Angelica’s visit to Toronto, and the clinic of Dr. Gewarter

Version in English below the Spanish one.

 

Jack Gewarter, más que un médico veterinario…

 

A las 3 de la tarde comienza el turno de Jack Gewarter en su clínica “Bloorcourt Veterinary Clinic” ubicada en Toronto. La jornada incluye atención de pacientes y tratamientos.

Antes de recibir un paciente Jack revisa minuciosamente el historial clínico de cada paciente que tiene cita, procurando retener cualquier información que sea relevante para la consulta. Recibe a sus clientes con naturalidad, con una cierta familiaridad hacia los animales, es que mantiene una relación de años con muchas de las mascotas que llegan hasta su acogedora clínica, y en muchos casos producto de los tratamientos, mes a mes llegan los mismos pacientes a refugiarse en sus habilidades clínicas.

Sin duda mi presencia allí era un anhelo que mantuve por meses, específicamente desde la colaboración voluntaria que Jack entregó en febrero a nuestro proyecto en Puerto Natales (Chile), en calidad de cirujano. Desde entonces valoré su experiencia, profesionalismo, sencillez y buen humor. A consecuencia de mi viaje programado a Canadá, tuve la oportunidad de conocer Toronto, y alojarme en casa de Jack, donde recibí muy buenas instrucciones de él y de su hija Jane para desenvolverme en la ciudad. Por supuesto el poder visitar su clínica, y conocer parte de su equipo de trabajo, fue una gran motivación para aprender de su experiencia y hacerme una idea del nivel de calidad que existe en las clínicas de animales menores en Canadá.

Para mi fortuna Jack es un innovador, puesto que tiene una vasta experiencia en tratamientos de acupuntura en perros, siendo el primer veterinario en Toronto en aplicar esta terapia, y con muy buenos resultados, como pude apreciar en la satisfacción de sus clientes. Esto es una de las cosas que más me llamó la atención, ya que no lo había visto antes…. Por supuesto otra cosa que me impresionó fue la ausencia de bozales para atender a los pacientes que llegaron ese día, y me explicaba que observando la conducta de sus pacientes podía predecir si necesitaría usar un bozal. Algo imposible de concebir en Chile, donde cada perro es una caja de sorpresas!!

Más allá de mi experiencia en términos profesionales, quisiera destacar que conocer a Jack en su casa y junto a su familia, me significó apreciar más a fondo su simpleza y consecuencia en su forma de vivir, así como también valorar su entrega y entusiasmo para trabajar por la salud y el bienestar de las personas y los animales. Por supuesto que me dejó una gran lección este encuentro, y puedo decir que recordando nuestras reflexivas conversaciones en torno a la valoración de la naturaleza, y el avasallador desarrollo que como especie humana hemos liderado, inevitablemente estamos conduciendo nuestra profesión a un enfoque más holístico, y a un estilo de vida más sustentable, responsable y respetuoso con nuestro planeta.

 

Muchas gracias Jack por tu apoyo y a la compañía de Jane y al team de Bloorcourt Veterinary Clinic.

Angélica

 

IN ENGLISH

Angelica’s visit to Toronto, and the clinic of Dr. Gewarter
At 3 in the afternoon, the late shift begins for Dr. Jack Gewarter at his clinic “Bloorcourt Veterinary Clinic” located in Toronto. The day includes patient care and treatment.
Before receiving a patient Jack thoroughly reviews the medical history of each patient who has an appointment, trying to get any information that is relevant to the case. Dr. Jack welcomes guests with ease, with a certain familiarity to animals. He has a long relationship with many of the owners and pets that come to his cozy clinic.
No doubt my presence there was a longing I had had for many months, specifically because of the voluntary collaboration that Jack gave to our VWB project in February in Puerto Natales (Chile), acting as surgeon. Since then, I valued his experience, professionalism, simplicity and good humor. As a result of my scheduled trip to Canada, I had the opportunity to go to Toronto, where I stayed at Jack’s house. He , and his daughter Jane helped me find my way around the city.
Of course the visit to his clinic, and meet some of his team was a highlight, and I learned so much from their experience, and saw ​​the level of quality that exists in small animal clinics in Canada. For many people reading this blog, this may be normal…but for some of us…who are not regulated by a national standard, it is more difficult to offer this standard of care because we are generally restricted by lack of proper resources. I will tell you more about this in my next blog…..


To my fortune Jack is innovative, and has a vast experience in acupuncture treatments in dogs. This is one of the things that struck me, as I had not seen before. Of course the other thing that struck me was the absence of muzzles to treat patients who arrived that day, and he explained that observing their behavior could predict whether patients would need to use a muzzle. Something inconceivable in Chile where each dog is full of surprises!

