Todos Santos 2010 – The countdown is On!

Supplies, supplies, supplies. Do we have everything? Do we have enough of everything? Will it all arrive at the same place, at the same time, and will it all be intact? That is what is filling my brain right now. Our 2010 visit to Todos Santos is days away now. Dr. Tracy Cornish and our head technician Marjolaine Perrault are heading down in a matter of days for the pre-project scouting/organization effort. This involves a hundred different tasks, including, but definitely not limited to, picking up some supplies from a local veterinarian, arranging housing for us all, getting clinic rooms finalized, advertising the clinics through posters and radio announcements and touching base with our municipal government contacts and Peace Corps volunteer. Complicating the number of items that must be dealt with before the rest of the team comes to town is the fact that it takes A LOT longer to complete tasks in Todos Santos than it does in Canada. The rest of the team arrives at the end of next week. We will all be in Todos Santos by November 14th and our clinics start the next day. We are excited. And I am sure somewhat nervous.

Our project this year will be similar in many ways to our previous trips to Todos Santos. We will be chemically sterilizing male dogs with Esterisol and surgically spaying female dogs. The team is a bit smaller, with 3 veterinarians (Drs Kate Kuzminski, Tracy Cornish and Roberto Martinez) and 3 technicians (Marjolaine Perrault, Anne Marie McPartlin and Catalina Zapata). Every team member is a returnee, except for our new technician Catalina. Sadly we will not be joined by Dr Enid Stiles this year. (Its not too late to change your mind Enid!) What will be different, however, is that we have two exciting additions to the project this year. The first is that we have been asked by another remote village of Todos Santos, San Martin, to help with their canine issues. As a result we will spend 3 days there vaccinating dogs against rabies and chemically sterilizing male dogs. There are no guest houses/hostels in this area, so we will be billeted with local families. This is something new for us…and could be interesting considering many people still speak Mam, a Mayan dialect, in Todos Santos. Our smiles will go far I hope. The other exciting addition is that Dr. Roberto Martinez is working on a children’s play that will focus on dog bite prevention and improving the nutrition for the dogs that live with them. We all can’t wait to see this big guy in his dog costume. We promise to post some pictures…..

And as I scurry around making last minute arrangements and hoping that our duffles fit everything we want to bring down, I reflect on our task ahead. We all know it will be hard…and uncomfortable…and exhausting. But we also know what a great opportunity is before us. We are so fortunate to be able to make this trek, back to a place that is very near and dear to our hearts. I know we will do great things because this team is great. And committed. And we believe in the project and in improving the lives of the people and the dogs of Todos Santos. It is a long way from Canada, and not every one will get why we do what we do. Why we travel so far to help a community so high up in the mountains that some days I swear we are above the clouds. The truth for me is that we all live in one world. And we are all responsible for each other. And if we don’t, no one else will right now. So for me it is easy. The sheer gratitude demonstrated to us by the people of Todos Santos is overwhelming. We don’t need to speak the same language to know what our attention to their dog means to them. A smile says a thousand words……

Todos Santos here we come………..


Dog Jog-a-thon Fundraises for Vets without Borders in Chile

Guillermo and I were very pleased to receive the following email from Kaytie:

“On September 12, 2010 K9 Awareness held a Dog Jog-a-thon to raise funds for Vets Without Borders Chilean project. Our goal was to have at least one K9 treadmill running for 12 hours by dog owners purchasing a ticket to run their dog for 30 minutes each. We started at 8 a.m. and finished at 8 p.m. with a total of 42 dogs participating. Along with money raised from the sale of the tickets we had a wonderful silent auction with a great selection of donated items to bid on. A friend and business associate, Charmaine Hammond combined celebrating the birthday of her star dog “Toby” who is featured in her new book “On Toby’s Terms” with our event. Charmaine had the book on sale and donated $7.00 per sale to the fundraiser as well.  Between the Jog-a-thon ticket sales, book  sales and the Silent Auction, less the expenses of running the event, we raised $1,800!”
Have a look at come of the great photos:
Thank you so much for supporting Veterinarians without Borders Chile project. We really appreciate it.


