November 7, 2010

The Operating Theater: Part 2 of 3

Part 2 in a 3 Part Series: Now is when the fun really starts: motos start arriving with mom, dad, 2-3 kids and a dog or three crammed inside. These dogs are "owned," but not as one typically considers pet ownership: for example, these dogs have never worn a collar or leash. They have never been taken for a walk. They likely don't sleep indoors or have a water dish. Many do not even have names. They live on their own terms, eating what they like, from where they can get it; sleeping where they feel the urge (often in the middle of the street!); walking where they like, and coming "home" when the mood strikes. Canine laws unto themselves, they have never had to do anything other than shoo if someone is tired of their company. While these dogs are not wild, they are also not exactly tame.

An admitted animal needs to get weighed, using an ragtag system of harness and a luggage scale. As you're doubled over, with your face half an inch from the yellow teeth which are partially bared in what the uninitiated might take as a sheepish dog grin, the question, "No muerde?" is asked hopefully. Whatever the owner says, you are still very careful. His or her dog may never have bitten before, but then again, the dog has never been restrained, seeing terrified caged dogs trying to bite through the bars, with the smell of blood from surgeries hot in their nostrils. I can tell you from experience that many, many are more than happy to muerde us rude strangers. If the dog makes a serious attempt, we call over Harris or Lisa to muzzle the animal, who then struggles futilely, foaming and enraged. After that, it's a pre-surgery shot that makes them very sleepy, but only after 15 minutes or so. In that 15 minutes, they sit in the cage, some digging, clawing and howling, but most just waiting patiently as if this is just another part of their busy day, in between nosing through mounds of garbage in the meat market and a good shag in the park.

Once the animal is groggy, it is then thoroughly examined by the veterinarian. Most are crawling with fleas and ticks; many have mange, wrinkling the flesh into tough, scar-like folds. They have sores and scabs, cuts and scars. We check the ears for a square dark tattoo: the mark CARES has already sterilized the animal. However, the ears seem to be the most vulnerable for mange, cutting, scarring and outright removal - request for second opinions as to whether or not an animal has a tattoo are common. Once the dog or cat has been examined and given the green light, it is lightly restrained while the anesthetic is administered intravenously for surgery. Then out cold, the animal may be shaved and lubrication is applied to the gaping eyeballs to prevent injury. The surgery site is cleaned and sterilized, and the veterinarian scrubbed and gloved, ready to do the procedure.

I've heard of "operating theater," but always pictured it solely in med school. However, never is the term more appropriate than at the mobile spay and neuter clinics: dozens of people circle around the veterinarians, gravely watching, whispering to each other. When school lets out in the early afternoon, the area takes an almost party atmosphere - fresh in their crisp white shirted school uniforms, the children giggle and point, gawking at the sweating veterinary workers. In more remote areas, the children don’t attend school; they sit and watch, fascinated, as the vets do their often bloody work.

by Linda Schwefel

Photos by veterinarians Judith Bechtum and Catherine Davidson as well as from author

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