 
Beyond my experience in professional terms, I would stress that meeting Jack at home and with his family, I further appreciated the simplicity and consistency in the way they live, as well as saw their commitment and enthusiasm to work for the health and welfare of people and animals. Of course I learned a great lesson from this meeting, and I can say that remembering our reflective conversations about the appreciation of nature, and the overwhelming human development as a species we are inevitably driving our profession toward a more holistic approach, and a lifestyle more sustainable, responsible and respectful of our planet.

 

Thank you very much Jack and Jane and company team of Bloorcourt Veterinary Clinic for supporting me on my trip to Toronto!
Angelica

 

The first time out of my country by Dr. Angélica Romero

(Versión en Español abajo)

The first time out of my country…

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to travel from Valdivia, Chile to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. The reason for my trip was to analyze plasma testosterone levels between samples obtained in the VWB/VSF project called “Behavioural assessment of male dogs before and after chemical and surgical sterilization in Puerto Natales, Chile” where I have worked for over a year. I spent two weeks in Charlottetown, guided by the researcher Dr. Raphaёl Vanderstichel from the Atlantic Veterinary College.

My trip turned into an unforgettable experience, where I experience an appreciation of a different lifestyle; a full Canadian culture in general. In the Atlantic College Veterinary, I met a group of very professional people, with a clear purpose for their work and studies. In this environment, I lived moments of sharing the fruit of labour in a healthy manner, where they communicated ideas, anecdotes, and the friendship and laughter flowed in a well consolidated group of people.

Thanks to María Forzan and Raphaёl Vanderstichel I was able to expand my horizons to the outskirts of Charlottetown, and kindly took me kayaking around the Island to visit its endless coastline (a really beautiful place!). Honestly, I am very grateful with the opportunity I had to learn about another country, and especially because this being my first time outside of Chile I found remarkable people who influenced how to project my love for my profession and the bonds of friendship at work. I would like to pay special tribute to the warmth reception of all Islanders, to all who tried really hard to understand my Spanglish, and those who attended the presentation I gave and expressed an interest in the project we are developing in Puerto Natales. I would also like to include a salute to the Spanish-speaking community that sometimes eased my efforts to express myself, especially to Dr. Alfonso Lopez for his human qualities and his remarkable talent as an orator.

 

Very happy and moved, Angélica.

_________________________________________________________________________

La primera vez fuera de mi país

 

Hace ya un mes atrás tuve la oportunidad de viajar desde Valdivia (Chile), hasta Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island). La razón de mi viaje fue analizar los niveles de testosterona plasmática de unas muestras obtenidas en el proyecto de VWB/VSF-Canada llamado “Behavioural assessment of male dogs before and after chemical and surgical sterilization in Puerto Natales, Chile“ donde he trabajado hace más de un año. Permanecí dos semanas en Charlottetown, guiada por Raphaёl Vanderstichel, investigador del Atlantic Veterinary College.

Mi viaje se convirtió en una experiencia inolvidable, donde vivencié diferentes apreciaciones del estilo de vida y de la cultura canadiense en general. En el Atlantic Veterinay College pude conocer un grupo de gente muy profesional, con una evidente vocación por su trabajo y estudios. En este entorno compartí momentos de sana convivencia laboral, donde se comunicaban ideas, anécdotas, fluía la amistad y las risotadas en un grupo de gente muy consolidada.

Gracias a Raphaёl Vanderstichel y María Forzan tuve la oportunidad de expandirme fuera de los límites de Charlottetown, ya que amablemente me llevaron a conocer la isla entre paseos en kayak y visitas a su interminable costa (un lugar realmente hermoso!). Sinceramente estoy muy gratificada con esta oportunidad que tuve para conocer otro país, y sobretodo porque en mi primera vez fuera de Chile encontré gente admirable que marcó mi forma de proyectar el amor por mi profesión y los lazos de amistad en el trabajo. Quisiera hacer una mención especial a la calidez que tuvo mi recepción en la isla, a todos quienes se esforzaron por entender mi Spainglish, y a los que asistieron a la presentación que ofrecí y comunicaron su interés por el proyecto que estamos desarrollando en Puerto Natales. También quisiera incluir en mi retribución a la comunidad hispano-hablante que a ratos alivió mis esfuerzos por expresarme, especialmente un cordial saludo al doctor Alfonso López por su calidad humana y su notable talento como orador.

 

Muy feliz y conmovida, Angélica.

 

 

Ciao, Chile!

It has been a while since my last blog posting and so much has happened since.

At the beginning of July, the weather in Patagonia was harsher than it had ever been. The icy wind made it hard for us to be outside for long periods of time, but the sun was always shining. The video equipment was often uncooperative with the freezing temperatures and bright sun and we had to repeat a lot of our films.  What was surprising was that the dogs did not seem mind the weather at all! When all I wanted to do was stay inside and curl up by a fire, the dogs were playing in the snow, or following children with sleds. It made filming a pleasure, and I developed a lot of respect for the dogs’ tolerance to the weather conditions.

