This time of year is often a time of reflection. It is a time of thinking about what you really want for Christmas – what items go on that famous Christmas list. What are the things you would really love Santa to bring you – and being Santa you can wish for whatever you want.
This year there were some practical things on my list – including an electric blanket and a pasta making machine (both of which I got – yay!). There were also though some wishes and hopes on the list. I have one wish every year and that is for donations and miracles for the dogs in the Bucov shelter that I support through Hope for Romanian Strays. With now over 1500 stray dogs living in the shelter (with an original capacity for 700 dogs) and of those over 300 puppies, there is never enough funds to help them all. The authorities do not provide enough food for that many dogs so it is up to us, and our supporters, to provide the additional food and care to try to keep the dogs alive. There are constant medical and emergency cases, like newly born puppies or injured dogs dumped at the shelter gates – essentially being left there to die. My wish did partly come true as thanks to some generous supporters and fundraising the dogs did get a Christmas meal. This is of course a drop in the ocean but at least they did not go hungry on that special day.
My other Christmas wish this year relates to work. Having left ZS in March I have gone back to working as a freelance consultant, culminating in an extremely busy December. However with my contract coming to an end in January I am again looking for the next opportunity. Whilst I would love the stability of a permanent job, the reality is there are not that many permanent roles for someone with my level of expertise and seniority. I also have such a huge passion (and depth of experience) for my area of specialisation (healthcare digital and social media strategy) that I have no desire to even consider anything else (except perhaps animal rescue!). I do also love the flexibility that working as a freelance brings and so I am putting feelers out again for some more contract work. As always it is a balancing act between finding new opportunities and meeting the requirements for the current contract – and this is one of the down sides of freelance work. I will have to start looking for the next opportunity whilst working flat out on the current contract – and find time to rescue dogs and take care of my health and personal life. I’m tired already just thinking about it! And so I make my wish and I hope that one of my tweets or posts ends up fortuously in front of the right person at the right time and I end up with a new contract for 2016. Fingers crossed ….
Linked to the above wish is another work related wish – a new laptop in the shape of the new Mircosoft Surface Pro. Sadly this is not a wish that Santa was able to grant this Christmas because Microsoft decided that Europeans are second class citizens compared to the US and that we have to wait 6 months to get our hands on this new shiny gem. My wish will have to continue being a wish only until March when I hear the Surface Pro will finally go on sale in the UK. Annoying.
My final big Christmas wish of course has to be health related. If you follow my posts then you know I have an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s. I think most patients with autoimmune disorders wish for improved (or at least stable) health. When I am happy and love what I am doing (and get plenty of sleep, eat well, etc.) I have no issues whatsoever with my condition. Sadly if I get over-stressed, sleep badly, or slip up on my food (e.g. eat something with Gluten in) I end up feeling pretty pants. Of course I plod on but there will always be a wish for that magic pill to come along and make life easier – or indeed cure my condition. That will stay a wish for a long time though as that is unlikely to happen! My other, more realistic, wish therefore is that more people are educated about the reality of autoimmune diseases, including doctors.
I got to spend my Christmas this year with my family, including my brother who is a GP. I was really saddened to hear that he had no idea the impact gluten (and diet in general) can have on patients with autoimmune diseases. I am not sure if he took my gluten free diet that seriously – I suspect like many doctors he felt that just taking my pills should be remedy enough. This makes me sad as I know the difference lifestyle makes on quality of life, and disease progression, for many patients with autoimmune diseases, but if doctors do not provide information or even support in this area then life just gets that bit harder. There really is nothing more frustrating that having your condition dismissed by your doctor – or indeed your online research either. Yes there is a large amount of incorrect and bad information online, but there is also a huge amount of life changing, accurate information out there. The fact that some of this comes from patients makes it no less valuable or accurate. Afterall how can a healthy doctor really understand what living with an autoimmune condition feels like and who are they to judge how we feel if we make lifestyle changes? And so I wish that more doctors listen to their autoimmune patients and try to understand their needs and conditions better. I wish more autoimmune patients had access to a great doctor like I do here in Switzerland.
If I could have my wish for a healthy 2016 and a new contract or opportunity to come true then I can also help make my first wish come true – I would be able to make a large donation to my charity and thereby rescue the lives of more vulnerable, neglected dogs in Romania. So should you hear of any opportunities (perm or contract) then do let me know … and you can do your bit to help my wishes come true!
