Prosthetics have given a new lease of life to several amputees who can look forward to a better future. But giving a new lease of life to injured and endangered Sea Turtles through a wearable fiber plastic flipper which help them swim, is probably a miracle of nature and science !
Dr Dinesh Vinherkar, our next pathbreaker, Veterinary Doctor & Surgeon, runs his own private small animal treatment center at Dr Vinherkar’s Pet Health Clinic in Santacruz East and has been a veterinarian for the last 21 years.
Dinesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about treating a variety of animals like turtles, bats, chameleons, wild birds and other animals, including reptiles/exotic animals and successful surgeries on fish to remove tumours.
For students, being a vet is a blessing, because there is nothing as satisfactory as treating mute animals just by observing their symptoms and bringing them back to health, and a challenge, because a vet needs to remember diseases of each species, their symptoms, differential diagnosis of similar symptoms, species specific medicines/doses, to determine appropriate medication.
Dinesh, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am from an educated family, I used to stay in Dadar before.
I studied in a Marathi medium school till 10th standard and then took up the science stream in Kirti college. My mother is a house wife and my father was a govt. employee in MHADA.
From childhood, I used to love animals and had an inclination towards nature. I have rescued many animals when I was in school and helped them recover from their illness. My parents always supported me in this good work and motivated me. I used to visit veterinary doctors in our area in Shivaji park to treat injured animals that i rescued, and always dreamed of being like them.
After 10th standard, I visited a veterinary college in Parel and got information about the veterinary curriculum. I took the science stream and aimed to get admission in Mumbai veterinary college.
During my 12th examinations in 1992-93, the entire city of Mumbai went through a critical period with riots and bomb blasts. It was a very scary scenario of riots and bomb blasts. All 12th std students had gone through a tough time. One of our final papers (during the board exam) got postponed as the bomb blasts happened in the middle of 12th exams. Due to this uncertainty I took admission for a BSc degree in zoology. Though I studied zoology in my first year, I was not happy; I always dreamed about being a vet. In Hence, in 1994, when the situation became out of control, I tried again for admission into the veterinary college and succeeded this time. Though one year was gone, I got what I wanted to be.
What did you do for graduation and post-graduation?
I did my undergraduation from Mumbai Veterinary College at Parel, Mumbai. After completing my UG, I was very eager to start my own practice. So I started as a visiting doctor under one of my senior veterinary colleagues Dr.Rajhans in Shivaji Park. He helped me a lot in shaping my career. Under his guidance I started my personal practice. I used to travel from Churchgate to Borivali as an emergency veterinary doctor. Though my practice was going great, in the back of my mind I always wanted to study more. So I decided to do a post graduation as well. Many of my friends did their masters degree immediately after completing their BVsc degree. But I wanted to earn while studying so that I could self-fund my studies. So I developed my practice side by side and completed my MVSc in Medicine from Mumbai veterinary college in 2003. During my masters degree I developed operating skills in surgery as well.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
As a child I was always inclined towards animals and developed a soft corner for them as my parents were also animal lovers and nurtured me to always be gentle with animals.
I always feel that becoming a human doctor is comparatively easier than being a vet, as humans treat only one species but veterinarians treat each and every species except humans and that list of species is never ending. Hence, we have tremendous scope to be a specialist of any species we love.
There is nothing as satisfactory as treating mute animals just by observing their symptoms and getting them back to life. Animals are unpredictable, aggressive, and don’t understand that we doctors want to help them. Animals never compromise and are always in fight or flight mode, and in some cases, we treat highly dangerous animals as well, for example snakes ,crocodiles, elephants, tigers etc. The list is long……, which makes a vet special.
When I was a child I had a pet dog. I enjoyed his company during my school days. He taught me a lot of things about animal behaviour, and their love towards humans and loyalty. I found a good friend and a companion in him which made me more inclined towards animals. As a child I always wondered how this universe works and how animals help in maintaining the food cycle and how their population helps in the smooth functioning of nature. These are some of the questions that drove me towards this career.
Tell us about your career path
After completing the rigorous 4 and half years veterinary course, I took up my first job at IDA (In Defense of Animals), an NGO working for stray animals. I enjoyed this job as I got a chance to work with lots of stray animals and help in curing them from their ailments and diseases. After one year’s break after graduation in the form of a job, I developed my own private practice as a visiting vet and started earning independently. After working for a year, I realized the importance of post graduation and applied for post graduation. I wanted to do post graduation in clinical subjects,and hence got admission for medicine. I was very happy as medicine is the basis of all subjects in the medical field.
During my studies as a postgraduate student I continued my private practice and also got a chance to work in clinics as a locum .
Again, I was happy as I completed my studies with my earnings.
As soon as I completed my masters degree, I got absorbed by my department (medicine) as a guest lecturer on a contract basis . Here I got a chance to teach medicine to students. I worked in the medicine department for 2 years and also kept my private clinic and visiting practice in full swing.