Between filming, we often found refuge from the wind in the homes of generous families, where we were fed pastries and drank coffee. Without the hospitality of the people in the community, I don’t know if we would have been able to accomplish as much as we had.  I couldn’t say thank you enough.

Even with all the struggles with our equipment, our team was still able to finish recording all of the dogs in our study a week earlier than we anticipated, which gave us a bit of time to go on a vacation in Argentina. When we returned from our trip, refreshed and ready to endure the cold a bit longer, we started collecting our last set of blood samples.  It felt like a trip down memory lane. I was able to say goodbye to the dogs I had followed around for many hours, and to the owners that were so helpful all the way through.  During filming, we had to be silent and could not disturb the dog’s behaviors, so it was awesome to finally interact with the dogs whose personalities we got to know so well.

During our walks through the communities to collect blood, we came across many people who were more aware of the work we were doing with the dogs than the beginning of the project.  People were inquisitive as to why we had been running around after dogs over the past three months, and were more receptive to our efforts to help control the dog population than they had been previously.  It was rewarding to see that our time spent in Patagonia was well perceived by the community.

At the end of our trip, everyone who had participated in the project was recognized for their efforts by the municipality of Puerto Natales. Veterinary students from across Chile that gave their time to help sterilize, vaccinate, and microchip the dogs were also there.  This was the first time we were able to meet them, and it was great to see everyone that made this project possible.

Along with the many thanks from the city and dog owners, the municipality organized a tour for us of the local national park, Torres del Paine.  Pilar, who works in ecotourism for the city, spent the entire day showing us the best the park had to offer, which included bright blue icebergs and world renowned mountain ranges.  We hiked for a few hours and had a great picnic.  The weather was great and seeing the beautiful landscape was a perfect end to our trip in Patagonia.

After many days of traveling, I am back in Canada. I didn’t know three months could go by so fast. Although it is great to see friends and family again, it is difficult to say goodbye to the people and places that have made Patagonia feel like home.  I am so honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to volunteer with Veterinarians Without Borders.  This organization has devoted so much time and energy to us as students and to our placements throughout the world. I am inspired by the dedication of everyone working at VWB, and I believe my summer with VWB has solidified my goals in pursuing a career in public health.  As my future as a veterinarian unfolds, I am excited to work with organizations like VWB again, where I can be part of a team to help develop sustainable solutions to global health problems.

 

Until next time,

Andi

Hablar el idioma local

 

Hablar el idioma local, es enfrentarse de vez en cuando con fuertes puntos de vista en contra de nuestro trabajo para controlar la población canina. A veces, sería más fácil fingir que no hablo español, en vez de mantener conversaciones que no servirán para nada, obviamente. En efecto, ¿qué le puedo contestar a mi interlocutor si está convencido de que la esterilización es un crimen contra las criaturas de Dios? Aún si uso todo el tacto del mundo para explicarle que hay límites a los recursos que la ciudad puede ofrecer a los perros callejeros, todo será rechazado de plano. Incluso cuando se trata de evitar la miseria y el sufrimiento a las futuras generaciones de perros, la esterilización se debe evitar en la opinión de estas personas. “La enfermedad es parte del círculo de la vida y debemos aceptarlo. Y los seres humanos no deben decidir de la vida o de la muerte. Por cada perro que esterilizan, ustedes matan a cientos de otros.” Es difícil aceptar esa forma de hablar. En estos momentos, me muero de ganas de seguir discutiendo, pero no es ni el lugar ni la hora.


Además, hablar el idioma local, es tener que encontrar las palabras adecuadas cuando alguién me pide consejos veterinarios o me pregunta que examine a sus tres gatos y dos perros o que esterilize a su perrita que ya tuvo tres camadas. Hay que aprender a decir no, incluso después de haber escuchado a estas personas contar sus historias y explicar que no pueden pagar los servicios de un veterinario.

Afortunadamente, hablar el idioma local, también es tener acceso a un montón de cosas maravillosas : entender lo que está escrito en el afiche que veo cada día ; reírme de una broma en la radio con las personas sentadas en el mismo colectivo que yo ; dar las gracias a mis anfitriones después de haber sido invitada a tomar un cafecito ; explicar a los niños en el patio de una escuela que el perro está grabado para un estudio, no porque es la estrella de una nueva película ; preguntar a unos transeúntes asombrados si han visto a un gran perro café que lleva un collar de color rosa con una antena …

Pero hablar el idioma local, es sobretodo tener el privilegio de escuchar las confidencias de todos aquellos amantes de los animales con los cuales me encuentro cada día. Todas estas personas que, directa o indirectamente, tienen perros en su vida y mantienen relaciones muy especiales con ellos.

