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

Some Todos Santos Challenges

It´s Day 11 in Todos Santos and Day 9 of the clinics. We´re into our spay clinics now and doing follow up housecalls on patients – and also some housecalls on other dogs. As we´re walking down the street or along one of the hillside trails, people will come up to us and ask if we can check their dogs out because there is something wrong. We´re pretty limited in what we can do here as we have limited drugs and limited equipment and no diagnostics – such as labwork or x-rays – no diagnostics except our eyes, nose, hands and ears.
All our post sterilization patients are doing well. It can take them a day or so to start to eat though some eat within a few hours. For the ones that aren´t eating we do a housecall and check their temperature, check for infection and pain. we can treat with pain control and with antibiotics. With some of the patients all that is needed is good old-fashioned tlc: keeping them warm till they are more active and feeding them palatable food.

Terry the rottweiler is doing well. He is eating well and comfortable – the swelling is all gone and he´s been seen walking around town. When we go to check on him, he growls and barks at us and is too aggressive to pill any more so he is definitely feeling better.
Yesterday we did our last male sterilizations – timed so that so if they have complications they´ll occur before we leave saturday and while we can do something about them. There were 2 dogs that were too aggressive for the owners to handle so they couldn´t bring them into any of our clinics but the owners really wanted to have them vaccinated against rabies and sterilized. Yesterday we gave the owners some oral sedatives to feed the dogs and had them lure them inside with food so that we could try and catch them. It took all day but by the end of the day they were confined and slightly sedate and we were able to restrain them enough to sedate them further and sterlize them at the houses. We are hoping this helps with the aggression.
Doing the housecalls takes quite a bit of time as we have to walk to each house and there are no street names or numbers. We just have to ask someone local to show us where the owner lives. we´re treating almost all the patients outside. the people here have been very friendly and very patient.
It´s time for dinner – my guess is the menu will be potatoes, frijoles, chicken and tortillas. My team mates have mutinied with the tortillas and though we get served dozens of tortillas with every meal, I´m the only one eating them anymore and finding it hard to represent for the whole team.
Got to keep strong and healthy for tomorrow. – Tracy

Caring & Itching

I could see on everybody´s faces how much we care, how much we love what we do. I felt proud to be there, proud to witness such love and care for what we do. We are a few days away from finishing phase2. We are doing spays in Los Pablos for 3 consecutive days to wrap up our work here. After that we have to make sure all our patients are doing well before saturday.
Team work has proved so crucial here, we have really bonded and we all seem to know how to be more useful and productive to make things flow, although sometimes we find ourselves facing difficult situations and even then we find ta way to get it done and continue doing everything we can to make our work efficient and fun.
I am itching as I type, so rewarding though!
– Roberto


i left Todos Santos this morning at 4:15 am on a mini-bus. i thought i was lucky to avoid the chicken bus down the mountain…my legs certainly had a bit more room, but the Guatemalans are over achievers when it comes to winning the ‘how many people can you fit into a vehicle’ game, and we had 18 other people in the van with me…i am glad i don’t have personal space issues.

i have left Todos Santos with still one day of sterilizing and 2-3 days of spays to go. unfortunately i must get back to work in ontario and Dr. Enid Stiles arrived on Saturday to tag team me off. it is with mixed feelings that i leave Guatemala. i will be glad to get back to some comforts of home but will miss the friendly smiles of the community and the dogs and the spirit of the project. and of course the team.

the time i was there went pretty well. we saw many dogs we had seen in january and were able to continue our sterilization campaign on new dogs. we were also able to double the number of spays we had done in january…and the team still has a few more surgery days ahead of them. these days are difficult, stressful days as we are operating under exceptionally foreign conditions. the dogs ooze more, they are underweight and not always what we consider ideal surgical candidates. plus it is cold. with our successes always come complications from which we learn and continue to improve our protocols and procedures. some day it will be old hat.

