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!


Pitch for Progress: Homemade pesticides to combat pest problems in rural Uganda

I have just returned from an enlightening four days at the Global Development Symposium in Guelph, Ontario. I had the pleasure to help represent Veterinarians without Borders at this conference. The schedule was jam packed with inspiring keynote speakers, including Mr. Stephen Lewis, and scientific presentations of exciting work that is being conducted around the globe.  It was extraordinary to see the passion towards positive sustainable change that transcended throughout the conference.

Amongst the key note speeches and scientific presentation there were ‘pitches for progress’ (pfp). A pfp was a presentation that was intended to present an idea that would change the world. Ideas ranged from creation of ‘one health’ networks, integration of one health into curriculums, and using homemade pesticides to combat pest problems in rural Uganda. The latter pitch being my own. I had the opportunity to present this pfp and receive valuable feedback that will strengthen my application and evaluation of the program.

I came up with the idea while talking with past volunteers of the Ugandan goat project. After discussing the current issues facing the farmers of the region, I was presented with the fact that their crops are being affected by pests, especially the borer worm. The Ugandan goat project works in coordination with the Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (FAOC). FAOC has been developing a chick pea program in response to severe protein deficiency in the south west region of Uganda. Thirty-eight percent of children under five are chronically malnourished or developmentally stunted, 16% are underweight, and another 6% are acutely malnourished during illness or drought. The local diet is primarily starch based; consisting of plantains, cassava, or maize which is served with simple vegetables and sauce. Animal protein is too expensive for the majority of the farmers and only served on special occasions. The chick pea program was developed to address this issue. Using local chick pea varieties, farmers are encouraged to harvest their crop and sell a portion to increase income but retain the majority to increase their family’s protein intake. Chickpeas are known for their high quality of protein and relative ease to grow in tough conditions.

The scourge of pests is greatly decreasing the farmer’s chick pea yield.  While chemical pesticides are available, their use is unrealistic. These products are sold in bulk and are too expensive for the average farmer. These villagers often have no reliable means of transportation to obtain the pesticides. It is also not uncommon for these products to be tampered with, either watering down or adding chemicals that can be harmful to the people and animals. These chemicals are also very damaging to an unhealthy soil bed affected by years of monoculture plantain production.

What I proposed in my pfp was to experiment with different homemade pesticides using local products. From my research I came across effective pesticides made from marigold leaves, chilies, onions, garlics, and neem leaves or oil. These ingredients are boiled in water for 20 minutes or alternatively stand for 3 days. The solution is combined with soapy water and applied to the plants along with wood ash. This application is not new to Uganda. These methods have been successfully implemented at a small sustainable farm, St. Jude’s Family Projects, in central Uganda. I will be visiting this farm during my first week in Uganda to gain a better understanding of homemade pesticides and other sustainable agriculture solutions in rural Uganda.

I was nervous presenting this idea as it is beyond my formal training. When I discussed this idea with others they were often confused as to why I would address this issue and not something related to veterinary medicine. My response was always the same. Under the concept of eco-system health we are not bound to our professional limitations. Our goal is to realize a healthy population of people and animals while sustaining the environment. The pest and pesticide issue is of concern to the famers I will be working with and so I consider it my responsibility to do what I can to address the problem. A healthier chick pea crops and soil will lead to greater yields. Greater yields will improve childhood nutrition and family income. Greater income and nutrition will increase opportunities for childhood education and result in healthier immune systems, decreasing disease prevalence. Increased income will also result in more disposable income which can be used for animal vaccines, better shelters, and increased nutrition. Our animal health problems cannot be addressed by focusing on a single problem but rather by looking at the bigger picture. Healthy people and healthy environments will lead to healthier animals and more productive agricultural systems. For this to happen it needs two things. One is for people of different disciplines to explore beyond their profession. While my background is not in alternative agriculture, it did not take much for me to research potential applications for small hold farmers. The second is collaboration. I am not an expert in these techniques; my research has only scratched the surface on a vast body of knowledge. But through this research I was able to connect with people at home and abroad that are experts in this field. It is these contacts that will ultimately drive a successful project.  By collaborating with other professions, I can focus on the goats, while the experts I bring in or consult with will help to solve a problem that will further increase the health of the community.


The pitch itself flew by, but the research and preparation was extremely educational. The questions and comments from the audience created further contacts and options to explore. The entire conference had a very welcoming atmosphere. There were people from a variety of disciplines that came together to present and collaborate on One-Health. I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend and present at this conference and hope it becomes an annual event. I would like to thank VWB for their support.


«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.




The journey begins…

Greetings from Africa! Jen and I have safely arrived in Nairobi after a very long and exhausting day of travel. After 28 plus hours in transit our last flight got us here at 4 o’clock in the morning, and despite the exhaustion, we both expressed delight at finally reaching our destination. The delight was further compounded by the delivery of all of our luggage (thank goodness!!!!).

After a quick nap and a delicious lunch (pineapple has never tasted so good…) we took a quick stroll around Nairobi center. We were approached numerous times by a number of individuals curious about where we were from and whether we were enjoying Africa thus far. I must say everyone is very friendly and at least in the city language is not a barrier as English is widely spoken.

It looks like we will be spending another day or so in Nairobi and then heading into Ichamara on Tuesday. We are both looking forward to settling in and starting our project. I feel so privileged to be a part of this project and I am so grateful to everyone who provided support to make this trip possible. To all friends and family, I wish you a great summer and look forward to seeing you upon my return!