Finding the Fifth Leg on a Cat

People often ask us whether we think that mandatory dog registration would be one of the solutions to free-roaming dogs in Chile.  Our answer has always been “yes”, but it now comes with a big BUT. Let me explain! Take the Chilean driving regulations as an example. I recently began to study the transit and driving laws to renew my Chilean driving license. The laws are all explained one-by-one in a 50 page manual, and I noticed that they are very similar to the ones we have in Canada (i.e., drive on the right side of the road and never under the influence), except for a few things like “seat belts are only mandatory for people sitting in the front seat”. That gives new meaning to the phrase “shot gun”! Anyways, what is really interesting, and often frustrating, about laws and regulations in a developing country like Chile, is that we find that here “rules are really made to be broken” and nobody seems to really care that they are there in the first place. Here are a few pictures to illustrate what I am referring to:

Like in Canada, in Chile, it is against the law to park in front of a fire hydrant, but do people respect it? Can you imagine doing this in Canada?

Also, in Chile one is ONLY allowed to park pointing in one direction,but, what does the evidence show?

Additionally, according to the law one cannot park within 10 meters of a corner, but I guess one can argue which corner?

Like these, there are many more examples.  J-walking is an art! You have the “diagonal”, and the “I dare you to drive me over” crossing, just to name a couple.
BUT the biggest question of them all is; wouldn´t people get into trouble and be afraid that their vehicles would be towed away? To top it all, here is a picture of a street with a NO PARKING sign right next to a local police station (green sign in the background that says “recinto de carabineros”).
To make a long story short, Chileans are known for what they call “finding the fifth leg on a cat” (looking for ways to bend the rules). I think that in today´s society, it is often not a matter of bending the rules anymore, but instead avoiding them all together.
So getting back to implementing dog registration bylaws; even though registration is one of the most widely agreed upon solutions to battling irresponsible ownership and free-roaming dogs, understanding the perceptions of the people towards the issue will continue to be one of our number one goals.

VWB/VSF and the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos (NUOL) celebrate signing Memorandum of Understanding


VWB/VSF and the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos (NUOL) were happy to celebrate the signing of an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the two institutions this September. This agreement recognises our mutual interest and commitment in working together over the coming years and is a key step in developing our activities to bring further benefits to the wider communities involved.

Other key partners in the project include the District Agriculture and Forestry Office, the Health Department and local farmers and the Women’s Union.

VWB/VSF’s first Community Health Day a Success!

This month saw the launch of our first Community Health Day, which will take place in 10 more villages. These events aim to promote the services of PAHW volunteers by introducing them to their community, are an occasion for children and adults to learn about community health and hygiene whilst having fun, and are also raising awareness about this year’s national cattle vaccination campaign on 11 November (focused on haemorrhagic septicaemia). The organisers are also excited about preparing dances, songs and traditional games.

The Community Health Day in Sen Oudom village was held on 14th September. Introductory speeches were given by Dr Sompanh, the Faculty of Agriculture Vice-dean, the Village Chief, and by the 3 PAHWs. It provided an opportunity to introduce the PAHWs to their neighbours and increase the community’s understanding of their role in disease prevention and animal treatment.

The District Department of Health, as well as the Water and Environment Resources Office, both provided entertaining and informative sessions including games and talks on waste management, pollution, household hygiene, bio-security, as well as tips for preventing dengue fever, currently rife in the area. The day ended with fun and engaging health videos which both children and parents enjoyed. More Community Health Days are planned throughout September and October, making these a couple of busy but exciting months for the project team in the lead up to the harvesting season and annual dragon boat festival.

Webisode 1 – Todos Santos

This is the first episode of the webseries, Vets without Borders, which was filmed in 2009 by May Street Productions. Veterinarians without Borders sent a second team to Todos Santos, Guatemala in November 2009 to to examine, vaccinate and sterilize the remaining male dog population. During this phase the team also started sterilizing female dogs. This websiode shows what the team does on a daily basis to help the live of the dogs and community of Todos Santos.