as i left todos santos this morning i saw an incredible orange moon hanging in the valley. it was huge…what we call a harvest moon back home. i wondered when i would back to this village. and when i did return would the dogs i know still be alive. i know we have done some great work in todos santos…and funds willing, will continue to do so. this is not a short term project. but it is a project that is desired by the community. the peace corps volunteer told us last night at dinner that she appreciated the work that we are doing and is thankful that she can walk out in her town now without getting bit or attacked by dogs. can you imagine what it would be like to live with that fear day after day??

so now i sit in antigua. i have had a hot shower and am going to find something other than rice and beans and potatoes and tortillas to eat for dinner. a big plate of vegetables would be amazing. now that i have good lighting in my new room, i see that i have hundreds of bed bug bites along my entire mid-drift. thankfully they are not too itchy…yet. while tonight i will be very comfortable, i will be thinking of my team and sending good wishes their way for a successful remainder of the week. i will be wishing i was back with them in todos santos. i will also be wishing for the continued improvement in Terry’s health and for the speedy recoveries for our surgical patients. but i don’t think i’ll be wishing for tortillas….

Buenos noches. – Kate

Terry, the Dog.

The dogs were quiet last night. Most nights we are serenaded through the night with dog packs barking and howling, and chronologically-challenged roosters crowing all night long. Yesterday was our 5th day in Todos Santos and our first cold rainy misty day here. People were staying inside and it seems even the dogs were staying close to home. We all had our best night´s sleep.

We´re starting to gel as a team and getting a routine down. Every morning we meet at 6:30 AM and carry the supplies and equipment to whichever Todos Santos community we are in that day. We are a strange sight as we walk through the streets carrying big green supply cases, duffel bags and 3 tables – though not as strange as the 1st day we arrived on the ´chicken bus´from Huehuetenango and carried all our packs and luggage up what seemed like a steep goat trail up the mountain to Las Ruinas where we are staying.

We´re doing the canine chemical sterilizations this 1st week as well as the rabies vaccines and flea treatments. If there are any complications from the sterilization, they usually occur in 72 hours so we want to be finished our last one while we are still here to monitor and treat patients. So far no serious complications.

If patients come in sick we treat as best we can with our limited supplies. While doing a housecall on a post-procedure patient, Kate saw a Rottweiler lying by the roadside and looking very weak and emaciated. Terry (many of the dogs here have english names like Doggy, Smoky, Scooby etc) the Rottweiler had been sick and not eating well for awhile and eating nothing for the last 3 days. He turned out to have a severe infection of his prepuce, probably from getting bitten by another dog, and was getting septic and was in quite a bit of pain.
He was treated with subQ fluids and antibiotics and pain control and the following day, Roberto (one of the team and a Spanish-speaker) and Andres (our English-Mam-Spanish translator) carried Terry to the community we were working in that day and we kept Terry there all day to treat him with IV fluids, IV antibiotics and more pain control. We kept him warm and dry and later in the morning the little boy from the family came with 2 buddies and his grandfather to visit the dog and to try and get him to eat. Terry wouldn´t eat for us but when the little boy offered him cookies, Terry gobbled them down. The little boy stayed there most of the day feeding him when Terry wasn´t sleeping and by the end of the day, Terry´s vital signs had improved and he was looking better.

Roberto and Andres carried Terry home at the end of the day yesterday and the family set him up in a confined area sheltered by a tin roof. They built a good fire beside him to keep him warm and covered him with a blanket. We asked them to feed him some good soup and meat (most dogs here are fed tortillas and bones and whatever they can scavenge).

Late last night before climbing back up to Las Ruinas and bed, we checked on Terry and found him looking brighter, eating and drinking well. We left the family 2 hot water bottles and said we would be back in the morning.

This morning we went back to check on Terry before our clinic started at 7 AM. He was standing in the area by the fire and the owner told us he was walking around a little. He was eating well and they had been feeding him sopa de pollo (chicken soup). The hot water bottles we had left them were warm and obviously recently refilled to keep him warm. We checked him out and things were looking much better. Gave him his morning antibiotics and told them we would be back at the end of the day and would visit twice and day until he was OK again.