I have been using Tripadvisor for years to research holiday destinations, hotels and restaurants. I will often start by using a tool such as Lastminute or Booking.com to find a holiday or hotel and then I will check the options using TripAdvisor. When checking I tend to only look at recent reviews as I know from experience how much hotels and restaurants can change with time. If a location gets a bad review I will move on to find a different location. If my searched location gets great reviews then I tend to book.
This was the same process I went through recently to book my trip to the Maldives. I had used Lastminute.ch to identify potential holiday destinations, and then having narrowed it down to the Maldives (where I had had a fantastic holiday back in 2007) I then went to TripAdvisor to select the resort to go to. The island I opted for was called Biyadhoo and it was touted as being a simple and basic resort on an island with a fantastic house reef. Reviews commented on how great the snorkeling and diving was and what a lovely island it was. A few also posted photos of the resident cats. It was this combination of a great reef as well as resident cats that swung it for me and I booked myself a week’s holiday on Biyadhoo.
At first glance the island looked like paradise, as so many tropical islands do. The rooms were not as basic as I had expected and things looked promising so as soon as I had changed I went for my first snorkel. And this is where it all started going down hill. The supposed amazing house reef appeared to be mainly dead. I though perhaps it was just the area I had gone in, close to the pontoon, that was damaged. I decided to call a night and went to dinner. Sadly I was met with more disappointment. In the restaurant we were to be allocated with a table and that was were we would have to stay for the entire week. The food itself was okay – nothing amazing and as I found out based around a limited selection of recipes. The curry’s were always good, but after one week I had my fill of fish curry.
The following day I rose bright and early to go for a dive around the house reef. Again I had high hopes but again my hopes were dashed. The dive was extremely disappointing, with strong currents and dominated by brown, dull and dead coral. The fish selection was mediocre and equally disappointing. For the afternoon I opted not to dive again but try snorkeling on the other side of the island. This was the supposed house reef that people had raved about on Tripadvisor. All I can say is that these people had obviously never seen a decent coral reef. Bar the odd “normal” outcrop most of the reef was again dull and dead. This holiday was turning into a huge disappointment – one week on a small island with overwhelmingly dead coral and as it turned out on-off weather was not what I had hoped for.
Things however were soon to get so very much worse. My first days I was overjoyed by the island cats, in particular an adorable “blue” kitten (who I called Blue) who was terribly sweet, adorable and cuddly. Then after my 2nd dive (this time a good wreck dive) I saw two men carrying a box of screaming kittens. Myself and the other divers stopped them and to our horror we saw in the box new born kittens that were still so young their eyes were not even open. Despite our emotional and vehement objections that these kittens should be returned to their mother or they would die the men took the kittens off on their speed boat. I was absolutely distraught. I went straight to the hotel manager to complain. He promptly told me they would be fine and would be put on an island. If we were concerned they would also catch the mother and take her there too! When I continued to complain he told me he did not care at all about the cats and only cared about the happiness of the guests. My happiness, as a guest, would it appear not be relevant however.
I demanded to speak to the manager, and threatened to go public on social media with this heartbreaking story. On digging deeper I found out that this was standard practice and had happened the year before and was happening again at the time moment – due to the cats not being neutered there were too many so they would catch them and dump them, to essentially die, on another island. Now I also understood how Blue’s little sibbling had the most horrific, raw and bleeding neck wound. Someone had clearly tried to catch the poor little soul with a wire trap (or possibly just tried to strangle it) and the result was a raw, open wound on this kittens neck. I was no longer able to sleep worrying about the fat of little Blue, no more than a few months old, and her injured sibling.
The next day I got to speak the the CEO via telephone. I had a long discussion with him, during which he assured me he himself was a cat lover and had cats himself, and during which we discussed the options. Option one was that I would go public with the animal abuse that was happening or alternatively I would fund for a vet to come over in February to neuter the cats (there is not one single vet on the Maldives due to the government not allowing them to import veterinary products). To me this seemed like a simple choise – make money or lose money or do the right thing or do the wrong thing. He had said that the action was a result of a few people complaining – but how many people were happy with the cats but never said a word? I know I was not the only one who had selected the resort because of the cat pictures. To me this seemed like a potential business opportunity in itself. With dying coral why not optimise another resource -cats? I for one would pay extra to stay at a hotel with animals.
The rest of my stay remained a disappointment, the snorkeling did not improve, the weather got worse (afternoons with nothing but torrential rain) and more distressing examples of animal cruelty, including one cat, with an injured front paw, whose back paw was deliberately snapped broken. This was witnessed by other tourists, who like most I spoke to, where appalled at the dreadful treatment of the cats. Again I complained and was assured this would be looked into. I also informed the resort that I would be adopting Blue, and possibly her sibling, and would get the vet I was going to send to bring her to Europe.