I developed goodwill and a good client base in the Santacruz area. I used to do home visits from Andheri to Churchgate, and earned a satisfactory income. Though I got married during the second year of my post graduation in 2001, I never had any problem in running my house independently. During this phase, my wife also helped me through all the difficulties and we faced those problems supporting each other.
I started my first private clinic named “Pet Health Clinic” in Santacruz East in 2003 on a rent basis . After one year of successful practice and development of goodwill, I purchased a clinic of my own in the same locality in 2004.
I took a bank loan to purchase this commercial property. My loan was for 15 years, but with the grace of god I repaid my loan in 3 years itself. During my private practice, I came across many NGOs and joined IDA again as a visiting surgeon for animal birth control surgeries. I am associated with IDA till date and will remain in the future as well.
During my practice, I also came across reptile patients which inclined me to study more about reptiles and their illnesses. Over a period of time, I successfully developed my skills in treating reptiles and exotic animals. During those days computers were not that popular, and we used to have old telephones due to which communication speed was very slow. Still, during those days, I studied about reptiles and exotic pets (medicine) by referring to foreign books. At that time, veterinary doctors used to treat farm animals, mostly dogs and cats.
I got an opportunity to develop my skills in animal patients that were rejected by other vets as well as exotic animals such as turtles, tortoises, guinea pigs, birds and many more, as keeping animals pets was gradually becoming a trend.
I visualized the scope in this field and developed my skills in treating these pets. I developed a new stream of veterinary practice of exotic pet medicine in Mumbai. You can see this everywhere nowadays. I got an opportunity to treat a variety of animals like bats , chameleons, wild birds and other animals. I even got opportunities to treat fish. I have done successful surgeries on fish to remove tumors, to cure swim bladder diseases, and even cosmetic surgeries to correct eye problems in fish.
From 2013 till date, there was a steep increase in exotic pet population and many vets entered this field looking at my achievements. I have opened a new path of practice for all new budding vets to conquer.
In 2013, I was called by the Dahanu forest division to help sea turtles and hence got associated with wildlife conservation and animal welfare associations. With the help of the forest department of Dahanu, we helped hundreds of sea turtles to survive in an injured sea turtle treatment and transit center. The work started from saving one turtle in 2013, which has continued to saving hundreds of sea turtles till date.
I feel proud to be a vet and get a chance in life to serve animals and develop goodwill among people and pet parents.
The blessings of animals have helped me till date and I am sure it will help me in the future as well.
How did you get your first break?
After completing the rigorous 4 and half years veterinary course, I took up my first job at IDA (In Defense of Animals), an NGO working for stray animals.
What were some of the challenges you faced in such a rare career?
People in India don’t understand the limitations of a doctor in treating patients. In the current age of the internet, since all the information is available online, most people first try to find the symptoms and then google for tentative answers, and without confirming the diagnosis, some of them try to use medicines on their pets with the knowledge acquired from google. In many cases, these people waste the golden window of treatment to save the animal’s life. When nothing works, they come to the doctor for treatment and the worst part is, they hide what they have done to their pet and just give manipulated information.
The challenge is to extract exact information from the owner and to treat the animal and get him/her back to health.
Economics is another challenge . Most pet owners google a lot of information and compare treatment in India with treatment in developed countries. But when it comes to the cost of treatment here as compared to western countries, they don’t understand the difference in expenditure, care and facilities provided to achieve that standard. The problem in developing countries is people want high end facilities but do not want to spend it. If one needs good infrastructure, one needs to pay for it .
Slowly, people are coming forward to spend on correct and essential diagnostics, since they are realising that proper and timely diagnostics can save treatment time and reduce expenditure. Earlier, i used to come across owners who would ask why a blood test or x ray is needed and request us to treat based on symptoms only. But now, we are witnessing a gradual change.
The challenges faced by vets are many, a veterinarian treats a variety of animals. The funniest part is, each species has its own character, not only by shape and size of the animal but by other aspects like anatomy, feeding habits, diseases, and even the way they can attack. A veterinarian studies so many factors which I doubt human doctors even think of. For example, a dog can bite, a cat can bite and scratch, a cow or buffalo or goat can bite, kick and attack by horns, a horse or donkey can bite and attack from the front of the neck and use front and hind legs for kicking, a camel can kick and bite on the head. Similarly with different species of birds, reptiles,and fish; the list is endless.
A veterinarian needs to remember diseases of each species, their symptoms, differential diagnosis of similar symptoms, species specific medicines and their doses because based on the species, the list of diseases also changes. So the medication changes within species and across species.
What do you do currently?
Presently, I have been running my private small animal treatment center at Dr Vinherkar’s Pet Health Clinic in Santacruz east from 2004.
I have been a veterinarian for the last 21 years.
