One more day until Ghana!

After months of hard work and prepation the day is almost here. I will be flying out of Saskatoon tomorrow morning and will arrive in Accra the following day. I am extremely excited to be working with VWB/VSF and feel privileged to take part on this project. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on this trip – Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Chicken Industry and Investment Fund, Fox and Hounds, the University of Saskatchewan and of course to all professors and staff who showed overwhelming support from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. I am thrilled to be representing the WCVM and to serve as an ambassador for Canada. Please stay tuned for further posts, I plan to document our trip as best as possible. To all my friends and family I wish you a relaxing and enjoyable summer and look forward to meeting you all upon my return.

All the best,


Realization #1: I am going to Ghana in Africa!

This will be the first blog for Ghana as I have just written my last exam this morning and now have the time to realize that I am off to Africa this summer:) It has been a very busy last few months with school and fundraising for the trip but it has all worked out very well. We were lucky to receive funding and support from the U of S, WCVM, AUCC, CIDA, The Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, My local Rotary Club in Winnipeg, the Fox and Hound for a bottle drive and we even held a pulled pork lunch!
I am just waiting on my travel visa and then I think the full realization of Africa will set in. It is somewhere I have wanted to go for a long time and the more I hear about Africa the more I want to go. Everything I have heard about Ghana sound amazing as well. I am looking forward to learning about their agriculture there and their guinea fowl! I hear they are feisty little birds. I hope we will be able to find out why their guinea fowl are dying each year.
I am looking forward to spending three months in Africa getting to know their agriculture, livestock and getting to know the villagers and their way of life:)


Now that the baseline surveys are complete, initial observations already point to some interesting findings. For example, interviews with farmers indicate low rates of livestock vaccination in most villages, with low awareness of which vaccinations are important. Moreover, whilst some farmers have had their cattle vaccinated in the past year, most do not vaccinate poultry, considering the time and costs involved not to be worth it given the relatively lower value of poultry.

There is a significant need for support amongst low-income households who struggle to invest in livestock and feed. Through improved support for livestock health in these villages, and tailoring of project activities to beneft those in need, we hope to help resolve some of these barriers to income generation and healthy livestock production. – Sonia Fevre

Village Surveys

This week we are conducting baseline surveys in villages in central Laos.  It has been very informative and we are learning a lot about the different attitudes and opportunities available to farmers. The wide differences show that there is much room for awareness-raising, income-generating activities and animal health improvements. Here are some photos for you to enjoy. – Sonia Fevre

Hands on in the farm

Today saw a culmination of intensive planning as the training for volunteer Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) is finalised. During consultations and village visits in 2009, it became clear that there is a high demand amongst local farmers for greater veterinary support. With her wealth of experience, volunteer vet Dr Anne Drew and I have therefore been working with a fantastic team from the National University of Laos (NUOL) to put together a programme that will cover the necessary vet basics and provide PAHWs with new skills and knowledge to apply in their local setting.
We practised some training techniques today as students from the Faculty of Agriculture observed Anne Drew and faculty member Mr Sisavath demonstrate cattle handling and management skills.
NUOL has been working hard over the last few weeks to introduce the project to local communities and has recruited a motivated team of 33 volunteers to take on the role of Primary Animal Health Workers in their villages. Next week we will carry out a baseline survey in the villages which will put us in good stead to ensure our training covers priority animal health issues in the area.

– Sonia Fevre

Todos Santos on my mind

Most of the team hadn’t worked with each other or even met each other before meeting up in Guatemala City but we pretty quickly got into an easy working relationship that felt very comfortable and mutually supportive. We had great team leaders in Marjo (head tech and Todos Santos guru) and Kate (our head vet) and when we lost Kate, who was due back in Canada after 1 week, Enid (Vice-President and VWB/VSF Coordinator of Canine/Feline programs) very capably and seamlessly stepped into Kate’s shoes for the remainder of the project, bringing her own special warmth to the team.

Back in Canada for a couple of days now and I do find myself thinking alot about Todos Santos. There were challenges working in Todos Santos, not the least because of the different languages (Spanish and Mam) and conditions, but there was also unexpected joy and fulfillment there as well. While there, we were up by 5:30 AM and going steadily all day until we climbed the hill back up to Las Ruinas after dinner, and fell into bed.
It was an all-immersing experience.
We had 2 amazing translators from Todos Santos: Benita who speaks Mam and Spanish, and Andres who speaks Mam-Spanish-English – his English much appreciated by those of us with more rudimentary Spanish.

Andres also got to accompany us on many of our hikes as we carried patients home after surgery or did housecalls to follow up on all of our medical and surgical patients.
Both of these people were essential in communicating pet histories and homecare instructions as well as medical advice.
As mentioned in previous posts, various Todos Santos community leaders were also very helpful and supportive – helping with electrical supply, water, truck transport, keys, locating rooms for the community clinics or even speaking with pet owners and answering their questions or concerns.
Two other people from Todos Santos were also a huge support to the team during our stay. Roman and Christina (and their family) opened up their home in Las Ruinas to the team and made us feel incredibly welcome
– and their generosity continued throughout our stay with much-appreciated thermoses of coffee, with loan of a gas heater to help keep our post-surgical patients warm, and many other kindnesses. They also gave us the opportunity to to see 2 documentaries on Todos Santos Cuchumatan that gave us a little insight into some of the history of the community over the last 30 years. Their tienda (store) across from the municipal square was always a welcome place for coffee and chat during our downtime.