I was very happy to leave Biyadhoo island behind. The Tripadvisor reviews had been so very far from the truth that what was meant to be a relaxing weekend of snorkeling and relaxing turned into a dull, distressing and horrible experience that I was desperate to see end.
Happy as I was to get home I was then absolutely shocked and appalled to then hear from a tourist still on the island that the order had been given by the management to clear all the remaining cats from the island and that little Blue, who I was going to adopt, had been one of the first to go. I was, and still am, absolutely devastated that this little life was needlessly snuffed out, by a management so intent on making a profit and disregarding customer complaints that they did not want to hear. They were only interested in the few that complained about the cats that they where they intent on ignoring the multiple complaints they received from guests about how the cats were being handled. They clearly also presumed once I, and the other guests, were gone that that would be the last they would hear of this.
My message to the management of Biyadhoo is shame on you and how wrong you are. In today’s world it is a very high risk strategy to ignore a guest, who works in social media, and dismiss they complaints as worthless. In today’s world full of animal lovers, who are very active on social media, it is a foolish thing to publicly be seen to be killing of cats that had a positive future. As to the future of the island – I can only see it getting worse. Now with the cats all gone the rat population (which was an issue in the past) will explode again. According to the management this is simple to resolve with poison. Will that get a mention on TripAdvisor I wonder? Will families with children want to visit an island riddled with rat poison? Will people really want to continue visiting an island that how coral and fish being killed off even more due to poison leaching into the water? I know I would not want to. Whereas TripAdvisor let me down this time I hope for the sake of other travellers that it does not let them down in future around what Biyadhoo Island Resort is really like.
UPDATE: Blue has been found alive but not looking happy and is losing weight & the island she is on has now been closed and with the dry season she will have limited access to water. This has now turned the importance of this post from a focus on boycotting #Biyadhoo island to rescuing Blue – or #RescueBlue – and is now URGENT! I don’t know how many days Blue has left. Please contact Ministry of Tourism & Ministry of Health in the Maldives to ask them to step in and help, share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin etc. PLEASE HELP SAVE BLUE!
In my last blog post I wrote about my absolute despair at the situation of 60 rescue dogs in a private shelter in Romania that will lose their home next week. Finding homes for that many dogs in Romania is next to impossible. Their fate however, if homes are not found, is almost certain death on the streets or in the local death shelter. It is faced with this task that I have turned, desperately to social media, to try to save as many of these dogs as possible.
I must be honest I had lost hope as few of people seemed to be responding to Anca’s plea for help. I also wondered how on earth the fate of 60 Romanian rescue dogs could cause even a ripple in social media at a time of so many other huge global crisis such as Ebola or Syria. Some people may say these are “only” dogs – but each one has a name, a personality and lots of love to give. But still they are a drop in the ocean. I truly despaired. My previous post was a true cry of despair, a cry for help from anyone listening.
And some of you did listen. Some of you did start responding, sharing and asking local rescues in your country. All of sudden there is a ray of hope in the sea of despair. We have started getting offers in from people who can take 1 or 2 dogs. A dog’s home in the UK, a foster place in Germany, an adopter in Switzerland, the offers are starting to creep in. I admit that it brings tears to my eyes to see the uptake of my plea for help. It brings me hope. It brings Anca hope – a woman who is a walking zombie she is so depressed and distraught about the fate of her dogs.
It is however still not enough. It is only a small ray of hope and we must make it bigger. We still have 50 dogs looking for a home. Some of them have never lived on the street. Others are so traumatised from their experience in the public shelter that they just cower in their kennels and shake at the sight of people. We cannot let these dogs go back to this horrific fate. These dogs need our help – urgently. At the very least we need to find long term sponsors who will save these traumatised dogs by paying for a private shelter where they are cared for.
Which brings me on to funding. Even when we have found homes for all 60 we still need to pay to make their final travel preparations (e.g. final vaccines for the puppies) and fund the cost of their travel, at €220 per dog. That is a HUGE sum of money. How on earth can a few individuals raise that sort of money?!!
It is looking at what still lays ahead – the impossible task of find more homes in such a short space of time and raising such a huge sum of money – that for me that ray of hope gets smaller. The despair sets in again and I cry. I do not know what else to do but keep begging for more help to pray with all my soul that we can find enough people to open their homes, enough people to give small donations (or a few big ones) and enough people to share this desperate appeal and find more help.
Again I reach out to you. Please help. Please share and donate. And please pray for 60 dogs desperately close to be thrown into a living hell. Please do not let them die in pain and misery.