A day in the life of Bhutan's collage veterinarian.
Nestled between China and India in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Kingdom of Bhutan has been described as the real Shagri-La. But as ancient cultures and traditions merge with modern technologies and sensibilities, Marianne Guillet serves an unlikely clientele: the thousands of animals who roam the quaint mountain villages and sprawling cities of Bhutan.
Marianne is a self-taught veterinarian, a cross between Dr. Doolittle and MacGuyver. In her mountain-top lab, Marianne treats all creatures great and small. From the King's tigers to the mangey guard dogs of the fabled Tiger's Nest Monastery, Marianne has spent the last 25 years treating over 50,000 animals - dogs, tigers, horses, cats, pigs, and monkeys. Using her training as an artist and an architect, Marianne employs unorthodox treatments and wildly creative solutions to her patients, turning bits of common junk into lifesaving devices and instruments of healing. From prosthetics for horses made from old drain pipes to splints for birds made from coffee straws, Maryanne has done it all. Aided by her crack team of young trainees, and her assistant, a Macaque monkey named Sister Namgay, for Marianne everyday is an adventure, with all of the potentials for triumph and heartbreak that adventure entails.
HOW WE MET MARIANNE
Our introduction to Marianne began at the Tiger’s Nest Temple in Bhutan. Hanging precariously from sheer stone cliffs thousands of meters in the air, the Tiger’s Nest is only reachable via a grueling five hour, nearly vertical ascent. Along the way, pilgrims are greeted by dogs, who escort them to the temple. One of these dogs, truly the friendliest of the pack, was also stricken with a terrible case of mange. He looked (and smelled) like a zombie - his skin falling off, covered in open sores. Tim quickly sent out an SOS on Facebook, and was soon connected with Marianne - known cryptically as the Mother Theresa of Bhutan’s animals. After a quick chat, Marianne assured Tim she’d send someone to retrieve the dog. “You know I said Tiger’s Nest, right?” “It’s OK. No worries!” Marianne assured us. Two days later, the dog (and a few of his buddies) were at Marianne’s, their road to recovery begun.
We visited Marianne a few days later, and spent 24 hours with her. Our first meeting was in the garbage bins of the Taj Hotel - one of the best in Bhutan. Every day, Marianne dumpster-dives, foraging through human refuse to find the food and odd bits of trash she uses to feed and heal her patients. We rode with her to the market, where the sellers donate crates of left-over fruits and veggies. Aided by her crack team of young Bhutanese assistants, Marianne piled her well-worn Land Rover high with the crates, and disappeared into the night.
The next day, when we arrived at her compound (situated high on a mountain) Marianne was intently working on an “Old Dude” - a dog who had come down sick with a mysterious malady. Was it simply the depredations of old age? Had he been hit by a car? Was it his heart? Marianne worked for hours, bedeviled by buggy, outdated equipment, but never losing hope. There were highs and lows. At one point, “Old Dude” seemed on the verge of certain death… But Marianne is, in the truest sense of the word, a warrior for life. Guided by her devout Buddhist admonition to “do no harm,” she doesn’t give up. No matter the obstacle or seeming futility of the task, Marianne always errs on the side of life. And she makes no apologies for it.
In the short time we had with her, Marianne revealed herself as a philosopher and scientist, a beacon of compassion and a fountain of creativity, an artist and a saint. Marianne is pure energy, an unstoppable force fighting for the lives and dignity of all creatures, guided by an inner flame of profound reverence for all life. Our 24-hour portrait of her life is proof positive that she is made for cinema, and that her story is one that needs to be told.