Over the March spring break, I traveled with the organization World Vets, in coordination with the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, to Ibarra, Ecuador for a huge sterilization program. World Vets travels to 3rd world and undeveloped towns in foreign countries to provide medical care for the animal populations there. They do both small & large animal trips in places like Nicaragua, Mongolia, and Peru, to name a few. Trip focus can be sterilization programs or rabies eradication. The plan for this trip to Ibarra was to spay & neuter as many dogs & cats as possible over 3 clinic days.
Ibarra, Ecuador is a very old town originally settled in the early 1600’s. For a lucky minority, they live in apartment buildings. The majority live in “houses” that are truly more like shacks; the average American’s garage is a million times nicer than most houses. They love their dogs & cats, but they have little to no access to medical care for them. Dogs sleep on the dirt floors or just outside. The ‘owned’ dogs still wander around the hillside, mingling with the true street dogs, which are many. You can hardly look down any road in the town and not see more than 1 street dog running around. While I didn’t see many feral cats, the amount of homeless dogs was sad.
Our liaison group there, an organization called PAE (Proteccion Animal Ecuador), runs a dog rescue. Their “rescue” holds 6 dogs, while 60 more dogs are in foster homes. During the clinic days, their volunteers helped us communicate with the animal owners and helped the intake process of getting the owners to fill out forms for their pets.
Our set up for the operation was in the PAE building in downtown Ibarra. We only had 1 true sink, so we needed to use that to wash the instruments in between surgeries. With such limited money & supplies, the best we could manage was cold tray sterilization. The surgery room had 4 tables lifted up on top of bricks. Vets needed to wear head lamps so they could have adequate lighting. Dogs & cats entered our 1st room where they were prepped for surgery, catheters placed, and off to surgery. We had to rely entirely on IV anesthesia, since we didn’t have the supplies to intubate any animals. Dogs were anesthetized with Ketamine and Valium, and cats were anesthetized with “Kitty Magic”, which is Dexmedetomidine, Butorphanol, & Ketamine. Without an additional sink, bladders had to be expelled into a bucket. No animals had the benefit of pre-anesthetic blood work, nor did they have the luxury of heated pads during surgery or exemption from surgery due to being under weight or having URIs. The locals don’t have the luxury of waiting for their animals to be in perfect health for surgery. Without World Vets, so few residents can afford to spay & neuter their pets. For religious reasons, local veterinarians will not spay pregnant animals, while many owners were very willing to have us do so.
I ran the recovery room with 2 other World Vets volunteers. We had no mop, so resorted to scrubbing with anti-bacterial wipes on our hands & knees. Towards the end even paper towels were a commodity, and we had to use needles sparingly as they were in short supply also. Animals didn’t have the luxury of a nice, clean surface to recover on. We had 2 large mattress pads, and still many animals we had to make room for on the floor. We were not able to hospitalize them until they were fully recovered. Once they were sternal and alert, we returned them to their owners. I dispensed Rimadyl for most owners, and had to quickly learn how to write prescriptions in Spanish. We also had a limited supply of Cephalexin, Doxycycline, and Clavamox. I had 1 bottle of Tramadol that lasted 1 day. I had a crash course in how to communicate in Spanish that their dog was “too cold” and had to stay until their temp improved, and I had to learn how to say that a dog or cat was “ready” to go home. We had a Dachshund come out of surgery hypothermic. While in recovery, she started bleeding. I called for a vet, who put her back under and returned her to surgery where they accessed her likely had a bleeding disorder. Without being able to run blood work, there was little more that could be done to diagnose her. Her owner sat with her all day at the clinic, wrapped lovingly in a blanket receiving fluids, and was able to bring her back the next day for another exam by our vets.
In recovery, every animal received Vitamin B, Combi-Pen, Ketoprofen, Pyrantel, and Frontline. We did our best to trim nails and clean ears and look for ear infections. The only blankets we had were the ones the owners brought for their animals, so we made due the best we could. Without any fluid bags as “extras” to heat up in the microwave for our many cold patients, we filled gloves with water, tied the end, and heated those. We had many dogs that were seniors, and were pregnant at the time of spay. We had 1 very bad pyometra, whose puppies had gone past term and passed away and mummified inside of her. Some dogs had tumors removed at the same time, and we had 1 very old street dog that had to have several of her teeth removed.
We ended up doing a 4th, unplanned clinic day. The PAE volunteers roamed the local streets and tried to catch street dogs. We knew that once they recovered and got a couple of days of pain meds, they’d return to the streets, but at least we were doing something. In the end, we did about 70 dogs/cats each day, and an additional 20 dogs/cats the 4th day. To say we were all exhausted is an understatement.
The happiest story of that week was meeting the luckiest little street dog in Ecuador. While in the center of Quito, before we traveled to Ibarra, we were taking in the sites, which naturally included an unfortunate slew of homeless dogs. One little dog, probably about 7 months old, greeted me as I entered a square. She was eating someone’s left over chicken bones out of a Styrofoam container. She was skinny and full of parasites, but the smartest little dog in Quito! She knew the right group of people to follow was a dozen World Vets volunteers! She stuck by us, often times greeted with affection from locals but greeted equally by kicks from others. She waited with us for our bus, where she used her charm and licked the face of our PAE liaison, Betsy, who promptly scooped her up and brought her on the bus. She was named “Brigitte” after Brigitte Bardot, and was bused to the clinic the next day to receive her spay. One of the vets, a doctor named Holly, decided to adopt Brigitte. She went from eating bones and drinking from filthy puddles to being flown from Ibarra to her new home, on 5 acres in the northwest with her veterinarian mom. Brigitte alone made the whole trip worth it.