Hey, I’m Erik, a volunteer that accompanied the team from VWB/VSF to Dichato to control an outbreak of distemper in this earthquake and tsunami struck town.I’m a Chilean/American/Canadian that’s lived in Chile almost my whole life. I’m a biology student at the Universidad Austral de Chile here in Valdivia and met Guillermo and Elena last year and have kept in contact since then.
They invited me to participate in the trip to Dichato and I didn’t hesitate at the chance to go help in this disaster stuck area.Dichato used to have a population of around six thousand people and after the earthquake and tsunami struck the town it lost approximately 60% of its buildings. Now all the people that didn’t leave the town after their houses were destroyed or washed away by the sea, live in the tents on the hill on higher ground.Most people have dogs. And living in tents, it’s hard to keep your dogs leashed up. So the streets are plagued with dozens of dogs on each corner, most of them with an owner, but loose on the streets. It’s a perfect opportunity for viruses such as Canine Distemper Virus or Canine Parvovirus to get around.
So when VWB/VSF heard of a supposed distemper outbreak they jumped at the opportunity of helping to control it. On Thursday the 22nd
of April, we were on our way north on a 6 hour trip to get to Concepcion where we enjoyed some seismic movements during the night and moved on the next day to get set up in Dichato for the weekend. The team at this moment was comprised of Elena, Guillermo, Paty, Daniela, and me.
Entering Dichato we were welcomed be the devastating scenario of entire street blocks that used to line the sea front stripped to only a couple hollow cement structures and whole house uprooted from their bases and left 2 blocks away by the sea. We later moved up to the hills and to the camps to assess the canine situation. Extremely small sites holding up to 120 tents with tiny pathways in-between them is what we saw. Plus dozens of dogs tromping around loose.
So as soon as we got there a few people came up to ask what we were there for and before long we had people showing up with their dogs on makeshift leashes. Now it was time to take blood, do physicals, vaccinate, and extract as much information about the dog from the owner as possible. We did this to all dogs that were applicable for said things. So to do so we split into two teams. First team was Elena, our vet, Guillermo, our handler, and me, the bookie. The second team was Paty, the vet, and her assistant Daniela.
After the word spread around the neighborhood that we were vaccinating dogs against distemper for free, a small crowd started to form. Late in the afternoon another member of our team shows up from Santiago. It’s Carlos, our professional photographer friend. So by the end of the day we had vaccinated around 40 dogs in our first afternoon. And our second vet Paty and her assistant Daniela have to leave.
Now it was time to go find a place to crash. Thanks to our contact in Dichato, who is from an animal welfare group in a nearby town, we were set up in some rooms in the backyard of a very nice lady’s house, in the low part of Dichato.
Next day we have another member arrive. It’s Javier, our second vet all the way from Valdivia. So now I’ll be working with him and helping with holding veins and getting all the info from the owners. We start working mid morning and wait till the town starts to wake up. We set up in the plaza just outside the camp we were working at yesterday. Once it’s close to noon the people are answering their doors and soon they appear with their dogs to the plaza where we set up. By this time another vet and more volunteers from Concepcion show up to help, and vet from the near town of Tomé.
So know we have 4 teams working with a constant lineup of dogs. We have plenty of work to do and work well into the afternoon before it seems like we have pretty much covered all the dogs in this small area (over 120 dogs vaccinated). Now its time to move down to what’s left of downtown and see if we can find a few dogs around there to vaccinate. We are lucky to be there just as a traditional folklore event is finishing and there is a bunch of people walking around. So soon the people that lived close by hurried up to get their dogs and bring them over for their vaccines.
The day is over and we feel like our team of 5 (Elena, Guillermo, Javier, Carlos, and me) deserve a prize for our effort. And to our good fortune there is a small barbecue in the backyard where we are staying. Living in Chile- it would be a sin to not make good use of a grill. So like good Chileans we enjoy the last hours of the day with a nice barbecue.
Next morning it’s time to find the last location where we will work before we have to be on our way back to Valdivia again. Our reinforcements from Concepcion are back, so we have a good 4 teams working this morning. We work hard until we have to leave and come to a grand total for the 3 days of 200 vaccinated dogs aprox. and 100 blood samples.
This was a tremendously successful trip and personally an amazing experience.
We all got along incredibly well and worked hard for long hours without complaints. I want to thank Elena and Guillermo from VWB/VSF for this awesome opportunity and the great work atmosphere.
We are all planning to go back to Dichato on the 21st of May to do a check up on the dogs we vaccinated and take blood from and vaccine more dogs if it is possible.
So stayed tuned to read about the next adventures of the VWB TEAM!