Briana Schwapp's Gift To Animals

Briana Schwapp's Gift To Animals

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

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My gift to my beloved Jamaica would be… through my gift to our animals — my commitment to their health and the protection of their welfare in my soon-to-be role as a veterinarian.

Animal and human lives are so closely intertwined that we often miss it if we don't pay attention. They are our food, entertainment, companionship, protection and workforce; our income, our best friends, beautiful sights or, sometimes, a complete nuisance. The dogs at home, our fledgling parrotfish — whose absence we notice now more than ever — the ubiquitous cows, chickens, pigs and goats that we use for meat and dairy, the horses thundering around the racetrack on a blazing Saturday afternoon, the noisy parrots flying over us in the evenings — our life in Jamaica is so subtly enhanced and sustained by these creatures that we do not even realise it. My gift to you, my beloved Jamaica, is in one of the biggest privileges one can have — to be able to care for, speak for, and enrich the animal lives that are but a tiny heartbeat in the pulsing, thriving network of Jamaican life and culture.

One of the most profound blessings of being a veterinarian is witnessing the unique bonds that humans share with their animals. Farmers know every cow, sheep and goat differently; who milks when, which two are inseparable companions, which ones will run away. Jamaicans have sustained a growing appeal for both companion and watch dogs — from the sleek, infinitely present 'Jamaican Brown Dog' to the boasty, loyal German Shepherd. My gift to you, my Jamai-ca, is ensuring that they will be here for as long as nature allows and that you know the best way for them to live, so that they can be free from discomfort and illness and only live in ways that they deserve.

On my days spent at Caymanas Park weaving between stables with vets and watching races, I have noticed the connection between the horses and their people. These massive animals are athletes whose care is highly specific and highly demanding. We watch them appear in their glossy glory at the starting gate and finish races covered in dust, trying to catch their breath and proudly prancing away. We don't often witness the gentle kiss that some get from their groom, the firm, affectionate, reassuring pats from their trainers, the admiring words from fans. Have a seat in the stands and listen to onlookers describe their talent, their value, and their varying skills with such specificity you would think that they reared the horses themselves. My gift to you, my beloved Jamaica, is to help these extraordinary athletes perform as astoundingly and as safely as they can, so that the thunderous roar at a winning favourite or the booming displeasure of the crowd at an upset on a Saturday at Caymanas racetrack never ends, and doesn't come at the expense of creatures to which we owe so much.

I'm not sure that I can adequately define within the confines of this article what animals mean to people in our country and around the world. The ways that these bonds vary are beautiful, mysterious, and sometimes heartbreaking. 'Food' in one country is a sacred life in another. Religious slaughter in one region is banned in the next. Entertainment to one person is inhumane to someone else. The ways that we relate to animals often reflect how we relate to each other, too. I wish I had all of the answers for you, my beloved Jamaica, but what I can do is try to find them — through research and experience as a veterinarian and with those working in similar fields, we can explore and analyse how we use, respect and care for the animals in ways that matter to us.

My beloved Jamaica, take a minute to listen to the birds singing, to the rooster crowing, to say thank you for the life that gave you your food. Take a minute to appreciate the lives of the ones that cannot speak, and watch how we enhance the lives of those who can. Any gift to you, my Jamaica, is a gift to myself too.

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