Esta semana, por ejemplo, mientras seguía a uno de mis perros en el centro, me encontré con una señora que recorría las calles cada mañana religiosamente con grandes bolsas llenas de sobras que distribuía a los perros del barrio. “Es mi manera de ayudar”, me explicó. Luego, una vez completado su tarea, se iba por donde había venido.

Además, no puedo dejar de pensar en este conductor de colectivo hablándome con nostalgía de sus dos perros que amaba profundamente : “Yo les daba de comer, dormían en mi casa, sólo salían para hacer sus necesidades. Un día me robaron el más jóven. Era un perro hermoso. Y luego, mi otro perro fue atropellado por un coche. Eran mis compañeros y ahora estoy solo. Pero no quiero más animales, duele demasiado cuando los perdemos.”

Hoy por la mañana, me encontré con una anciana muy interesante. Me aprendió que el perrito que yo estaba grabando la esperaba pacientemente a las 6:30 cada mañana al lado de su stand, sus ojos brillando con la esperanza de ser recompensado con unos bocados de pan. “Me acompaña a todas partes, incluso a veces en casa”, me dijo mientras tomábamos café en su cocina, el perrito acostado sobre sus pies. Por supuesto, lo que no sabe, es que este perrito ya tiene dueño. De hecho, este pequeño astuto parece perfectamente consciente de su cabeza angelical y usa sus ojos de cachorro para derretir el corazón de los transeúntes ; ya domina el arte de ganarse caricias, sobras de comida y huesos frescos de la carnicería de la esquina …

De este modo, algunos perros tuvieron la oportunidad de encontrarse durante su vida con buenos samaritanos que recompensan su fidelidad y compañía con un poco de comida y aún a veces con una colchoneta para dormir en el porche de su casa. Desgraciadamente, no todos los perros pueden decir lo mismo. Muchos duermen acurrucados entre las cuatro paredes de metal frío que les sirven de caseta, esperando que sus propietarios se acuerden de ellos y les lleven los restos de la comida : pan, cáscaras de papa, huesos… unos alimentos que les predispondrán a sufrir un desequilibrio calcio-fósforo y problemas de crecimiento. A veces, si son demasiado débiles para defender su comida, es el perro del vecino que se la lleva. Pero los dueños no vieron nada y es con la pancita vacía que su perro se vuelve a dormir.

En pocas palabras, hablar el idioma local, es darse cuenta que todavía queda mucho trabajo de educación y concienciación que llevar a cabo aquí. Las necesidades de los perros relativas a la vivienda, la nutrición, el comportamiento, la salud y el afecto son por desgracia muy poco conocidas. Más que nunca, Rebecca y yo sentimos la importancia de crear talleres educativos en las escuelas … ¡Estén pendientes!

Corinne

 

Parler la langue locale

Parler la langue locale, c’est parfois être confrontée à des idées bien arrêtées et défavorables à notre travail de contrôle de la population canine. Parfois, ce serait plus facile de prétexter ne pas parler espagnol pour m’éviter des conversations qui, visiblement, ne mèneront à rien. En effet, que puis-je répondre à mon interlocuteur s’il est convaincu que la stérilisation est un crime contre les créatures de Dieu? J’aurai beau user de tout le tact du monde pour expliquer qu’il y a des limites aux ressources que la ville peut offrir aux chiens errants, tout sera rejeté en bloc. Même lorsqu’il est question d’éviter la misère et la souffrance à de futures générations de chiens, la stérilisation est à proscrire aux yeux de ces individus. «La maladie fait partie du cercle de la vie et il faut l’accepter. Et ce n’est pas aux humains de décider de la vie ou de la mort. En stérilisant ces chiens, vous en tuez des centaines d’autres.» C’est difficile d’accepter ce genre de discours. L’envie est grande de continuer à argumenter, mais ce n’est ni l’endroit ni le moment.

Parler la langue locale, c’est aussi devoir trouver les bons mots après avoir été sollicitée pour des conseils vétérinaires ou pour réaliser l’examen des trois chats et des deux chiens de la maison ou encore la stérilisation de cette chienne qui en est déjà à sa troisième portée. Il faut apprendre à dire non, même après avoir écouté ces gens nous raconter leur histoire et nous expliquer qu’ils ne peuvent payer les services d’un vétérinaire.

Heureusement, parler la langue locale, c’est également avoir accès à plein de choses merveilleuses : comprendre le panneau publicitaire devant lequel je passe tous les jours, rire d’une blague à la radio avec les gens assis dans le même colectivo que moi, remercier mes hôtes après avoir été invitée pour un cafecito, expliquer aux enfants dans la cour d’une école que le chien est filmé pour les fins d’une étude et non parce qu’il est la vedette d’un nouveau film, demander à des passants éberlués s’ils ont aperçu un grand chien brun portant un collier rose avec une antenne…

Mais parler la langue locale, c’est avant tout avoir l’immense privilège d’écouter les confidences de tous ces amoureux des animaux que je croise au cours de mes journées. Tous ces gens qui, de près ou de loin, côtoient des chiens et entretiennent des relations bien particulières avec ces derniers.

