September 9, 2007


This article was originally posted on the blog of the Canadian Animal Assistance Team.


On August 19, 2007 CAAT received word from Molly Mednikow, director of Amazon Cares, Iquitos, Peru, that our immediate help was needed in the earthquake-stricken areas of Ica and Pisco. We responded that we would begin to prepare a team to go within one week’s time. After a week of seemingly endless media interviews, travel preparations, packing and last minute details, twelve team members departed from the Vancouver International Airport for Lima, Peru. The team members were the following:

Dr. Tara Huggins, DVM, Vancouver, BC

Dr. Terill Udenberg, DVM, Vernon, BC

Dr. Ken Seaman, DVM, Comox, BC

Karen Belanger, (Registered Animal Health Technician) RAHT, Delta, BC

Jackie Emard, RAHT, Vancouver, BC

Daniel Harvey, RAHT, Vancouver, BC

Tyler Udenberg, Veterinary student, Saskatoon, Sask.

Laura Chenier-McFadden, Assistant, Delta, BC

Jennifer Picard, Team Photographer, Vancouver, BC

Barb Ashmead, Assistant, Qualicum, BC

Corinne Barker, Assistant, Qualicum, BC

Donna Lasser, RAHT and Team Leader, Hope, BC

After fourteen hours of travel, we arrived safely at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima and were met by Molly of Amazon Cares. The night was spent at the Manhattan Inn Hotel, and by noon the next day we were off by mini-bus to Ica, approximately a five hour drive along the west coast of South America. The terrain is desert, with mile after mile of sand and the occasional tent or mud-brick house.

En route to Ica, we were forced to take a detour around the city of Pisco, which was 90% destroyed by the earthquake. Every time our bus would stop, the bus would be surrounded by children begging for money. They would attach plastic pop or water bottles with the tops cut off to a long stick which they hold up to the windows of the bus, hoping someone will drop a few centimos or soles into their bottles.

When we arrived in Ica, we were taken to the home we would be staying at for the next three weeks. The home belonged to the Pena- Castillo family (Leonardo and Maria), the parents of Esther, a veterinarian who works for Amazon Cares in Iquitos, Peru ( Esther is a small animal veterinarian and her husband, Miguel Salas, is a wildlife veterinarian. They, along with their two children, live and work at the Amazon Cares clinic and shelter in northeastern Peru, along the Amazon River. Esther’s family home was virtually untouched by the earthquake. The family very graciously offered to house and feed our large team during the time we were working here. We were given the entire upstairs of the two storey home. Wall to wall beds on the floors (air mattresses and sleeping bags) as far as the eye could see. The one and only bathroom posed a few small problems at the beginning but everyone adapted and cooperated and we all learned how to be quick at whatever we did in there. The meals (breakfast and dinner) were a culinary delight, with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals served. However, instant Nescafe coffee seemed to be all that was available for coffee in a country that is one of the largest coffee bean exporters in the world. Starbucks – you were very much missed!

Our work days would start early, usually awake and getting ready by 6:30 a.m., and off to work on the bus by 8:00 a.m. The first three days of this week were spent working in a large room on the main floor of the San Andreas Municipality building, a suburb of Pisco. Our Veterinarians, Dr. Terill, Dr. Tara, Dr. Ken (and their wonderful technicians) along with Amazon Cares’ Veterinarian, Dr. Esther (assisted by Harry and Behtjane) were kept busy with spays and neuters while Corinne and Barb hit the streets with our three American friends, Gerald, Marcia and Thea to vaccinate, deworm and give food to the dogs. Molly from Amazon Cares did intake, and Dr. Miguel helped to triage the dogs being brought in. Some owners just wanted vaccines, while other owners agreed to have their dogs spayed or neutered.

The Peruvian Ministry of Health agreed to sit down and meet with members of CAAT, as well as with members of AASPA (the Peruvian version of the SPCA). Daniel and Donna were representing CAAT. Two days of this week were spent in talks with several of the Ministry of Health officials, and by the end of the two days, the Ministry agreed to let us work in conjunction with them to address some of the public health issues facing the people as a result of the earthquake. The majority of the population of Pisco had lost their homes and had been moved into soccer stadiums (tent cities). Many families brought their dogs with them to these tent cities, and the dogs run free. The Ministry of Health had received complaints from non-dog owners about the loose dogs and the Ministry was concerned about the public health risks to the people. At one point the statement was made that all of the dogs should be rounded up and shot. CAAT, Amazon Cares, and AASPA agreed to work within designated areas in the tent cities in several locations around Pisco, ensuring as many dogs as possible received Rabies vaccines (generously donated by Intervet in Canada), were dewormed, and were given food. The owners of the dogs were so grateful that we had “saved” their precious dogs.