Angelica Finds Vets without Borders Voluntary Work Gratifying.

Dr. Angelica Romero is a new veterinary graduate from the university here in Valdivia, and has been volunteering with us for almost 6 months now. She has helped us with all kinds of projects, research, and general day to day stuff, and is a huge asset to our group. We asked her to make a few comments about her work, and this is her report below, first in her own words in Spanish, followed by the translation into English.

Mi nombre es Angélica Romero soy medica veterinaria, hace unos meses atrás tuve la ocurrencia de venir a hasta la oficina de Veterinarios Sin Fronteras en Valdivia, como parte de la búsqueda de mi perfil profesional, y también asumiendo mi oportunidad para experimentar nuevos conocimientos después de haber obtenido mi título profesional. Mi experiencia como voluntaria ha sido satisfactoria, ya que siento que comparto varios intereses en común con Elena y Guillermo, desde dar solución a los problemas derivados de la tenencia irresponsable de mascotas en Valdivia, hasta el respeto y valoración hacia las diferentes especies de fauna. Me siento muy cómoda después de integrarme a este equipo, como a su vez muy agradecida del intercambio de experiencias, puesto que he podido presenciar una forma de trabajo diferente, más ordenada, lógica y humana, algo que los chilenos generalmente evadimos para tomar el camino más rápido al abordar un problema.
Bueno además de participar en el quehacer de VSF-Valdivia,  llevo un par de años trabajando con una especie endémica con problemas de conservación el “Pudú” (Pudu puda). Este ciervo habita los bosques templados de Chile y Argentina, su estado de conservación es vulnerable de acuerdo a la lista roja de la UICN. Las principales amenazas que enfrenta esta especie son: la fragmentación del bosque nativo, la caza ilegal, los atropellos, la introducción de especies domésticas, y dentro de éstas la más importante es el perro!!
Mi trabajo con esta especie es a través de un criadero privado donde mantienen alrededor de 25 animales, me encargo de velar por su bienestar y brindarles atención clínica periódica. Acá les dejo una fotos de esta especie, un adulto y un cervatillo, cuando son pequeños tienen manchas blancas en su pelaje, alrededor de los 3 meses estas manchas desaparecen por completo. A mí me causa mucha empatía este ciervo, ¿y a ustedes? espero que lleguemos a compartir este sentimiento…

My name is Angelica Romero and I am a Chilean veterinarian. A few months ago I had the idea to come to Veterinarians Without Borders-Canada (VWB) office in Valdivia, to look for ways to obtain new professional experiences and use the ones I obtained during my degree. My volunteer experience with VWB has been gratifying, as I feel that I share many common interests with Elena and Guillermo; from providing solutions to problems of irresponsible pet ownership in Valdivia, to ideas on how to teach respect and appreciation towards wildlife. I feel very comfortable after joining this team, and at the same time very grateful for the exchange of experiences, since I have witnessed a different form of work ethic, more orderly, logical and humane, different from the Chilean way which usually takes the fastest path to get the job done.
Well in addition to participating in the work of VWB here in Valdivia, I´ve been working on conservation issues of an endemic wildlife species, the “Pudu (Pudu puda), for a couple of years. This deer inhabits the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina and its conservation status is vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List. The main threats facing this species are fragmentation of the native forests, poaching, vehicle traffic, introduction of domestic species; and among these, the most important is dogs!
My work with this species is through a private captive farm where they have about 25 animals. I work to ensure their welfare and provide regular medical care. Here I´ll leave you with a couple of photos of this species, one adult and one fawn. When they are young they have white spots on their coat. At about 3 months, these spots disappear completely. This deer makes me feel empathy. How about you? I hope we share this feeling …