Cette semaine par exemple, en traquant l’un de mes chiens au centre-ville, je suis tombée sur une dame qui faisait religieusement chaque matin le tour des rues avec de grands sacs remplis de restes de table, des denrées qu’elle distribuait aux chiens du quartier. C’était «une façon de faire sa part», disait-elle. Puis, une fois sa besogne terminée, elle repartait d’où elle était venue.

Je ne peux m’empêcher de penser également à ce chauffeur de colectivo qui me racontait avoir eu deux chiens qu’il aimait profondément : «Je leur donnais de la nourriture, ils dormaient dans ma maison, ils ne sortaient que pour faire leurs besoins. Un jour, ils m’ont volé le plus jeune. C’était un beau chien. Puis, mon autre chien, il a été frappé par une auto. C’étaient mes compagnons et maintenant, je suis seul. Mais je ne veux plus d’animaux, ça fait trop mal quand on les perd.»

Aujourd’hui, j’ai rencontré cette vieille dame qui m’a appris comment le petit chien que je filmais l’attendait patiemment chaque matin à 6h30 à côté de son kiosque, les yeux brillants d’espoir de se voir gratifié de quelques bouchées de pain. «Il m’accompagne partout, parfois même jusque chez moi», m’a-t-elle expliqué alors que nous prenions un café dans sa cuisine, le petit chien blotti bien au chaud contre ses pieds. Bien entendu, ce qu’elle ignore, c’est qu’il a déjà un propriétaire. En effet, ce petit futé semble parfaitement conscient de sa tête angélique et use à tout casser de son regard de chiot pour faire fondre le cœur des passants ; il est passé maître dans l’art de s’attirer les caresses, les restes de table et les os frais de la boucherie du coin…

Ainsi, certains chiens ont eu la chance de tomber au cours de leur vie sur de bons samaritains qui récompensent leur fidélité et leur compagnie par un peu de nourriture et parfois même par un tapis pour dormir sous leur porche. Malheureusement, ce ne sont pas tous les chiens qui peuvent en dire autant. Ils sont nombreux à dormir roulés en boule entre les quatre murs de tôle froide qui leur servent de niche, en attendant que leurs propriétaires se souviennent d’eux et leur apportent les restes du repas : pain, pelures de pommes de terre, os… un abonnement pour un déséquilibre phospho-calcique et des problèmes de croissance. Parfois, s’ils sont trop faibles pour défendre leur nourriture, c’est le chien du voisin qui vient s’en emparer. Mais les maîtres n’ont rien vu et c’est le ventre vide que leur chien retourne se coucher.

En somme, parler la langue locale, c’est constater qu’il reste encore un grand travail d’éducation et de sensibilisation à accomplir ici. Les besoins des chiens en termes de logement, de nutrition, de comportement, de soins de santé et d’affection sont hélas encore trop méconnus. Plus que jamais, Rebecca et moi sentons la pertinence de créer des ateliers éducatifs dans les écoles…  À suivre !

Corinne

 

Chilean Winter and Surrogate Mothers

Chile is cold. Yes, some parts are warm, but many people seem unaware that Southern Chile is neighbour to Antarctica (a large chunk of which is actually claimed by Chile) and that Cape Horn, the southern-most tip of the Americas, is Chilean. Being a proper Canadian, I’m very used to cold weather and so I casually assumed that winter here would be peanuts compared to the horror of winter on the Canadian prairies. Turns out, “peanuts” was the wrong word to describe a Patagonian winter.

Sunset in Puerto Natales

Every morning, Corinne, Graham, Andi, and I wake up and look out the windows of our cozy little hostel. We can expect to see one of the following: icy rain, heavy snow, or blinding sun accompanied by the whistling of a searing, deathly wind. Whatever the weather, we always get ready in the same way every morning: at least 2 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, a scarf, a hat (or 3 in my case), heavy mitts, and our Helly Hansen jackets (kindly procured as a result of Andi’s proposal to Helly Hansen). We then prepare our cameras, tripods, batteries, and memory cards for the day (one or more of which will inevitably break down at some critical moment of filming). After forcing our heavily-socked feet into winter boots still soaked from the previous day’s adventures, we make our way to one of the lively neighbourhoods of Puerto Natales and begin to film the dogs.

