French veterinarian becomes legend in Saudi Arabia
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2006:
JEDDAH–Asked by Arab News to comment about avian influenza
H5N1, Tahlia Internation-al Veterinary Clinic owner Deborah Zahid was
characteristically direct and professional.
“Most city dwellers don’t realize how much feces surround
them every day,” Zahid remarked. Then Zahid described the fecal
habits of caged pigeons.
Raised and educated in France, Zahid married into an
influential Saudi family known for investments in the travel,
transportation, and heavy equipment industries.
A small woman, she dresses conservatively, with just a wisp
of blonde hair escaping from under her head covering in a much
reprinted Arab News photo showing her with a baby bear. The photo
was taken in May 2003 when Zahid donated emergency care to the
neglected animals of the Jeddah Zoo, whose plight Arab News exposed.
Zahid says little about herself in frequent Arab News
interviews. Her renowned Tahlia Clinic cannot even be found on the
web– but stays busy, with additional veterinarians helping Zahid to
keep up with the work.
Her work includes adopting out dogs from her clinic and at
times sterilizing feral cats for free, both still unusual practices
in Saudi Arabia, taking the opportunity to educate the public about
pet overpopulation. She denounces fur-wearing and animal
trafficking, and rebukes exotic pet faddists.
Her most remarkable accomplishment, however, may have been
persuading performing strongman Jalal Al-Gharbi to quit beheading and
eating snakes as part of a nightclub act.
“Is he crazy? He is not normal. This is barbaric,” exploded
Zahid when informed about the act by Arab News. “Instead of
promoting our children’s education what Al-Gharbi and Al-Abraj (a
rival) are doing is traumatizing them. I am going to do everything
to stop it,” Zahid pledged. “It is against our religion, and it is
hurting our children and the snakes. Admittedly,” Zahid added,
“snakes are unpopular here, “but nonetheless they do still feel
pain,” she pointed out.
Al-Gharbi had agreed to eat a live cobra next, but did not
want to fight Zahid.
“Come to my show,” he told Arab News after hearing of her
comments. “I won’t be killing any snakes, I promise. If you ever
see me eat another snake, then proceed with complaints, but in the
meantime,” he asked, “give me a chance to show my good intentions.”