For the remainder of the first week and well into week two we worked in the tent cities. The military which was stationed at the tent cities were very good to us. They rounded up tables which we could use for surgeries, the brought us a tent for shelter from the hot sun, and they provided us protection, especially as darkness began to fall. The Ministry of Health from time to time brought us mandarin oranges, apples and buns to eat and soda to drink (Inka Kola, Sprite, Coca Cola and bottled water).

On the weekend a group from Lima (AASPA volunteers) came to where we were working and brought bags of donated dog food to start handing out to hungry dogs. Several Veterinarians from Lima and the surrounding areas came to see what they could do to help also.

We saw two or three cases of distemper virus in dogs, and they had to be euthanized. Many dogs had venereal tumours also. Venereal disease is very common amongst the dogs in South America and is easily spread from dog to dog – sexually transmitted. It always ends in death for the dog.

At the end of week one, Donna and Jen accompanied Tara by bus back up to Lima to see her off at the airport. She flew back to Vancouver to return to work. At midnight, nine members of Team Two were met by Donna and Jen. More to come shortly!

July 13, 2007

Animal Birth Control Program: An Explanation

Written By Dr Beth McGennisken BA, BVSc(hons) MRCVS

ABC (animal birth control) & AR (anti-rabies) programs have proven to be the only humane and sustainable method of reducing urban street dog and cat numbers. ABC helps to create a stable friendly rabies-free street animal population.

According to the World Health Organization 55,000 people die in the world every year from rabies. To reduce the risk of rabies in Iquitos all animals passing through this program will be vaccinated with anti-rabies vaccine. As this will significantly increase the cost of the program, we hope to receive government co-operation and be provided with the vaccine free of charge.

In Iquitos we would love to re-home all the street dogs and cats but there are just not enough homes available. ABC is one way to ensure that the street animal population decreases over time. It also means that we can put a stop to the large numbers of puppies and kittens that are born only to starve to death, or die from disease on the streets of Iquitos.

Our aim is to catch/neuter/vaccinate/identify (with collar, ear tattoo & notch) and release street animals back to the same location they were caught.

This is exciting news for Peru because this will be the 1st ABC program of this type to target street dog and cats. We aim to 'go to the dogs' (and to the cats too!). Our mobile neuter clinics go to poor areas where the highest concentration of street animals live (such as food markets and the floating village of Belen) and we will conduct mass sterilization of animals there. We also travel by boat along the Amazon River to take veterinary care and the ABC program to animals in remote jungle villages.

All animals with diseases requiring ongoing treatment such as TVTs (transmissible venereal tumours, severe mange, fractures etc) will be taken to the animal shelter for care. Animals requiring a long stay at the shelter will not be returned to the streets but will be re-homed.

Street animals are re-visited post surgery and at regular intervals to ensure ongoing good health.

Using my knowledge of ABC programs in India & Bhutan, I spent 6 months volunteering in Iquitos at my own expense to promote this program, and to train staff and coordinate visits from teams of foreign veterinary volunteers & Peruvian veterinary students. This will be a sustainable and ongoing project with the aim of producing a healthy friendly stable rabies free street animal population.

This program also aims to teach improved techniques of surgery and sterility to Peruvian veterinarians and vet students so that these vets can promote ABC programs in other parts of Peru. In this way knowledge and skills will be shared and multiplied so that animal welfare can be improved throughout Peru and South America.

The program implemented by Dr. Beth McGennisken continues to be a major success. We estimate that we have sterilized over 3000 strays and owned animals from low-income families. We do this through the frequent free clinics that we hold throught Iquitos and more remote areas of the Amazon region. Many clinics are conducted at our new jungle facility at Cabo Lopez on the Rio Itaya!