Peaceful Ghanaians

How the time has flown…it is sad…my time in Ghana is quickly coming to an end! I already know how much I miss this place and how I want to return:)
This Upper West region is very special, the people and the villagers are unique. They are honest, accepting, non-judgemental, peaceful and accepting. I have not yet heard a Ghanian say that someone “should” be a certain way other than what they are, they are accepted for who they are. As well, Ghanians seem to have been born with excellent conflict resolution skills, I still have not figured out exactly how they do it but I am trying to learn:)
As for the project we are wrapping things up. The next bit will consist of trying to get the local vet representative out to the villages to vaccinate. Some of the villages have never met their representative so this is quite significant. Steve and I will both go to our chosen village and stay for a few days so that we can truly experience villlage life.
We have just returned from a trip to Kumasi, the commercial capital and it made me so happy to come back to Wa:)
I must go and tether my goats (I have 5 now) and feed my chickens and guinea fowl:) Of course, it is sunny and gorgeous outside and the watchman for my place is sowing peanuts by hand (ground nuts here) outside my window.
Until next time….

Tanzania – The End? Nah…

Well, tomorrow Monica and I spend our last day in the Rungwe district (tear, from her not me- real men never cry). In all honestly, it will be a very tough dayas we are having one last village meeting with Ilima and then spending the rest of the afternoon with some of our closest friends. In case you are just tuning in now, here is a little bit of what we have done..

Well, almost two months has passed since our arrival in Dar,
And after a few rough beginnings we have come pretty far,
Adam’s brief hospital visit that gave us quite a scare,
And overpaying each time when asked for bus fare,
We have come to consider Tukuyu a quite comfortable place,
Even constantly hearing “mzungo”, iterally meaning “white face”,
Our daily stops for at “The Lodge” for mishaki and chips,
The only place in the region that does not seem to beg us for tips,
The toilets are holes and the buses quite filled,
So when we refuse to move over, they are never quite thrilled,
All the time spent in Ilima speaking with farmers and helping birds,
They may not understand English but they know we are nerds,
Monica ordering a bird book here instead of listening to me,
Because when it comes to Tanzania, there is no guarantee,
Sampling Dodoma’s vino as it was all we could find,
After a night with alter wine you are lucky you’re not blind
It has been an incredible experience, packed with laughs,memories and smiles
We kinda promised we would be back, got any more aeroplan miles?

Thank you to all who made this experience possible. We are headed to Ruaha National Park and then Zanzibar to see a little more of the country before going home..


Adam and Monica


Vaccine Time in Tanzania

Most birds are majestic creatures which gracefully glide across the sky and are capable of focusing so intently on the land below that is appears they are gazing into the soul of Mother Nature.

A chicken trying to avoid capture so it can receive an essential vaccination to prevent its death is not as pleasant a sight. In fact, if you are the big tall, slow white guy, who can barely string 3 sentences of the local language together, trying to catch said chicken for 5-10 minutes, you can almost sense Charles Darwin turning over in his grave. To be fair, we had instructed our teaching group to tell their students to KEEP YOUR CHICKENS INSIDE, but we also said a lot of other things that day, they were bound to forget something. Needless to say, we did not vaccinate a lot of chickens on the first day.

However, things picked up quite quickly. We have now vaccinated over 600 chickens between the 55 farmers we are working with and are going back tomorrow to finish with the last few houses. Interestingly enough, there has been quite a dramatic increase in the number of birds per farm especially considering we surveyed all of these people less than a month ago. I like to think that they have just been diligently following our advice and that this rapid progress is simply an indication of our surreal poultry education methods rather than the more likely explanation of a suspect addition of birds from their neighbours…

Joking aside, there has been some notable improvements in poultry husbandry within the village. It was a very proud moment when we saw our vaccinator-teacher-student system being put to work in the past few days as Monica and I were able to simply observe the process instead of feeling inclined to assist directly with the vaccinations. I believe that the group of people we have selected is a responsible and motivated team who will be able to continue on with their duties during the months that we will not be here. We have almost now finished our education materials which will be left with each one of these people allowing for better communication between all parties throughout the year as well as some built in mechanisms of evaluation for future project work.