Depending on the whims of the dogs to which we are assigned, we may end up in any number of odd places or situations. If you were in Puerto Natales during the daylight hours of the winter of 2012, you might see us moping about in swamps and creeks, sprinting (and falling) through the “pampas” (large, seemingly endless fields), scraping our faces and cameras as we push through a jungle of thorny bushes, hiding in abandoned roadside vehicles, standing awkwardly outside your house, sliding/skating/falling on the ice-covered roads, or even in your own backyard or patio or garage or doorstop (probably without your permission). When you try to ask us what on earth we are doing, some of us may be able to give you an answer in Spanish, and some of us not, making life all the more interesting.

Understandably, the whole set-up leads to quite a lot of awkward moments, but also a lot of laughter. Only a few days ago, a man opened up his curtains only to find me filming a dog in the process of defecating on his patio. He immediately opened the door, and with an angry look on his face, asked me what I was doing. I explained in my intermediate Spanish about the VWB-VSF Chile project and my role in it, the whole while the dog straining and clearly constipated. The man’s expression changed from anger to delight, and my next challenge was trying to stop him from telling me all about his daughter in Holland, his in-laws, and his current lack of interest in his job.

Some people may also assume that we, as Canadians, came to Puerto Natales to help the deprived people living here, but it seems to be quite the opposite, at least in my case. Despite lacking in material wealth, the people here are some of the richest I’ve seen. They are rich in community, laughter, kindness, family, and neighborliness. In other words, they are rich in all the ways so many people want to be rich, but never really know it, or achieve it.

It seems that I look cold and lonely enough out on the streets to pull at the tender heartstrings of various Chilean mothers. Almost every day, at least one woman shoots out her front door at me to come in for “un café” before I freeze to death. I then reply that I must stay out in order to record the dog’s behavior fully.

“Your health is more important! Just a small coffee (cafécito) to warm you up!”

The coffees proceed to become smaller and smaller, and the time required to warm up shorter and shorter in order to convince me to come in and socialize. As I cannot feasibly continue to work while chatting over coffee, my final answer is that I will come in as soon as I am done filming. I always keep my promises.

Inside, instant coffee is poured into a ceramic mug and some kind of hot snack is waiting on the table. On occasion an entire meal is included with the coffee. There is no point trying to protest, even if you’ve eaten already; you will be told you are too skinny (even though it’s not true) and that you need to eat something before you vanish. I’m usually then asked all about my family, which is the most important thing in the lives of the people here. The time reminds me I have to return to work outside and the conversation ends with an invitation to stop by whenever I’m cold or hungry.

My most memorable Mom thus far is Señora Teresa. I was filming one of her many dogs, Rocco, and apparently I looked cold. I was actually sweating from running after her dog for an hour and so had removed some of my many layers. This was no good. I was ushered in and given coffee and offered a meal. We talked as I sipped away and when I left she stood me in her front entrance and personally dressed my in her scarves and hats as though I were a 4 year old until only my eyes were visible. I put my glasses on and they immediately fogged up from my trapped breath. Teresa nodded her approval and sent me out on the condition that I come back for a coffee as soon as I was done. I did and brought the whole team with me. Señora Teresa was thrilled and took out her camera to capture the occasion. Her two young sons were part of the party and greeted the women in the traditional way, by kissing the right cheek, and by shaking Graham’s hand. Teresa also showed us the set of “overalls” she made for her dog, Canella, to wear when she was in heat so that she wouldn’t become pregnant. After a wonderful evening, we all went home.


Once inside the hostel, I took off my jacket only to find one of Señora Teresa’s seat covers stuck to my bottom. How it stayed there during my entire trip from her house to my hostel is a mystery, but there it was. She’d made the seat covers herself of a fabric depicting a horse head surrounded by a horseshoe, reminiscent of her previous days of rodeo. With the help of Angélica, I practiced in Spanish my explanation speech and put the seat cover in my backpack to give to Teresa the next morning.

First thing in the morning I went to Señora Teresa’s house and knocked on the door. She answered and ushered me in and I proceeded to explain how I came to acquire one of her seat covers and to apologize profusely. I took it out of my backpack, at which point, she started laughing so hard, there were tears in her eyes. She put the seat cover back on the kitchen chair I had sat in the night before, pulled the chair out and motioned for me to sit down.

“Sit down and have a coffee with me. You can’t possibly go out to work before having a warm coffee. And some ham. How the wind doesn’t blow you over is beyond me.”

I couldn’t possibly resist.

– Rebecca

Project Update and Side-Adventures with SAG

So far, our project is going well.  The dog recording is off to a good start – we have been filming for just under 2 weeks and have successfully finished all video recordings for 22 dogs!  We now have less than 100 dogs left to follow around.  This is both good and bad – good because we are well on our way to getting some real answers from our behavioral study, but bad because if it were not for the harsh environment these dogs are faced with daily, there would still be about 150 more to film.  Over a third of the dogs that entered into this study have passed away from various reasons including cancers, starvation, and traumas from dog fights and vehicles.  This is just another example of the complications that dog overpopulation creates.  Surely this work will help to resolve some of these situations.