There is a big educational component that must accompany this program. Most people do not want to neuter male dogs. They do not consider stray animals part of their responsibility. One owner complained that he did not want a "homosexual dog." We have eye-catching and humerous posters with a fierce looking bulldog that says (in Spanish) "Who says a sterilized dog doesn't have balls?"

Luckily, community attitudes are shifting as people see the difference in the street animal population, which is healthier and which is gradually getting lower in their quantity. We also pass through communities passing out Spanish language brochures about the benefits of spay and neuter surgery a few days before our mobile clinics.

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June 12, 2007

Worldwide Veterinary Service Trip, Day 1

Yesterday two fantastic volunteers arrived. Liz and Annie are two competent and witty Veterinarians from Australia, both living in the UK. Soon Liz is moving to Ithaca, NY where she will be doing a two year residency at Cornell University in Wildlife Pathology. They arrived with a donation that our clinic really needed . . . a refractometer, which can be used for body fluid analysis. I spent entirely too much time talking, no doubt starved for English conversation with females! We retired pretty early following a delicious vegetarian dinner!Dr. Annie Cook of AustraliaDr. Liz Dobson of Australia
Notes from Vet. Annie: “I am very impressed with the skill levels of the Veterinary Technicians. Esther is also great and very competent. We’re eating better here than we do at home, and I can’t believe the facilities, and it’s a lot more advanced than anticipated. It’s a great set-up.”
I responded to Annie that we owed a debt of gratitude to another Australian Veterinarian, Beth McGinnesken, who spent 6 months here last year organizing our animal birth control campaign, teaching proper sterilization techniques, and telling me what I needed for a well-stocked clinic!
Today we are conducting a veterinary clinic here at our jungle facility. People started arriving at 9:30 AM. There is a huge crowd of people and 12 animals awaiting treatment. Two dogs are currently under “the knife.” Annie and Liz have both neutered one male dog each, and right now Esther is spaying a female dog. I am thrilled that Annie and Liz were duly impressed with the abilities of two of our full-time VeterinaryAssistants. Ricardo and Behtjane (Betty Jane) have not received any formal training. They are experts at prepping animals for surgery and assisting in every way. They also know how to prepare the clinic and sterilize everything and set up sterilization stations for the vets.
Right now Annie and Liz are discussing treatment for heartworms. Esther’s English lessons seem to have paid off, and I am glad for her ability to practice English.

June 11, 2007

Sudden loss of beloved pet, Sydney

Volunteer Harry with Sydney & Marilyn

Pictured above is Vet Tech and Master Dog Catcher Harry. He is with Sydney and Marilyn. Now Marilyn is my pet in the U.S.A.!

This morning I received some very difficult news. My pet, Sydney, a rescue dog from the US, died at 1:30 AM. She was only 7 years old. She had contracted a virus common in the jungle. A few nights ago I slept in town and spent quality time with her (she has been staying at the vet clinic for treatment). In any case, the topic is fresh and the work we are doing today is a great distraction. I won’t write more about her at this time. At the end of the day I must acknowledge the kindness and compassion shown towards me by everyone about the loss of my pet, Sydney. During the Worldwide Veterinary Service Expedition 2006 Sydney accompanied us on our jungle boat trip. She served as a teaching assistant and entertainment, as she was a master frisbee player, a talent I have never seen in a Peruvian dog. We buried her on property. Sydney, you will always be my baby and will always reign as the Queen of my Peruvian household. You are my angel, and I will always love you.

Me and Sydney Sydney's Final Resting Place

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March 15, 2007

In Memory of Calipso, a Dog that Learned to Trust

Calipso lived on the streets for many years, usually hanging out near the local Western Union office, where the proprietor. Elena fed her table scraps. Her scrappy
appearance was made worse by the numerous people that took pleasure in throwing mud and rocks at her, and kicking her out of the way. The origin of her name is unknown, but it is a male dog's name.

It must have been a surprise when people realized Calipso was in "the family way." She had gotten herself into trouble with a one-eyed rogue, Rocky. Since Rocky was
Elena’s pet, she felt a responsibility, and called me to intervene. Calipso's gypsy lifestyle came to an end, and we brought her to the Amazon Community Animal Rescue,
Education & Safety No-Kill shelter to live. She bore a litter of 7 puppies, which usually signifies that she had born numerous litters, all of whom probably did not survivebeing born on the streets. She also had enlarged teats, another indication of many pregnancies. Her long shaggy coat had hidden her gender, as well as her tendencies to hide in dark corners, had hidden her gender. Perhaps we should have re-named her "Yentyl," but it was too hard to explain to my Peruvian employees.
I have been gone for months & SOMEONE needs a haircut!

