Hailing originally from Normandy in the north of France, Leopold Lee Vincent, founder and ‘Great Man’ of Vietnam Animals Cruelty (VAC), took a convoluted route to where he is now, tucked away in a semi-rural corner of Binh Duong province. Away from neighbours and surrounded by animals.
When Leopold left France close to two decades ago, his original destination was Cambodia, where business opportunities beckoned and a bright future looked certain. But his plans went astray after a chance encounter with a Vietnamese lady.
Marriage followed, then a change of country, and he found himself living in the centre of Saigon shortly after the start of the new millennia, wondering where life would lead him next.
Leopold’s passion for animals and their welfare stretches back to his early years. Once settled in Saigon, he was soon providing care and affection for the city’s many stray cats and dogs, and before long his house was no longer just for him and his wife. As his caring reputation grew, so too did his collection of animals, along with the unwanted attention of his neighbours. Due to pressure felt from the neighbourhood, it was time to move again.
The move lead to a new home in another district. And then another. And yet another, before finally a second chance encounter lead to a generous grant from a Canadian organisation, Eyes of Compassion, which meant he could finally build his own animal shelter, away from the constraints of the city and complaints neighbours.
Caring for over 40 dogs and close to 80 cats means that Leopold’s days follow a routine, but with each day varied depending on the needs of individual animals. The morning begins typically at about 5:30am with a cup of chocolate, never coffee. Vincent relaxes over breakfast, opening the computer to check emails and his active social media accounts.
Leopold’s attitudes towards animals and their welfare may be considered strong by some. He is passionately opposed to the dog meat trade, and is comfortable making his opinion heard. He believes in speaking for those that do not have a voice, and that actions speak louder than words.
This proactive compassion has earned him well-deserved recognition and admiration among the many sympathetic supporters of his cause. He was an honoured guest at the recent Vietnam Animal Welfare Conference 2016, where he was recognised for his work with animals.
Despite his shelter being close to capacity after just a few months of opening, he receives regular requests to house more animals, and finds it hard to turn them all down.
After his chocolate, tasks for the day start with shoveling up the night’s plopages and hosing down the animal quarters to ensure that they are clean at least part of the day. It doesn’t stay that way for long. Yes, it smells. Most of the work is done by Leopold, although he is joined by a small team of dedicated volunteers each day to help with care.
Towels and blankets are collected from the animals’ areas, are loaded into washing machines and replaced with clean ones stacked neatly in his store room. As he goes about his morning routine he greets each animal and quickly checks for signs of distress or illness.
“Some of the animals come to us with disease” Vincent explains. “We need to keep a close eye on them to prevent it from spreading to other animals”. He makes a point of naming each animal that comes into his care, and as they run to greet him, it’s clear there is a strong bond of trust.
I personally have visited many animal shelters over the years. They tend to be bleak places, full of desperation, hope and longing. This is not the case with Leopold’s shelter. I was genuinely surprised at how well-kept his animals are, how attentive they are to him and how quickly they quiet down when he asks them to.
There is a local vet who pays regular visits to monitor overall health of the animals. Many that turn up at the shelter have already been vaccinated, and Leopold is introducing a spay and neuter programme to prevent his menagerie from growing out of control. In emergencies, sick animals are brought into Saigon, and to the expert attention of Dr Nghia in Thao Dien.
The morning’s clean finishes shortly before noon, by which time the animals sense that food is on the way and grow noisy in anticipation. “The animals have a constant supply of dry food and are never really hungry”, Leopold explains. “But, of course they grow excited for their daily meal of fresh meat or fish”.
With more than a hundred mouths to feed, the shelter goes through a huge supply of meat, most of which is paid for through donations.
After the animals are fed, Leopold takes a moment for himself, to eat, catch up on sleep or to spend time with the animals. Although they tend to get on well with each other, and there is rarely a need to isolate any, many of the animals obviously crave human attention and welcome the chance for some kind words and affection.
As the afternoon progresses, Leopold turns his attention to the shelter itself. Only a few months old, there is still plenty to be done. As we visited, he had a team of builders in to upgrade the water systems so that he is not reliant on the mains.
As night starts to close in he sets about cleaning the shelter again, preparing the animals for their night and making sure they have food and water to see them through till the morning.
He then has just a short time to himself, for food and household chores, before his day comes to an end, ready to start again tomorrow.
“The animals mean everything to me. I don’t understand the way they are treated here – stolen or killed – and so few people seem to care”, Leopold explains emotionally as we get ready to leave. “I would like to take every animal that needs care, but I can’t. I am trying to raise money so I can build more shelters in Saigon and all over Vietnam. We need to start caring more”.
For more information about Vietnam Animals Cruelty you can visit their website vietnamanimalscruelty.com or Facebook page facebook.com/vietnam.animals.cruelty.