This afternoon we´ll continue with the male sterilizations, rabies vaccines and parasite control. This weekend we start spaying the female dogs that we´ve vaccinated this week and whose owners wish them spayed. We continue through next week until Friday. Rabies control is really important here as all the dogs run loose and there is quite a bit of fighting.

At the end of the day we´ll head back up to Las Ruinas. I´ll keep my eye out for Domingo Mendoza Ramirez. He is about 70 or 80 years old and every day I see him working hard in his fields, building a fence out of maize stalks, to keep animals out of his fields. We chat: he asks me where I´m going and how I am. After we chat he always says:
Nos vemos mañana. We´ll see you tomorrow.

It´s been an incredible experience here in Todos Santos so far. A combination of old-time James Herriott type medicine with the housecalls and limited supplies and more modern medicine with the prophylactic sterilizations and vaccinations we are doing.

Nos vemos mañana. – Tracy

Cold & Rainy

Today our friend the sun disappeared. It is drizzly and chilly. The team is doing well, although yesterday we did have two of our techs out with various gi related manifestations. Not a nice place to be when you are sick. Thankfully they are feeling better today and are back in action.

Our clinic today is in the Salon de El Centro…which is just the community centre in the centre of town. It is a big gym, with open windows at the ceiling. It is cold and we can see our breath: plus it is raining into the building through the windows that run along the sides of the building. It is a challenge to keep the dogs that are sedated warm. We have a butane burner which we use to boil water for hot water bottles and two space heaters…..but only one functioning power outlet which is located along one of the sides walls where the rain is coming through the windows. Good times.

Today our clinic is slow. Basically there are very few dogs coming to see us. We have had a good turn-out at the other 3 days so I am not sure why today is different. Perhaps our signage is not as good, perhaps the community leader for el centro has not encouraged his members to attend..or perhaps it is just the rain. Marjo, our head technician who has been to Todos Santos many times, went to the radio station this morning and made another radio announcement to remind people. This is the third radio announcement regarding our clinics. We will see how the rest of the day goes.

Our days this time around have been much lighter than our January trip. The main reason is that we are seeing a number of dogs that we sterilized in January so they only need deworming and rabies vaccination. This is a good reason for things to be a bit lighter.

We have hospitalized our first patient. Terry is a Rottweiler we sterilized in January: It was a big deal to sterilize him because he is a purebred and the people that have purebreds here want to preserve the ´good genes´. I was going to do some houe calls yesterday and walked past his house. He was standing there emaciated, drooling and looking exceptionally uncomfortable. He looked awful and was definitely not the big burly dog we sterilized in January. I had Andres our local translator find the owner and find out what was going on with Terry. The owner said he hadnt been well since we sterilized him in January´: Ok – so that was 11 months ago! On further questioning it turns out he was ok after the sterilization and then got hit by a car a number of months later…and had had a poor appetite for the past 3 months. And had not eaten anything for 3 days. This dog looked like he wanted to die. On physical exam I found what looked like old bite wounds on the cranial aspect of his prepuce and pus was just dripping out. His prepuce was huge and the cellulitis and swelling extended into his groin. The testicles felt absolutely normal and were non painful. He was lame and having difficulty chewing…I think he was septic. I am pretty sure this dog´s current problems are not related to his sterilization in January. Too long a time lapse and it looks like he has multiple bite wounds on his prepuce and his leg. The owner had had the local veterinary supply guy, Pauncho, come out and look at the dog. pauncho had given him an injection that very morning: Who knows what it was. Pauncho is also the guy who does dog castrations in town….but it doesn´t hurt the dogs because he ties their muzzle with binder twine and uses antibiotics. And I assume he does it like you would a piglet. Poor dogs. We have tried to explain about the pain to him, but it doesn´t seem to be flying just yet. I think because Terry¨s owner associated his recent illness with the January sterilization he didnt want to bring the dog to us….and it took quite a while to get him to warm up to us treating Terry: But we started with SQ fluids, IV antibiotics and pain meds yesterday, and today he let us bring the dog to the clinic where we got a catheter in and he is now on IV fluids and IV antibiotics: we have flushed the abcess and are keeping him warm and comfortable. Today he seems better although getting him to eat is a challenge. But we will do what we can and will hope that over the next week we can improve his situation. The client is much more open to us helping him out and has done a big turn around. Baby steps.

