‘Balik vet’ | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

‘Balik vet’

/ 05:05 AM November 04, 2020

Over breakfast I wondered what to write about, eventually deciding not to write about the American elections.

Fortunately, I was listening to BBC Radio 3, which had just started a series about famous classical composers and their dogs.


That gave me an idea: Why not write about how, at age 68, I am now going back to and rediscovering my first profession: veterinary medicine?

I’ve renewed my license the past 43 years, but was never really practicing except the occasional consult with friends and relatives. Now I can boast that I am teaching in the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) in UP Los Baños, although my main base is still UP Diliman (as an anthropologist) and as a clinical professor at UP Manila in the College of Medicine (as a medical anthropologist).


Being a “balik vet” was inevitable, given that I’ve worked with public health all these years and the human-animal connection was always there. The last few years in UP Diliman as a chancellor, I got to use my vet training with stuff like vaccination campaigns (including doing the ceremonial first vaccination!), and then working to set up an emotional support animals program for our students and staff.

I get to talk about all that in a course called Principles of Animal Welfare (VMed 101), which I’m team-teaching with Dr. Leila Flores, Dr. Flor Marie Pilapil-Amante, and CVM Dean Jezie Acorda. Suddenly, so much of what I’d been doing the past decades were finding convergence.

I got to lecture about One Health, which stresses the need to connect the health of humans, nonhuman animals (the politically correct term these days), and the environment. One Health couldn’t be more important than it is today with COVID-19, which, together with recent pandemics, is linked to viruses that started out with wildlife and mutated to cross the species barrier into humans.

The animal welfare connection? We humans intruded into wildlife habitats, and the close contact made the viral species jump inevitable.

Then I moved to anthrozoology, the relationships between humans and nonhuman animals, whom we’ve used for everything imaginable, to name a few: agriculture, transport, security, rescue, clothing, medicines, food (not just eating them but stealing from them — milk, eggs, honey, etc.). In more recent years, we’ve seen dogs used to sniff out not just bombs but also diseases, sense when an epileptic human is about to have an attack, and provide therapy and emotional support to those with mental health problems.

Then, too, we have the millions of pets providing companionship.

We owe them more than they owe us.


Next was comparative behavior, a field still undeveloped in the Philippines but which I feel is indispensable for today’s veterinarian to be better able to tend to and heal patients. Comparative behavior also just might help us understand humans better.

If we’ve seen the depths of cruelty that humans are capable of toward animals, we see too how our humanity is tested all the time with our ability to care for other species. I described the initiative in UP Diliman to control stray animals without exterminating them, using scientific evidence for a trap-neuter-vaccinate-release program that allows animals to stay in a public building after they’re neutered or spayed, and vaccinated while their humans (students, faculty, staff) are taught to handle the animals safely. In turn, the very territorial animals provide companionship, control vermin, and guard the buildings, not allowing new strays in.

It’s an exciting time to be back with fellow vets (most much younger than me) and to share experiences from public health and anthropology.

I’ve described how harrowing it was preparing materials for several online classes, including this VMed 101, but meeting the two sections for the first time, and sensing their excitement, made everything worthwhile. I’m now reading the 150-plus students’ integrative essays and, tedious as that might be, I feel privileged to have been part of their first year in vet school, the batch that entered in the middle of this pandemic but who might end up better vets for a better normal.

Let me share a link I’ll be sending the VMed class for BBC3’s composers and their dogs stories, which you can use with your kids for different subjects: English, science, literature, and more.


The live broadcast is 6:45 every morning this week, but the recordings will stay posted on the site of BBC3’s program, “The Essay,” for a few weeks. Learn about Haydn’s poodles, Bernstein’s dachshunds, and Elgar’s cocker spaniels.

[email protected]

Subscribe to Inquirer Opinion Newsletter
Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi, Veterinary Medicine
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

© Copyright 1997-2021 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.