Some of my other posts :
Visiting Surgeon at “In Defence of Animals” (IDA) Animal Birth Control Center, Deonar
Visiting Veterinary Consultant at Dahanu Forest Department Injured Sea Turtle Treatment and Transit Center from March 2013 to March 2021
Visiting Veterinary Consultant at Bhavan’s Nature and Adventure Center
Served as Visiting Veterinary Consultant at Taraporewala Aquarium
What is the benefit of your work to society?
As a veterinarian, I have an opportunity to work for Indian marine wildlife. Sea Turtles play an important role in safeguarding the ecosystem of the ocean. Due to increased pollution levels in the sea, these turtles are on the verge of extinction, but with the efforts of lots of NGOs and marine wildlife vets, these animals have a second chance at life which in turn helps the sea to maintain its ecological health. This is helping humans to survive on the yield developed by the ocean.
The “Save sea turtle save sea campaign” run by wildlife conservation and animal welfare associations helped marine wildlife in a huge way in Mumbai and Palghar district by creating awareness about importance of marine wildlife and protocol to reduce pollution in sea.
I want to develop India’s first of its kind reptile treatment, awareness and research center at Dahanu, which will be in the shape of a giant sea turtle and have facilities like interactive displays giving information about marine wildlife, and a big auditorium to showcase marine wildlife documentaries to school children. One section will have an advanced research center for students to get more information about marine wildlife of india.
Any memorable work that was close to you?
I have had a lot of experiences and there are many cases to remember.
Each case that comes to me is a special case for me.
I remember one case of a Goldfish with a tumor on his tail and the owner of that goldfish had travelled from Kharghar to my clinic to consult. It was a small 4 cm long Goldfish with a 1cm long tumor on its tail . At that time, I was the first veterinarian to operate on such a small fish to remove such a big tumor (big for fish) under general anaesthesia and to keep the fish alive after surgery. This operation was in the news. I felt proud to be a veterinarian when I saw joy and respect in that owner’s eyes.
I have also made an artificial flipper for a sea turtle named “Dahanu Flipper”. I work for the Dahanu Forest division to save injured sea turtles which get stranded on the beach with ghost net injuries or boat propeller injuries. Many marine wild animals get injured due to pollution in the sea. In 2011, we along with youth in Dahanu started a rescue programme to save these marine animals along with domestic wildlife rescue.
Due to these injuries, turtles lose their flippers and can’t swim well. So i realised that if i could make artificial flippers, these turtles can swim well. So, on the basis of the stump of the amputated flipper I developed a wearable fiber plastic flipper. With the help of this wearable flipper many turtles started swimming well and after they gained enough strength in the other three healthy flippers we removed the artificial flipper and released the turtles back to the sea after complete recovery.
My efforts got listed in the research article of Dr Douglas Mader, a great veterinarian, which was a proud moment for me.
I also got a chance to do many challenging surgeries on reptiles, fish, rodents and birds. I feel proud when I look back at them.
Your advice to students?
My advice to all enthusiastic veterinary profession seekers is,
Do not hesitate to enter the veterinary field, because the veterinary field itself gives you numerous opportunities for career development whether you want to work in the field or indoors.
For example, after entering the veterinary field, you can get opportunities to develop your career in
Academics as a teacher
In Research as a scientist
In Marketing as a product manager, product designer, product manufacturer
Government employee as a LDO, to commissioner of animal husbandry
As an Entrepreneur in developing products in the pets industry, equipment and accessories manufacturer.
Other upcoming specializations like
Animal Nutrition Consultant
Animal Groomer and Dermatologist
Animal Nephrologist and Kidney Specialist
Animal Eye Specialist
Exotic Pet Medicine and Surgery Practitioner
Human Animal Disease Research Scientists
Veterinary Orthopedic Surgeon
As a veterinarian, sky’s the limit
I want to start a big hospital for sea turtles and marine wildlife. This hospital building will be iconic with the shape of a big sea turtle crawling towards the sea on Dahanu beach where people from around the world will come to study and conduct research on indian biodiversity. It will be one of the most visited iconic places in Dahanu by foreign tourists and school students of India.
This center will have interactive displays which will give information about biodiversity and how we can protect them. It will give an opportunity to researchers to develop new strategies to safeguard our ecosystem. It will help in identifying lesser known species and practice measures to save them for the future.
Gurudev Rabindranath tagore national award, NewDelhi, 2011
Sea turtle conservationist award 2015 by Dahanu forest Department
Green Avengers award 2019
Kartutva Gaurav award 2019
Appreciation certificate by mangrove foundation for the work done to save sea turtles.
Developed “first of its kind” artificial flipper for injured sea turtle named as a Dahanu flipper.
Done more than 20000 soft tissue surgeries in dogs
2000 surgeries in cats and 1500 in exotic animals.