They’re the two Russian women on a mission to help the animals of Oman from their vet’s clinic in Muscat. Kate Ginn meets Dr.Svetlana and Olga.
Anyone who visits the PetCare Veterinary Clinic in Al Mouj Muscat knows Olga and Dr Svetlana. They are like a double act. Dr Svetlana, the vet, is usually dashing around in blue scrubs, dispensing treatment to an array of sick animals. Olga, the owner, can be found in reception, often with her pet Shih Tzu dog, Paddy, trotting at her heels.
They are quite the institution in The Walk shopping centre. To be fair, it’s hard not to notice them with their booming Russian accents and forthright personalities. Both are strong, confident women, with huge hearts who care passionately about animal welfare.
“With us, it’s that I think we prefer pets more to humans,” laughs Dr Svetlana (I think she’s only half joking).
I thought Dr Svetlana and Olga were related but it turns out that they are good friends from year’s back who met by chance at the Russian Embassy in Muscat.
I didn’t even know their surnames before now, I always call them just Dr Svetlana and Olga. For the record, it’s Egorova and Titorenko respectively.
It’s Dr Svetlana’s day off when we meet in a coffee shop next to her clinic but she’s been working, helping Olga take a cat to the airport to be flown to France for its departing owner.
“We are always working,” says Dr Svetlana.
Olga, dressed in her usual flamboyant style with a green shawl flung around her shoulders, adds: “Everything is about the animals.”
Both are a little eccentric, or as Dr Svetlana jokes “slightly crazy”.
Dr Svetlana grew up in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where her mother was managing director of an orphanage for young children with physical and mental disabilities.
“Mum had the children so I had to take care of the animals,” she says.
Among her first patients as a trainee vet were the orphanage’s pet rats, hamsters and rabbits.
Olga’s family is also originally from the port city of Saint Petersburg, although they settled in the Far East. She moved to Muscat more than 25 years ago with her ex-husband.
Dr Svetlana arrived in Oman 10 years ago looking for a change of scene after a divorce and decided to stay. Her first job was with an Omani lady who had set up a clinic to help rescue stray animals, where Dr Svetlana soon got to grips with the finer points of treating wild wadi dogs and cats.
When the clinic closed, she moved to another one but was unhappy. “It seemed to be more about making money than the animals. I couldn’t stand seeing 20 puppies full of ticks and diseases crammed into a small box.”
It was during a trip out with Olga and friends that someone suggested they set up their own veterinary clinic.
PetCare opened up in Azaiba in September 2012, before shifting to Al Mouj Muscat, where they both live.
From here, the dynamic duo is on a crusade to improve the lot of the nation’s animals.
“We have the same passion about pets,” says Olga. Her present husband, who is Omani, has become just as involved.
“He also now likes animals,” laughs Dr Svetlana. “Before he was typical Omani; he likes animals but he never thought you could be too close. Now we are united and we all have the same idea about pets.”
It’s not an easy job and the numbers of stray animals are increasing with cases of leaving expats simply abandoning their pet dog or cat on the streets.
“You cannot help all of the stray animals here,” says Dr Svetlana. “You can help neuter them, vaccinate them and release them but with abandoned pets, I think it will be a huge problem in Oman in a few years.”
Dr Svetlana adopted her own pet dog, an Italian Greyhound called Dash, from an Omani family who didn’t want him any more. She later took a Bengal Cat from the same family.
Cases coming into the clinic range from the mundane to the downright bizarre. They recently had a pony being treated for maggot infestation staying for a week in one of the dog kennels, which had been turned into a makeshift stable complete with hay.
Then there was the goat from a school in Sohar, which needing castrating and a poorly lemur brought in Dubai. Among the more exotic have been a monkey and ostriches, and Dr Svetlana has also treated snakes and other reptiles in the past.
Olga also reveals that someone approached asking if they could board a two-year-old tiger. Not surprisingly, they turned down the astonishing request.
Cultural attitudes towards animals are changing, the pair says.
“Last week, we had two or three emergencies, with Omanis bringing in animals from the streets sick from the flu or injured after an accident,” says Dr Svetlana.
“They were willing to pay whatever money was needed. Even when there was very little chance of survival, they say do whatever you can.”
Olga chips in: “At the end of the day, we are in Oman and our first priority we should give to Omanis. They own a lot of pets now.
“Education is still required for people to understand that a dog needs one owner. It is not like a car or something that can be passed on to person after person.”
There is no doubting their commitment to the cause. Olga has spent a lot of her own money on the clinic and paying to look after the stray cats that no one wants to adopt. Recently, nine cats were transported to their new farm near Mussanah, which they hope to turn into an animal centre and retreat.
All their free time seems to be eaten up by animals. Both of them are workaholics who pour their heart and soul into caring for animals.
If all goes to plan, their farm, which is around 50 minutes from Muscat, will also house a petting zoo for children (presumably not with tigers) and schools to visit. There will also be an Agility Centre for small dogs and they hope to offer weekend packages for pets and their owners to chill out in a safe environment.
It’s time to go. They want to look in at the clinic to make sure everything is running smoothly.
It is, as Olga says, all about the animals.
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