Todos Santos, Guatemala - Mar 2014
Our time in Guatemala has again come to an end. The ending is always bittersweet as we are thrilled at what we accomplished, but sad to be leaving our new friends. The week was quite successful with over 80 spays and neuters performed and over 450 rabies vaccines given. Thanks to some special generosity, we were even able to provide Distemper, Parvovirus, and Leptospirosis vaccines to some of the younger dogs.
The Allandale group was lucky enough this year to be able to participate in the Community Day on Saturday. The day is used to raise awareness of rabies and proper pet care; particularly among the children in Todos Santos. There is no doubt that the people in Todos Santos love their dogs and cats as much as we do. As Jen said, “We share the same love.”. However, the lives of the people are often dominated by hard work and difficulties, so it is not surprising that they are not able to provide the luxuries that our pets receive every day. It is obvious that there is a bond though, when you see the tail wags as the dogs respond to their owners or the way the little girls cradle their cats in their arms. Through events such as Community Day, we are hoping that we can teach the children better pet care, so it becomes more and more ingrained into the culture of the community.
Monday through Friday our days were filled with surgeries and vaccines. We were thrilled with the number of dogs and cats brought in for rabies vaccines. Unfortunately, part of the reason for the increase in number may have been the news that a six year old girl in another area of Guatemala died of rabies the week before our arrival. Coming from Canada, the thought of a dog or cat dying of rabies is unexpected. The thought of a child dying from rabies is almost beyond comprehension!
An interesting development this year was that more dogs required post-operative rechecks. This wasn’t because there were more complications, but because the owners seemed to be more concerned and worried about any little abnormality in the days after surgery. This was welcome, as it shows that the owners are paying more attention to the welfare of their pets. I was lucky enough to go to a home to recheck one of our patients. The dogs and cats are often frightened and a little grumpy when we see them. Who can blame them when they are suddenly attached to a rope or put in a makeshift carrier (also known as a feed sack) and taken to a strange building with a hundred other dogs and people?
At his home, the patient I saw had his tail wagging and was anxious for head scratches. The owner was obviously concerned and listened intently as our interpreter explained the medications she was to give. We saw very positive things such as a 15 year old dog. We all know that dogs don’t live that long unless they are well loved and well cared for. We also saw very sad things such as a dog that has surgery last year and then later contracted distemper. Thanks to vaccines, distemper is so rare in most of Canada that clients question why we even bother to vaccinate against it. Here is a dog that will live the rest of its life with the neurological after effects of a totally preventable disease. And not because he was unloved or uncared for, but because the owner didn’t have access to veterinary care.
The goal of our trip to Todos Santos goes far beyond simply spaying, neutering, and vaccinating. In my mind, the goal of the trip is to create bonds. Bonds between the people in our group – all dedicated to making life better for pets and their owners. Bonds between our group and the people in Todos Santos. Bonds between our group and the Guatemalan veterinarians that join us for the week. And the ever important bond between people and their pets.
The experience we share is impossible to completely describe. The veterinary team goes from strangers to friends almost as soon as we sit down to our first dinner together. This year our team consisted of Elena and Guillermo (organizers supreme), Tracy (veterinarian who has been going to Todos Santos longer than anyone else in the group), Jack and Scarlett (Toronto and NYC vets), our own Dr. Alan Poon, myself, Stacy and Melissa (technicians extraordinaire), Natalie (the best all around helper and animal wrangler), Jen and Courtney (without whom the dogs would have woken up cold and frightened), and Thyren (all around helper and hero for preventing the escape and injury of one very angry, frightened kitty). The Guatemalan veterinarians that joined us were Andrea, Gonzalo, Adriana, Victor, and Germana.
These doctors give up time in their own practices in the city to volunteer their time in this rural area. Our stay was made extra special this year because we were able to stay together in the same hotel, Casa Familiar. The staff in the hotel are so sweet and do everything they can to help us in our work, including doing load after load of laundry. This year the staff included two young teens named Mario and Roberto. Sadly, their mothers cannot afford to keep them in school. The families need the wages they provide and cannot pay for schooling. They are tremendous young boys that we all fell in love with. They want to better themselves, so we are trying to find a way to pay for their schooling and replace their wages so their families can survive. Not exactly the mandate of a group of veterinarians, but definitely the mandate of a group of caring humans.
I am so grateful to our clients that contributed time and money to help us with this cause. I personally think that Allandale clients are the best, most caring people in the whole world. We are already thinking forward to next year and what we can do to further improve the lives of the dogs and cats (and people) of Todos Santos. Please stop by anytime to see our photos and ask about our trip. Just make sure you have lots of time, because we could talk forever!
-Dr. Patricia Lechten