December 15, 2009

Dr. Erica Coleman: surprised by heat; impressed with clinic.

My name is Erica Coleman, a veterinary surgeon from England.  Arriving in Iquitos on a Sunday evening, the heat and humidity hit me like a brick.  I took a mototaxi (a hybrid between a motorbike and rickshaw) to the clinic, situated a stones throw away from the Amazon river.  The wind rushing through the open back was a welcome relief from the heat, even if the vehicle had all the safety features of a badly constructed amusement park ride.  The clinic looked deserted when I arrived, and I was a bit worried that I had remembered the wrong address. Ringing the bell, an Australian vet answered the door, and I was warmly welcomed upstairs to the sleeping area, where I met vets from New Zealand, America and Spain.  I was also introduced to the group photographer and the group journalist - also volunteers. 

The clinic itself was surprisingly well equipped considering its location and the non-profit budget with which it was built.  The front area had IV fluids, a centrifuge, a microscope and basic stains for looking at blood and diagnosing blood-borne diseases (which are common in the Amazon).  The treatment area held several dogs recovering from bad skin disease and one recovering from ear surgery (the cacaphony from the barking had to be heard to be believed).  There was also a surgical room with a stainless steel table, surrounded by counters with various (slightly out of date) drugs, syringes and needles which had been donated by vets from first world countries (they still work).  The clinic is staffed permanently by two vets from Peru and two lay nurses with wonderful animal handling skills.   From the warm welcome I received and the conditions in the clinic, I could tell I was going to be in for the experience of a lifetime!

Photo of Erica Coleman by Anthon Cauper

Vet Barbara Bennett to continue "working" for CARES!

For many years I had wanted to do volunteer veterinary work but was severely restricted by time and the pressures of running my own veterinary practice. Having finally sold up and semi-retired 18 months ago,  an advert appeared through my locum agency for a spey-neuter program in the Amazon basin in Peru.  I grabbed the opportunity with both hands! It has in many ways exceeded my expectations of fulfillment and reward although I realise that what we are doing is a mere drop in the ocean of want; it is sorely needed. At least a few less of these animals will be reproducing at an alarming rate, spreading disease amongst themselves and their owners. Besides the fact that this is a fascinating and wonderfully biodiverse area, the whole package has made for a travel experience that is entirely unique. I plan to continue assisting Amazon CARES with their protocols and volunteer selection and I intend to return for more!

Barbara, pictured at "Monkey Island," is photographed by Anthon Cauper.

December 3, 2009

An Outsider´s View on Volunteering for CARES

Thank you to Veterinary Nurse Debbie Baird for this report.  All below is in her own words.

Thank you again for making my trip so memorable and fantastic. You are all so amazing, and the work you do is inspirational. All the animals that come across you are the lucky ones, you make their life better. Take care, love Debbie x


What a fantastic trip this was. I love veterinary work and I want to see more places in the world, not by the tourist route but by working and living with the locals and this trip filled every criteria for me.

Peru is an amazing, crazy country. The people are lovely and happy and humble. We were looked after by Vladi and Marlene at the jungle lodge so well, even when we returned from Caballo Cocha sick, Marlene kept tempting us with her cooking until we were feeling better and able once more to do it justice.

The team at Amazon CARES is brilliant. Miguel and Esther are both competent and quietly efficient. Bethany, the nurse, works tirelessly in the background and Harry the master dog catcher and gigolo on the dance floor, was always cheerful, always helpful and always tolerant of us demanding gringos whenever we wanted something and couldn't find it or wanted him to catch a dog for us to premed.

Molly, the whizz kid behind the charity, is lovely. She has endless enthusiasm,energy and is utterly determined to make a difference. A special lady. She also kept us highly amused with her stories, her singing and her jokes! There is only one 'Molly' on planet Earth.

The team was multinational...British, Italian, Kiwi, Aussie, Dutch and German, but all with a common passion for the care of animals and the desire to educate people to do better by them. We got on brilliantly throughout the trip, had plenty of laughs, some tears and many priceless memories.

I have no doubt the Peruvians love their animals. Generally the dogs were amenable, many hung around after they had been neutered and released. They enjoyed human company and what was so amusing was how cats, dogs, parrots and other animals were brought to a clinic. The dogs were led by their front legs, the cats were in sacks or in arms and parrots were on shoulders and there was no malice or fear shown. The dogs mingled, the cats were chilled. It was amazing and absolutely not something one would see in this country. Five dogs may be put in a cage post operatively, yet as they woke up there was rarely a grumble between them.

There was nothing 'normal' or 'familiar' about our facilities, but we just adapted and made the best of it. When there were no lights, we used head lights and torches. The vets were amazing because it was challenging spaying a heavily pregnant bitch by torch light. I know they sweated a bit sometimes!!! But testament to their brilliance, we lost no dogs or cats during or after surgery. That in itself is amazing.

At every site we were watched by hordes of children, some clutching puppies or kittens, all wide eyed, they watched all the gory stuff, without blinking. When we took photos and showed them, they giggled amongst themselves and couldn't believe the image they saw of themselves.

My favourite memory was at our last clinic in appalling conditions (wooden hut, mud floor, one electric light bulb and most of us compromised by sickness). A pig had escaped its pen and was wallowing in a puddle outside the hut while a small child was tying its leg and trying to pull it out the mud. Three times it got loose and flopped back down in the puddle. We did laugh, the poor child was as muddy as the pig and had a huge audience. Eventually, knowing it was in trouble, the pig got up and wandered meekly back to its pen.

Great memories:

pink dolphins, sunsets, the river( not when Molly put us on a sand bank!), river life, bottle feeding the maniti's, playing with the monkeys, the night club in Caballo Cocha, Belen market and the pigs.

but my greatest memory will be the motor taxis in Iquitos. No rules/ non contact bumper cars...sooo funny, every journey an adventure in itself.