission from the relevant authorities, several volunteers helped Manbodh improve the conditions for the impounded animals – by providing food, water and bran mixture.
“It has been a pleasing experience seeing how the initially mean animals have become docile and friendly with a little love and care…After a week of visits their reactions upon our arrival were priceless.”
Syeada’s work has been duly recognized and her services have been requested by numerous organizations and institutions such as Ogle Airport, the Ministry of Health, The Palms and even the High Court.
“I have been called on several occasions to assist Ogle Airport authorities remove stray dogs from the landing strip and compound. This continues to be an ongoing problem because of uncontrolled dog populations in the neighbouring communities. Fortunately, most of the strays have been trapped and removed and there have been no animal-caused airplane accidents.”
In 2007, an animal lover from Vancouver,Canada saw a sick dog with 3 ½ legs at the High Court.
She called and asked for help in catching it, but when Manbodh arrived at the High Court there were some 15 dogs competing for the attention of a female dog in heat, making it almost impossible to rescue the sick animal.
However, the administrator asked for assistance in cleaning up the strays and so far over 35 dogs have been caught and removed from proximity to the High Court.
“The 3 ½ legged dog eluded me for almost a year but finally became my friend…We had a vet amputate the useless leg and she (Pumpkin) and another female (Lulu) have taken up permanent residence at the court as part of the security unit. The security guards have only praise for Pumpkin & Lulu who keep the compound free of junkies and stray dogs.”
Looking towards the future and what it may bode for her, Manbodh said: “Responding to cries for help from animals is not just jumping in your car and solving the problem, it means having the right tools, the right people and being prepared for what lies ahead since you never know what you will encounter.
I am lucky in many ways to have some good friends who believe in the work being done. It can be financially challenging at times but having the right tools and volunteers to help makes a big difference.”
She used the opportunity to thank fellow animal lovers who had made her activities over the years so much easier, safer, more effective and more rewarding – persons such as Susan Isaacs, Coleen Carpenter, Savannah Mendes, Dr. Waldron, Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Pierre, Nicole Fitzsimmons, Cherie Gomes, Noreen Gaskin, volunteers Natoya Richardson, Soraya Arjune and Gloria Fernandes, as well as all those who providing financial support for specific activities.
“Without their moral and physical support my volunteer work would be impossible.”
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