I recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to participate in a campaign to spay and neuter dogs and cats.
You could call it kind of a vacation for me. Yes, I was working as part of a team of visiting animal health care professionals. But enhancing the health of animals is my passion, and getting to work in a country that needs that help is invigorating. It reminds me why I chose to be a vet.
Whether in the Twin Ports or the Dominican Republic, one of the best ways we can enhance the health of individual animals, as well as the overall animal population, is to work against overpopulation. The best way to do that is by spaying and neutering dogs and cats.
Since 2007, Animal Balance, the nonprofit group hosting the clinics in the Dominican Republic, has been working with the community of Cabrera on the country's north coast. But this was the first year that the spay/neuter clinic moved to a different community each day of the campaign. In all during our stay, three clinics were held on baseball fields, one on a basketball court and yet another in a fire station.
Our team consisted of eight volunteers who traveled from the United States as well as 10 Dominican volunteers. The U.S. volunteers included three veterinarians, three veterinary technicians, a veterinary assistant and the Animal Balance coordinator.
The local volunteers helped coordinate clinic locations, distributed fliers and provided information about humane care of animals to residents before we arrived. The local team members also were essential in identifying beach dogs and stray animals in need of spaying and neutering.
The first full day was spent inventorying our supplies, packing our truck and meeting with all of the volunteers for introductions and planning. Then the real work began. Each day we met at 7 a.m. to head out to our clinic site. When we arrived, we surveyed the location to determine where we could set up to best protect ourselves and the animals from the pounding sun and still operate efficiently. When we found the right location, we would assemble our clinic for the day - an elaborate system of tables, tarps and kennels.
Our Dominican volunteers helped with registration and instrument cleaning as well as post-operative recovery and discharge for the animals. Our patients were mainly owned animals. In the beach communities, we also typically would have a handful of beach dogs.
We saw evidence of a lot of internal and external parasites with these animals. But overall, their health was better than I had expected. While we saw both dogs and cats, the majority of our patients were female dogs.
We did between 39 and 60 surgeries during the day, finishing some at night, sometimes by the lights of our headlamps. During our five-day campaign, we completed 236 surgeries.
On the last two days of the clinic, one of the doctors and one of the technicians went to Santo Domingo, the largest city in the Dominican Republic, to help a local group called Pets Breeding Control host a street-dog clinic. They altered 62 more animals.
The human-animal bond is a universal experience, something that even I sometimes forget. The look of care and compassion in the eyes of a pet owner dropping off an animal for surgery is universal. And the full-body wiggle that a dog does, upon hearing the voice of its owner arriving to pick it up, looks identical in any language.
I love seeing the connection between people and their pets in my daily work in the Twin Ports. I'm grateful that I had the chance to witness it in the Dominican Republic, too, while our team helped pet owners - and whole communities - take better care of their animals.
Dr. Amanda Bruce is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at drbruce@PetCareofDuluth.com or (218) 461-4400. For more information about this subject go to PetCareofDuluth.com.