One of the hardest parts of filming a dog’s natural behavior is trying not to interrupt them!  Usually during filming, members of our team are followed by inquisitive children, asking all sorts of questions about their dogs and why we have to be so quiet while we are recording.  I have followers of a different sort, which certainly distract the dogs I’m recording.  Over the past week, Corinne and I have been working in a different part of town than Rebecca and Graham.  In the new neighborhood, I have dogs following me constantly. At any given time, there are between 5 and 8 dogs behind me and wrapped between my legs and tripod, or bothering the dog I’m filming.  The group that follows me are not well-liked by many of the other free-roaming dogs.  The group is attacked when I walk down many different streets, getting me bitten a few times in the cross-fire.  Luckily, it is so cold and windy here that I hardly feel them through the 4 layers of pants and 5 shirts I wear to keep myself warm.

On our days off from filming, Graham and I are continuing our work with SAG, Servicio Agrícola Ganadero.  Today, we were up bright and early again to work with another veterinarian and his accomplice, Vincent and Ruben.  My Spanish is still negligible but between sign language and some key words Graham and I have picked up along the way, we managed just fine, even making a bit of small talk.  Once we were at the ranch, just over an hour outside of Puerto Natales at the border between Chile and Argentina, we injected over 140 beef cattle with Tuberculin, an agent used to test whether individuals in a herd have been exposed to Bovine Tuberculosis.  We were warned before going that the cattle are quite dangerous as they are not used to being handled and will act up when touched.  This herd was thankfully quite docile and working with them was a pleasure.  It was so interesting to see the huasos, Chilean cowboys, herd the cattle from across the massive property with varying snowy terrain into small pens for us to work on.  Once the cows were loaded into a wooden chute system, we leaned over of each of them to inject Tuberculin under the tail. Any cows that deviated from the herd were brought back in with the help of the 6 ovejeros, sheep dogs.  Vincent and Ruben will go back in a few days and determine whether any cows test positive for tuberculosis.

That’s all for now!  We start filming our next set of dogs tomorrow in another neighborhood.  More excitement to come!

Andi

Sheep? Patagonia? Sure, I’m down.

We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. Other than the vague concept that we would be dealing with sheep and knowing that we were spending the day across the ocean inlet, we literally had no idea of how the day would unfold.

As we stood under an awning at the ferry pier, I wondered how we managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 6:00 am. It was raining out and I was dressed in my warmest and most rain-proof gear. I dreaded the idea that we might be working in pouring rain for the entirety of one of our first days off and a small part of me hoped that Dr. Juan Francisco Alvarez, one of two veterinarians working with SAG, would just not show up so I could go back to my warm hostel bed. We had arranged this ‘outing’ with SAG after our group’s press release with Puerto Natales’ mayor and some members of the council. The media was there to film and photograph the four of us Canadians and our Chilean counterparts being publicly welcomed into Puerto Natales, our home for the next three months. SAG is Chile’s equivalent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), although I’ll admit that I cannot translate what SAG stands for. Their responsibilities are similar to those of the CFIA, which of course include having veterinarians on the payroll for monitoring livestock welfare and quality. We had expressed interest in observing and helping out with any large animal veterinary-related activities in Chile to gain an appreciation and perspective on animal agriculture in a new country and culture. SAG has been a great supporter of our activities in Chile (including offering us a lab to run tests in) and they were very keen to have us tag along for a day.

When we arrived at the pier, it was still dark. The sun rises and sets so rapidly here that by the time Francisco arrived and we set out on the ferry, the sun had already risen somewhere behind the cloudy veil of a sky. Thankfully the rain let up with the arrival of day. On the ferry I wondered how ridiculous the day might become, as neither Andi or I speak Spanish.  Francisco, whom we had only met once before, gave the impression that he didn’t speak any English. Fortunately Andi’s previous French experience and week-long exposure to this language, was sufficient to communicate with Francisco’s rather decent understanding of her Spanglish.

A truck was waiting for us upon our arrival at the other end of the sound. The owner of the farm was an older Chilean gent who wore a traditional Chilean beret-like hat. Instead of taking us along the clearly defined road, we immediately took off along an almost fresh-looking trail. The hour and a half long trip to the farm was a unique one. Off-roading would be one way of putting it, but rather it was almost like a poorly built carnival ride. Some of the trail was so poor that we crawled over large rocks, through shallow streams, and along a coast of small pools where any discernable path was washed away regularly. In the back seats, we were tossed back and forth, barely being able to hold on to the handles. At times our vehicle was going up a 45 degree incline or tilted 45 degrees to the side.