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.


First Day at the KAT center and the tour I didn’t know I was on

It turns out I have by no way mastered the Nepalese language/accent. The Kathmandu Animal Treatment (KAT) center is located on the road to Budanilkantha. It also turns out there is a town in the exact opposite direction of the Center which sounds a lot like “Budanilkantha.” Needless to say we were slightly late for our first day.

Upon arrival at the center we were greeted by the warm, smiling faces of the employees and volunteers and numerous wagging tails of the KAT center’s residents. The KAT center is an extraordinary place. The main focus of course is animal birth control – – the success of which I have already witnessed in the numerous ear notched dogs walking the streets. Dogs spayed at the center are given an identification tattoo, ear notch and red collar. The people of Kathmandu recognize that these dos have been vaccinated and spayed and are far more willing to care for them. When I first heard the center spayed and vaccinated strays and often released them back onto the streets, I was skeptical. With the success rate of adoptions and lack of stray dogs we experience in the Western world, it is hard to understand how people who clearly care about the well being of these animals can release them onto the street. But Nepal is not Canada. For starters, the center always releases the dogs back to the same neighbourhood from which they came. Often these dogs know where to get food and shelter in their home area. Some of them even have “owners.” Furthermore, in a given year the KAT center is lucky to adopt out 50 dogs. The city has over 20 000 stray dogs. In order to effectively reduce to stray dog population in Kathmandu it would be ridiculous to only spay the number of dogs they could find homes for.

The KAT center does have a decently equipped “surgery suite” but medically, the center is a long way away from a Western veterinary clinic (obviously). It is not the desire to perform top level medical aid that is lacking, quite the opposite, it is simply the diagnostic tools and supplies that are much needed. I think the medical supplies we brought with us will go to good use, as we have already torn open boxes of gloves and used some of the towels and drugs. Currently, the KAT center is well staffed with volunteers and veterinarians as it is tourist season. It is very neat to see how even routine procedures like placing a cast are done rather differently by vets from different parts of the world. After a dog chewed off its cast today a different vet tried her “American way,” to see if it would hold.

The level of Mange (skin disorders caused by parasitic mites) is Kathmandu is quite extraordinary. I witnessed more cases today of advanced mange then in the rest of my volunteer work and work work combined. It can be treated very successfully, however, and I am looking forward to seeing the transformation of some of these animals over the next three months.

Upon our return from the KAT center I decided to explore the streets some more. And by explore the streets I really mean play human frogger through traffic and say “No thankyou” a few thousand times to pushy, yet friendly store owners. Just as I took a quick turn down a backstreet in an attempt to dodge a flying 3-wheeled “tuck-tuck” (by flying I mean speeding, this land is magical yes, but not in that way), a well dressed, English-fluent man approached me, made an off hand comment about the crazy traffic and proceeded to walk the street with me talking about school life and asking me about my home country. Suddenly, we were in front of temples and old buildings and he was giving me history lessons about everything in site. Then, before I could say “Budanilkantha” I was on a rooftop and he was pointing at shopping squares and more temples. I was on a tour. I had not scheduled one. I had not asked for one. I had not even realized I was on one until it was half way over. In the end he wanted a lot of money, a few thousand rupees, and I gave him 500 rupees – – the equivalent of about 6 dollars. I had been swindled, somewhat, but I did get a pretty nice tour of Kathmandu for a reasonable price.

Cheers for now,


P.S. pictures will come – sometime

Touched Down In Kathmandu!

After two and a half days travel we have officially arrived in Kathmandu! I enter this first post huddled over in a darkened internet cafe, just off the busy streets of Thamel, Kathmandu Nepal. Despite a brief hold up in the Indian airport, travel went well, and finally we have reached our destination. It is a bit of a culture shock stepping out of the airport into the dusty streets of Kathmandu with taxi drivers yelling and forcefully “asking” for your business.

The majority of the population is in poverty here, and cows and dogs are more common lane dividers than medians. That being said, it is an incredible place, with almost a peaceful aura despite the craziness, and everyone is extremely friendly. I cannot wait to begin work at the KAT centre. Pictures will follow once I can get internet on my own computer and am not using a rental at an internet cafe.

Cheers for now,


Quelques pensées avant de partir pour l’Ouganda

J’ai hâte de pouvoir être utile et d’approfondir ma connaissance sur le rôle du vétérinaire dans une société. Je continue d’apprendre la profession avec intérêt, toutefois je ne connais toujours pas exactement mon but, mon rôle comme vétérinaire et son importance. Mon instinct me dit que de découvrir une culture assez éloignée de la mienne m’aiderait sans doute à cadrer les principales valeurs qui dirigeraient  par la suite mes futures décisions de vétérinaire. J’envisage avec enthousiasme de découvrir une nouvelle culture. Les cultures distinctes ont des points de vue différents sur la réalité que je tente de définir. Il est intéressant de se promener de point de vue en point de vue pour avoir l’image la plus représentative de la réalité et de pouvoir par la suite agir en étant plus harmonieux avec celle-ci.

Je participerai donc à un projet vétérinaire qui impliquera des chèvres laitières en production extensive dans une communauté constituée majoritairement de veuves et d’orphelins. Je serai heureux de partager mon expérience avec vous en faisant part de mes surprises et de mes déceptions par rapport aux attentes que j’ai vaguement mentionnées et qui peuvent se diviser en 2 parties soit le côté humanitaire et le côté vétérinaire plus pratique.