February 12, 2012

Reflections of a Shelter Volunteer

Written by Justin Martin

Anyone who spends a little bit of time here in Iquitos can’t help but notice the amount of street dogs that wander around this city. As the owner of wonderful dog myself, it’s hard not to feel sad seeing them wander around dirty and mangy, eating out of the trash on the streets. They are nuisance and certainly even a health risk but they are also suffering and unloved. I have heard that in the past when the population was really getting to be a problem the only solution anyone could come up with was putting poison out on the streets. Not only is this a little heart-breaking it’s also never going to solve the problem

Luckily, someone down here is trying to do something different. Amazon CARES is doing remarkable things for both the dogs and the people who live in and around this city. Between the veterinary clinic in the city center and the refuge in the jungle outside of town, a humane and educational way has been found to both care for the street dogs who are here now and help control their population in the future.

When I came to Iquitos I was looking for volunteer opportunities around the area and happened to come across Amazon CARES mentioned in a blog. I e-mailed Molly Mednikow, the Director, about volunteering and she told me that she would love to have the help. I was given the choice of volunteering at the clinic or out at the refuge. I opted to get out of the noise of the city and volunteer at the refuge. I am not a veterinarian so I would instead be helping to take care of the dogs and give them some much needed affection and socializing.

There were about 40 dogs when I arrived; from puppies just a few weeks old to dogs who had definitely been around for a while. Sometimes dogs are just abandoned at the clinic but most of them are picked up off the streets by other volunteers and employees of Amazon CARES. There were a few recent arrivals still recuperating and getting used to their new home, but every one of the dogs was healthy and happy and loved and cared for. It was hard to believe that not too long ago each of these dogs was wandering the streets baking on the concrete, diseased, abused or with broken limbs from traffic accidents. I saw some the photos of the dogs I was getting to know from when they first arrived and the transformation was remarkable. They are cleaned up and well-fed and living comfortably out in quiet, green Cabo Lopez. They are fed and given fresh water every day, given medicine routinely and walked everyday, waiting to be adopted by a local family.

But the refuge is just one side of the Amazon CARES operation. The veterinary clinic also provides an invaluable service to the animals and humans of Iquitos. It is through the clinic that adoptions can be arranged and where people can bring their pets for veterinary care. Molly also organizes trips for veterinarians from the around the world to come to this remote part of the world. They come as volunteers to both explore the jungle and visit the smaller villages along the rivers to conduct spay/neuter operations, administer medicine and educate the public about the importance of responsible pet ownership. And this is where the solution to the problem really begins; avoiding unwanted litters, stopping abuse and neglect, and opening people’s hearts to the plight of these dogs.

It’s easy to become cynical and say that the street dog problem is one that can never be solved. But it’s inspiring to see an organization that is working tirelessly to make Iquitos a cleaner, healthier and safer city for the dogs and humans who live here. I am very happy to have had a chance to work with Amazon CARES and get to know these wonderful dogs. It was reassuring to see a few of them go off to a good home while I was there. Cinturita found a home, as did Luli and Ivan. A couple of Pepita’s puppies were adopted too. But the mission of Amazon CARES continues; in my last few days at the refuge there were four new arrivals, a puppy found in the trash and and three full grown dogs, with practically no fur left, nervous and malnourished. I wish I could stick around to see the amazing transformation that is bound to take place

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