We arrived at the farm, situated in a small bay off of Last Hope Sound, tucked away from the rest of Patagonia. The landscape was absolutely amazing and the family there was extremely welcoming. Decked out in disposable white coveralls and white rubber boots, I entered the tattered tin barn to find the hundreds of sheep in separate pens. Turns out we were there to tag, age, and assess the body condition of as many sheep as we could during our visit. Andi and I both learned quickly how to age and judge their body condition score and I also wrestled down and tagged a number of them myself. Part of my job was also to shout out the numbers as I tagged, forcing me to learn to count in Spanish. I suppose that’s a good place to start on my path to learning this loco language.

We were fed a feast of slow roasted beef and potatoes for lunch and traditional arroz con leche (rice pudding) for desert in their old, quaint house. I excused myself after drinking down my instant coffee (which they tend to love here in Chile) to take some photos of their farm and the amazing Patagonian backdrop. We returned to the barn for a couple hours, before packing up to head back to Puerto Natales.

For some unknown reason (or at least to us) the owner decided to switch things up a bit and make our return trip a little more exciting by driving a 1970 white-topped, red Land Cruiser. Andi and I were packed with our supplies in the back, sitting in side facing seats with, of course, no chance of seatbelts. It felt like we were on a safari, which made me imagine how our VWB comrades in Africa may very well be enduring this every day. To go along with that safari mentality, we managed to view a few flocks of flamingos and the massive caracara birds of Patagonia. No guanacos yet, but I’ll find one soon enough.

In the end it was an unforgettable experience. I’m sure it won’t be the only during our time in the deep south of Patagonia.

«Pourquoi est-ce que tu espionnes ce chien?»

Ce qu’il y a de merveilleux dans un projet comme celui-ci, c’est la possibilité d’entrer en contact avec la population locale. Au cours des six dernières journées, une partie de notre travail consistait en des prélèvements sanguins sur les chiens à l’étude, ce qui nous a permis de rencontrer quelques propriétaires, en allant de porte en porte. Nous avons également débuté les enregistrements des chiens à l’étude, à raison de deux heures par jour pour chaque chien et ce durant trois jours. Ils sont nombreux les enfants (et parfois les adultes!) à se demander pourquoi nous sommes debout dans la rue, une caméra à la main, occupés à suivre un chien dans ses activités quotidiennes…

Malgré le froid et le vent, je trouve que cet effort de suivre un chien sur l’étendue de son territoire durant soixante minutes consécutives est des plus intéressants. En effet, en moins de trois jours d’enregistrements, nous voilà déjà familiers avec ses habitudes : qui sont ses amis canins? quelle est sa cachette préférée? quel type de nourriture préfère-t-il? à quel endroit se poste-t-il en attendant le retour de ses maîtres? C’est toute une leçon d’humilité que de découvrir la vie de ces chiens; leurs intérêts, leurs difficultés, leurs maladies et surtout leurs relations avec les humains.

Ainsi, ce rôle d’observateur (plus ou moins discret dépendant des situations!) nous place dans une position privilégiée pour envisager des pistes de solutions au problème de surpopulation canine, mais j’ajouterais qu’il contribue également à faire prendre conscience aux gens de la qualité de vie des animaux avec qui ils cohabitent.

 

Corinne

 

Andi in the Andes

After 4 airplanes and a 3 hour bus ride, about 2 days of traveling, we finally made it to Puerto Natales very late last night. The hostel we are staying at is very cozy and is the home to 2 orange tabby cats, Bonnie and Clyde.

We woke up the next morning in PN to a beautiful town that seemed to be hidden from us the night before by darkness and jet lag. The town is quiet but feels full of life. It was very apparent when looking outside that there is a dog overpopulation problem. Within the first 15 minutes, there were more than 10 free roaming dogs to pass the hostel and of the males, none of which seemed neutered, while females looked heavily pregnant. Our work will certainly make a difference in the community. We have the morning off to organize ourselves and this afternoon we will explore the town we will be calling home for the next few months. We went out for a great first lunch in PN. The food was amazing, but for Graham and I, it was a challenge in even attempting to order a meal. I’m sure we ended up butchering Spanish for lunch. Rebecca and Corinne have turned into human dictionaries, but I hope my background in French will allow me to learn Spanish quickly. Elena and Guillermo, our project leaders, have set up a press conference in the next few days to remind the community about our work. Our parkas donated to our project by Helly Hansen Canada will come in handy. Apart from their use to keep us away from the strong winds and humid cold, they now seem to be what will distinguish us as workers in the community.

Tomorrow, we will be starting the project with the free roaming dogs, learning how to safely work with dogs that are not used to being handled. We are also learning how to take precautions against a zoonotic disease in the area, cystic hydatid disease, which is prevalent in more than half of the dogs we are working with. We are all so excited to start the project we have been preparing for since January.

Andi