Calipso was a devoted mother, and it was heartbreaking as each puppy failed to survive, a common event when pregnant dogs are malnourished during much of their pregnancy. Her age was an unknown factor. Her teeth were mere nubs due to years of scraping food off of concrete streets. Following years of living on the streets, lacking security and affection, Calipso exuded fear and shyness, qualities other dogs could sense. Even our most docile shelter dogs frequently attacked her without provocation.

For her protection, I brought her to live inside my home. We feared adopting her out, not wanting her to suffer any possible mistreatment, and also because she was a “runner,“ a true gypsy that loved life on the streets despite it's harshness.

I already had four house pets, and was reluctant to bring in another dog. To my dismay and surprise, even my tame indoor pets occasionally attacked Calipso!!

Luckily, my live-in household employee, Lady, chose to “adopt” Calipso. Lady took responsibility for Calipso and Calipso slept in her room at night. I still had the benefit of watching over Calipso and her well-being.
The Gift of Unconditional Love, Calipso/El Regalo de Amor Incondicional, Calipso.

Timid Calipso constantly hid, preferring darkened rooms. We would search the house only to find her hiding under a bed, behind the washing machine, or even behind a toilet! To resolve this I began closing all doors of the house, forcing Calipso to remain in the living room area. Despite this, she still found a place to “hide” under the dining room table and against the wall. Lady and I were determined to bring Calipso out of her shell. We devoted hours per day to showering Calipso with affection. At times I would even force her to sit on my lap so that I could stroke her fur and whisper sweet nothings to her. Eventually, she would choose to join me on my lap, and I when I looked in her beautiful brown eyes and called her name, I was rewarded with the distinct sound of her tail thumping against the floor!
Calipso is dog-tired!

Eventually she would even lie on her back so I could rub her tummy. She truly learned to love, for what was probably the first time in her hard life. She was finally living in a safe environment, with protection from the constantly changing tropical Amazon environment, and a daily supply of healthy dog food. Yet Calipso was a true vagabond. She often hid under a table in the darkened garage, and as soon as the door opened, she snuck out, usually so stealthily that we failed to notice her escape! I chastised my employees for not taking better precautions, until I experienced one of Calipso’s escapes first-hand. Hidden in a darkened corner, the moment the garage door opened to allow an employee to store a bike or motorbike, she ran out the door with a speed that belied her advanced age. I often chased her for blocks, sometimes even grabbing a three wheeled “motor-taxi” to catch up with her, to no avail. Because our shelter dogs had collars and ID, we would sometimes get phone calls from employees of the numerous chicken joints around Iquitos. Calipso
preferred chicken scraps to dog food. She usually returned within one or two days looking fat and happy. Often a heavy rainstorm would awaken me in the middle of the night and I would go to the door to find Calipso soaked to the bone. I would dry her off and welcome her in. On these nights I would open my bedroom to her. My other dogs happily joined me on top of my bed, but Calipso still felt more comfortable sleeping under my bed.Calypso, recovering from major shyness

Following one of these heavy rainstorms Calipso returned home with a cough, from which she never recovered. A part of me will always blame myself for not being more vigilant about preventing her escapes. As her condition worsened, she began to withdraw into her shell once again, and she no longer seemed eager to escape the house. Eventually we sent her to live with a volunteer in an apartment above the
Veterinary Clinic. My Veterinarian revealed that Calipso had an enlarged heart.

Recently, while in the US, I received an email from my Veterinarian telling me that Calipso had gone to a better place in this vast universe. She died of natural causes,
and I am heartbroken that I never got to say goodbye to this special dog, that taught me as much as I taught her. It brings me some comfort knowing that I provided for her well during the final three years of her life.

Because I work in the animal rescue field, saying goodbye to special animals is inevitable. I believe all of these special animals are together in a beautiful and safe place, where they are free of fear, illness, and painful memories. I am convinced that Calipso has reunited with her puppies, and she can finally eat all the chicken she desires.