Off to the farmacia to see what I can find for poor Terry! Buenos dias. – Kate

Heavy into Rice & Beans

Here we are in the second day of our clinics. So far so good. As in January, we have the good fortune of having an excellent team. Great technical skills, a laid-back approach to being in a foreign land and a good sense of humour. Oh- and of course the ability to eat rice and beans and various carbohydrates without complaint…and not too much gi upset as yet…although to be honest we do have one team member who now considers Immodium a very good friend. But of course, we have only been here a few days, and do have a number to go….we´ll see how everyone is next week.

I arrived here on sunday, a day later than the rest of the team. My flight was uneventful and I somehow managed to get all my supplies and anesthetic drugs here without any complaint from anyone at any borders or the airlines. And I was only a little bit concerned with my Esterisol getting broken as it got tossed on top of the chicken bus for the 2 hour bumpy ride into Todos Santos. The term ´bumpy´is abit of an understatement…it is more like a 2 hour kidney bruising, nauseating carnival ride in an old school bus that was not made for the giants of Canada. My knees were bruised and locked by the time I got to TS.

The team seemed to adjust to life in Todos Santos very quickly and had taken Sunday to not only get the surgical packs and supplies in order, but to take some time to hike up the mountain a bit. The rugged, hilly terrain is challenging to function in…it is sort of like being on a stepper all the time. A fantastic crash course in getting in shape quickly. The first few days are always hard here…but usually by day 3 or 4 it is easier to breath and the hills don´t seem so bad.

This is my third time here in Todos Santos. It is always nice to come back here. The people are so friendly and they always remember us. It is also great to see dogs who we have become attached to still alive and doing well. I love seeing Nosey come running up to us as if we are long lost family members. In reality I am sure she just sees us as tourists with tortillas in our pockets! And my other good friend Betty who I came to know last May: how do these dogs survive here??

Yesterday our clinic was in Los Pablos, today it is in Che Cruz. We have seen about 40 dogs so far today and I think we saw about 55 yesterday. We are vaccinating and chemically sterilizing male dogs at the moment and are booking spay appointments for the weekend. We have seen many of the dogs we castrated last year. They seem to be doing well and it is great to see the pride in the people when they bring in their dog with their vaccine certificate from January and we tell them they are doing a great job.

well – i will sign off for now. Have to go to the farmacia to see what meds I can get for a dog and then back to the clinic. Beunos tardes.


Today was a really slow day, this would be why I had time to write this blog!

These clinics in Todos Santos would not be possible without the help of some comunity leaders. Most of them help me in many ways like getting apropriate rooms, a truck for transporting supplies from community to community and some time being present all day to ensure all goes well. Today for exemple I was happy to have Fortunato help. Fortunato is very well known and respected in Todos Santos.

A dog owner came to have her dog sterilised but was afraid that it was a sin to do it! It is against nature and God would not want her to do it. Fortunato had a chat with her in Mam of course. And the lady felt much better with her decision.

Mam is the mayan dialect spoken in Todos Santos (theres 21 mayan dialect in Guatemala). It is a very hard language to learn! I have been trying to learn it for 2 years now….the only problem is that I dont have anybody to practise with when I go back home!

Well…..I hope tomorrow will be sunny because recovery is always a chalenge on rainy, cold days like today, and we start our spays on Saturday……

Got to go back now….Ton teka at nim xyan tuj tnom Todos Santos. – Marjolaine