September 13, 2012

Finding True Love in Peru...Part I

by Guest Blogger Dr. Jackie Imai, a Veterinarian volunteer during the Amazon CARES August 2012 trip.

A friend told me the day before I left for Peru that he thought this was “it” for me, I was going to find true love on my trip!  While I laughed and scoffed, a part of me thought, maybe he’s right,….this trip must have SOME meaning.  It was a last minute, spontaneous can we really do this?  and a mad scramble to get the time off (that I didn’t really have and hadn’t requested in advance), find the funds, organize the flight, pack, etc. etc. etc.  This herculean effort is not something I am normally prone to, unless the reward is to sit on a tropical beach with a daiquiri in hand.  Yet for some reason, something told me I just needed to be a part of this trip!  So here I was, getting ready to embark on a 15 hour flight to meet up with a group of people I didn’t know, to spay and neuter street dogs on picnic tables, in rural areas of Peru!  Fun right?!  Since I was joining the group 4 days into the campaign, I spent 1 day in Iquitos and then it was off to Requena, close to Brazil, where the infernal heat is unescapable. It is is a 2 hour bus drive and a 5+ hour bumpy boat ride from Iquitos. And this is where my story starts….(Editorial note: multiple Internet searches make me wonder if Requena existed outside of my imagination.  But it does exist.  I finally found a webpage and social media links! MM)

I lost my heart to a beautifully ugly, mangy, feisty, adorable street dog and a small town with a lot of soul and pride.  Now, I know it’s cliché….., of COURSE  every veterinarian loves animals and wants to save them!  It’s not unexpected and surely this is not a story that hasn’t been told a thousand times.  But I wasn’t one of those veterinarians!  As much as I would love to take everything home, I knew I was in a poor country and the reality is that every case appeals to a bleeding heart.  You can’t rescue them all.  
Street dogs are like feral cats.  They are semi-wild, wary, hardened, and have had a tough life.  They don’t trust easily and why should they?  Life is tough and they have to scrape out a living.  Most, if not all of them have heartworm disease and erlichia.  They are covered in fleas, infection, mites, and flies.   Most definitely not snuggly or cuddly!  So we do what we can for them, sterilize them, provide temporary relief with de-wormers and flea spray (Note:  fiprinil spray!  Never use stuff from the local drug store!) and move on to the next.  I had already had this firmly etched in my mind and purposefully kept detached.
But some things are meant to be.  There was a reason I was on this trip and as much as I tried to deny this little dog, she chose me and wormed her way into my heart.  It began with our first day in Requena.  After a long exhausting bus and boat ride, we were tired, hungry, and not feeling benevolent towards this small, crowded, poverty stricken town.   We rolled up our sleeves and prepared to work.  But the people didn’t want to sterilize their pets.  They had no concept of the benefits of it and only wanted preventative parasite treatments. 

As I thought to myself, why are we here, when they don’t even want our help?, Molly the director and founder of Amazon CARES assured us this was normal and she would have to educate and talk them into it (and sure enough she did!).  Meanwhile, Harry, our amazing  Peruvian veterinary technician aka dog wrangler and a group of government worker volunteers, headed out to catch street dogs.   Not more than 20 minutes later they were back with a cage full of dogs and we were off running!
Now remember, I was tired, grumpy and frustrated, especially when no owners wanted to sterilize their pets….imagine my surprise, less than 30 minutes later, owners began handing over pets to be sterilized!  I could see the concern and love in their eyes and knew these animals were very much loved  family members!  As I continued to survey the commotion and bustle that was starting

I was surprised to note that many people were standing for hours watching us take care of the animals.  They began offering aid, or offering to watch their dogs recover.  They listened closely to go home instructions.   I noticed women assisting us with washing laundry- the used surgical drapes and towels, and the men stringing up lines for them to dry.  The mayor stopped in with his workers, bringing us soda and water during the hottest part of the day.  I realized these people are doing everything they can to help us.  What a lot of pride they have in their city!
Among the stray dogs brought in was a small terrier cross I barely noticed.  I was not the one who spayed her and would not have seen her, except the snatches of conversation heard while I was spaying an owner owned dog.  Apparently, this little terrier X spay was complicated because it turns out she had 2 ovaries, but only 1 uterine horn!   Her spay was completed, my spay was completed, all in all about 25 procedures were done during the day.  We wrapped up and headed home, excited that the next day we had a free day from work. 

Read more tomorrow as "Finding True Love in Peru...Part II" continues....

Dr. Jackie K. Imai is a 2007 Graduate of Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, California, where she received a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Imai is a resident of Redding, California.


  1. Wow! Sounds like you had a great trip Jackie. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Can't wait to read the rest of the story!

    1. Hi Robin! Here's the sequel!


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