As some of you may know, I have been volunteering with World Vets for the past few years. This is an organization that has sent teams to over 42 countries and 6 continents. Their mission is (from their website) “to improve the health and well-being of animals by providing veterinary aid and training in developing countries and by providing disaster relief worldwide.”
In the field service projects I have participated, we perform spays and neuters in communities in need to curtail pet overpopulation. We also provide health consultations, and provide treatments to protect both the animals and the people associated with them.
This year’s adventure took me to Peru. I arrived in Cusco, an inland city high in the Andes, after 3 flights and almost 24 hours of travelling on Sunday Morning. I made my way to Ollantaytambo, a town where the Incas battled the Spanish conquistadors. After exploring the ruins there, I took the train to Agua Calientes, a small village that serves as the access to Macchu Picchu. Early the next morning (4:30!), I was in line to take the bus to the ruins.
Once there, I climbed Wayna Picchu, a mountain adjacent to the ruins- a rigorous hike to say the least! So worth the effort though, as I was able to see the ruins from above and really appreciate the magnitude of the Inca construction. Visiting Macchu Picchu was truly one of the most awe-inspiring experiences I have had.
I returned to Cusco in order to meet up with our team the next day. From there, we headed to Pisac, a town north of the city, renowned for its market (pictured at right), selling every indigenous craft and art imaginable.
This was our home base for the week. From there we would travel daily to the town of Calca. There we partnered with a local rescue organization, and set up our “Campaña de Esterilizacion” clinic in a community center.
One large room was our “surgery suite,” another was used for patient recovery, with a waiting room at the entrance. Most of our supplies are brought by the lead veterinarian, by way of World Vets, with some drugs and miscellaneous items provided by the local rescue group.
One of the aspects I so enjoy about these trips is how we volunteers, from different backgrounds and with different skills, can come together as a cohesive group, and perform like a well-oiled machine. The bonding that occurs over mere days is remarkable.
Also so satisfying is the gratitude from the owners of the dogs and cats. Through education from the local rescue group, they understand the benefits of sterilization, and are relieved they can have it performed at no cost to them.
The animals we encounter in our clinic are not necessarily the robust, healthy patients we see back in our US hospitals. They are often plagued by chronic parasitism and malnutrition. Although they may look fine on a physical exam, we may encounter a different scenario once in surgery.
These dogs and cats bleed a lot! They can have blood platelet deficiencies from tick-borne diseases, and their blood may not clot appropriately. So we take a deep breath, and take extra steps to ensure safe surgical outcomes.
Another bonus of these trips is being able to work with local veterinarians and veterinary students. On this project we had a Peruvian vet who was proficient in spays and neuters training another doctor.
Our liaison was a young woman in the middle of her veterinary training (pictured at right)—she not only did a huge amount of organization, but assisted us in surgeries. Teaching her and overseeing her performing a spay was so rewarding—people like her are the future of Peru’s veterinary community. Thank you Cely!
The days at the clinic were long, but so very gratifying. On the last day, I lost count of the number of surgeries I performed. Perhaps the highlight was removing a mammary tumor from a Rottweiler, the size somewhere between a grapefruit and a soccer ball—the owner did not think it was possible—but hey, things can happen if we make it so!
The next day, more ruins. I was so amazed by the work that went into these endeavors by the Incas. We know so little about the Incas because they had no written language. It is speculated that Moray was an agricultural experimental station.
Then on to the salt mines of Maras. A subterranean spring rich in salt gives rise to these evaporation ponds that have been in use since the times of the Incas. In modern times, each pond is “farmed” by a local family—they divert the water into their pond, allow for evaporation, then harvest the salt remaining. It’s my new favorite seasoning, I brought back a couple of pounds!
My grand finale after all the work was done was a horseback trip. I got to ride on perhaps the most stubborn horse ever in the Andes Mountains! “Chocolate” (pictured at right) had a mind of his own, but despite his resistance to my pleadings we had a great time together. I had this vision of cantering on my Peruvian Paso horse through the Andean meadows… nope, all I got was a half-hearted trot.
Next day, back to Cusco, and then another 3 flights back to Seattle. Where will my World Vets adventure lead me next year…?