The People and their Dogs

For two and a half years I have been sitting behind a computer and speaking on the other end of the telephone line from Canada, co-ordinating this community based project in Todos Santos. I am happy to say that I can now see with my very own eyes the impact of all our hard work. The stories and pictures I have heard these past years from our volunteers did not prepare me for the overwhelming beauty and passion of the people of Todos Santos. I have been fortunate to travel to many countries throughout the world, but this community has caught my heart and soul.

What I did not expect was the relationship the people of this community have with their dogs. My first eye-opener came the evening we arrived (Dr Jenn Messer and I arrived mid-way through the campaign). We were on our way to dinner down a narrow, rocky and incredibly steep hill to the house of the women who makes our team meals. On the way, the infamous Nosey, a white dog with a kink in her tail who has happily adopted our team every year, trotted along jumping on us and nudging her nose on our hands and legs (and so the name Nosey). In front of us a group of 4 children were playing in the street with a dog, and I had to assume it was the family dog. It would have blown all our child-bite-prevention campaigns in North America right out of the water as I watched the children pulling the dogs ears, grabbing it around it’s neck. At one point (lets not get too disgusted by this……..) the child sat on her bum on the ground, grabbed the dogs back legs and put her head right up next to his bum…………… I don’t know what bothered or impressed me the most? the child likely being exposed to various transmisable parasites we all know these dogs have OR impressed by the fact that this dog tolerated this and may have even been enjoying all of this pulling and grabbing! I would love to see my own Jack Russel and half the dogs I see in practice in Canada allow this kind of handling by ANYONE – especially a child!

As the days have passed, I have continued to be taken aback by the interest and support the community now has for our work. People approach us on the street to help with their dogs, ask us when we are coming back, and are disapointed when we tell them their dog is too young or too sick to be sterilized and/or vaccinated.

Dra Camposeco of the Guatemalan government, who is responsible for rabies control programs throughout the country, kindly came along with Dr Messer and I for a few days to see what we were doing here in Todos Santos. She was highly supportive of our work and joined us for our meeting with the mayor. It has been a challenge to find ways to involve and collaborate with local government, veterinary professionals, non-governmental organizations and the veterinary university. Timing has not been in our favour and Todos Santos is not an easy place to travel too and accomodations are minimal to say the least, even for Guatemalan’s. Having Dra Camposeco see the community rally behind our work and the mayor becoming increasingly supportive, has been invaluable. We have now been published in the community governments yearly publication (pictures and reports of the work that was done in early 2009), and the mayor has promised to allow us use of a permanent room and transportation for our campaigns in the future. We explained how difficult transporting our daily clinics has been and the difficulty and safety issues surrounding getting these dogs home after being sedated or anesthetized, sometimes having to walk 30 minutes to get home. The mayor has thanked us for our work and has confidence in our abilities to continue working with Todos Santos and the health of their dogs and people that live so closely with them.

A few things that have shown us that people are ready to take responsible action and promote a healthier dog population (both in numbers and in health and welfare – which of course may lead to a healthier community):

– they are paying for the Tuck-Tuck taxi to take their dogs home if they are too tired to walk after surgery

– community leaders of other communities that we are not presently working in, are calling to ask if we have space to spay and neuter their dogs

– it appears the condition of the dogs has been improving since last January

– And as per Marjolaine “when I first started coming to Todos Santos 2 years ago, I would walk the streets with a rock in my hand to scare the aggressive dogs away”, now she walks in close quarters with many dogs we do not know and carries left-overs from dinner to give them as food! They are changing, and she is not the only one to see it. People are commenting that the number of aggressive street dogs has dropped dramatically and with time, we hope this will help with tourism and in so -help with economic development in this poor community.

I will add however, that although there are fewer dogs running around and fewer aggressive dogs, you still need ear plugs at night to muffle the sounds of the dogs barking (and the firecrackers and lets not forget, the churches signing over loud speakers into the wee hours of the night).

We have finished our last day of clinics and will spend the day tomorrow doing house calls and rechecking on all the dog sterilizations. It will be a busy day for me as well, as I have a lot of work with the municipality to begin collecting data on the waste management issues here. We are in early stages of working on the waste issues in Todos Santos in collaboration with a group of engineers at University of Guelph and Engineers without Borders. This year, we hope to begin this phase of the project by reducing resources for the un-owned dogs, so that the carrying capacity of the population may be reduced. If there are fewer resources available (such as the left-over meat from the slaughterhouse or the abundant garbage in the hillside dump) COMBINED with population management, the community may be able to sustain a lower number of un-owned dogs. Alternative waste management may bring economic value to the community (if changing to biofuels, recycling, etc) and a healthier environment to live in.

This project truly is ONE HEALTH – healthier dogs lead to healthier people, bringing all disciplines together to find locally driven solutions.

We still have a long way to go, but every year we are getting one step closer: the community grows closer and closer to us and their trust and confidence in our work is stronger and stronger.

My final words are to our volunteers: never in my life have I seen such a dedicated, hard-working, passionate, and sensitive group of people. From 5am to 5pm at night, they do not stop and always have smiles on their faces and concern in their hearts. Without our volunteers this project would not have been able to be where it is today, and for this I want to thank you all from the deepest part of my heart.

ibuenas noches! More on the blog tomorrow and a story about Rewant………….
– Enid