One of the unexpected pleasures (for me at least) of the time in Todos Santos was the enforced return to very basic medicine. With one of the VWB/VSF-Canada mandates being sustainability, we worked with equipment and supplies that are or would be locally available, not with what we were used to at home. Surgery and medicine became much more dependent on our 5 senses and on the “art” of veterinary medicine – and many team members commented on how rewarding (though challenging) this was. Walking up and down the mountainsides on our housecall rounds, and focusing on basic factors such as homecare and TLC, was a very peaceful and uncluttered experience.
The people of Todos Santos were very gracious and I hope I’ve learned from their patience and stoicism. I very much appreciated it that they have been willing to let us come there and work with them and that they have entrusted us with their pets’ care. The relationship with their pets can appear quite different from ‘back home’ but their affection and bond with their pets was clear
There are many pets that I met that I continue to wonder about:
Terry the Rottweiler who was doing incredibly well as we left; Terri the gentle little black & white dog who stole my heart; Nosey our mascot who was always so happy to see us and who could never get enough love and attention – as well as her little black buddy, dubbed Fritz, who appeared at 4 AM on our second-to-last day in Todos Santos and made himself right at home at Las Ruinas and at Roman and Christina’s tienda … Tuzo and so many other pets that we met.
To my team mates, it was truly a privilege to work with you all
(Merci beaucoup – gracias a todos).
Erin and Jeff – you both pitched right in seamlessly and helped where needed, in what must have been a doubly-strange environment (Todos Santos and the sometimes graphic world of veterinary medicine – sorry again about the dinnertime conversation Jeff!!).
Marjo, Kate and Enid, thank you for your inspired and always supportive leadership. It was a great experience working with VWB/VSF and the memories will endure.

What I’m left with is a strong desire that the work, which started several years ago in this community, continues to build on what was accomplished last January and continued this November/December. We saw many people who asked us when we are coming back, and there are many issues that could be worked on together with the community, and with other international partners and funding. It al leaves me with a very strong sense of hope and possiblity for the people and animals of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, and I’m grateful to have been allowed to be a small part of it.

Phase 2 Todos Santos comes to an end

Well, Phase 2 has finally come to an end, and we are all on our way home (some already back I hope!). My first day away from Todos Santos was a serious culture shock. Having travelled in many corners of the world, I did not expect to feel this as much as I do. Walking around Antigua yesterday with all the Guatemalan’s dressed in western clothes, eating hamburgers and ice cream, was truly surreal. What a rare and wonderful place Todos Santos is, where people hold onto their culture and language and wear it with pride. We have witnessed not only the good but also the difficulties this community has with poverty, politics, alcohol, unemployment, health, etc.

I thought it would be nice to have a few photos for our final words on the blog.
As school was out, we often had the children bringing in the dogs to the clinics. It was wonderful to have them watch us with curious eyes and minds and let them listen to the hearts of their dogs through our stethoscopes. We of course had to call their parents when it came to doing any sterilization procedure, THANK goodness for cell phones!

As you have read in the blog a whole bunch of times, a very special dog has attached herself to VWB/VSF . She is owned (or as the family likes to say – ”adopted”) by a family that lives next to the hostel some of us stay in. Her name is Nosey and she is simply the most gorgeous little dog in the world. We all want to take her home, but we know she is loved and cared for and takes everything in stride. She was spayed in Phase 1 and has put on weight since then – she is now the proud owner of some serious ‘love-handles’!
When we left at 4:30 am on Saturday, she followed us down the hill and proceeded to jump into the mini-bus………. we all held back the tears as I picked her up and out of the mini-bus. We will miss you Nosey – see you next time girl!
I won’t go into too many details on the rest of the photos, most of them are pretty self-explanatory. The people and their dogs, and the comfort the dogs took in having them there for them when they were recovering.

Sometimes the conditions we worked in were very challenging. We needed to help a dog who had some post-operative complications. This photo is of Marjo and I kneeling on the dirt ground, with smoke and dust everywhere, while the little girl did the dishes in the basin and the other child decided to sweep…… all while we had this doggie under anesthesia and her belly open………. true asepsis……. HA – I don’t think so BUT this is what we had to work with and happy to say, we visited Hueso (which means collar in Spanish) on Friday and she was eating our chicken and doing REALLY well. Thanks for great antibiotics and flushing, flushing, flushing………..
Not all conditions were that bad, this was our final surgical clinic, where we set up for 3 days. It was REALLY cold in the morning but by midday day the sun was pounding on the metal walls and things would warm up.

And yet another picture of dear Nosey……… and our AWESOME chief vet, Kate. We missed you Kate this week – I certainly cannot fit those shoes.

A final goodbye to the entire team, who worked with true team spirit and never ceased to amaze me at every moment.Encouraging and caring to each other, even when things got rough. Professional, compassionate, sensitive, and all in the name of the people and their dogs of Todos Santos. VWB/VSF thanks you all – your work lives on in.

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