When I decided to go to Otovalo, Ecuador for the latest World Vets trip, I knew it had a reputation for being one of the most busy trips. How that idea of being busy actually translates into bone numbing exhaustion is another story entirely.
Whether or not it was worth it depends on how you feel about what you have accomplished at the end of the day.
Located at approximately 8,000 feet up in the Andes, Otovalo has a long history as one of the most important crossroads in the range. Unlike the more tropical locations closer to sea level, the climate is unlike what you might expect when you hear “14 miles north of the equator.” It’s pretty cold, especially at night.
Otovalo, Ecuador July 2013. Photo by Stephen Tanahashi.
The people who live there are kind and welcoming, and despite their limited access to such things as veterinary care do care deeply about both their pets and the large street dog population. It was this concern and love of animals that drove Dr. Olga, a local MD in Otovalo, to approach the city administrators and ask them to stop poisoning street dogs as a form of animal control. “If I can get a spay/neuter organization in several times a year,” she asked, “Will you stop poisoning dogs?” They said yes.
In conjunction with local rescue organization PAE-Ibarra, World Vets has been doing campaigns in Otovalo four times a year.
The campaign lasts three days. During the latter half, the residents are invited to bring in their pets for sterilization, lining up hours in advance for a slot. The first day and a half, however, is reserved for street dogs.
Most of the dogs are friendly, allowing themselves to be rounded up by PAE volunteers and brought to the clinic. Without a city shelter, the dogs are sterilized, treated for parasites, and then returned to the streets after recovery. Most of the dogs, surprisingly enough, seem to be in fair condition as well.
From my station in post-op recovery, I heard murmurs and gasps, followed by the extended hum of a pair of clippers. I looked over, to see what all of us agreed was the most matted dog any of us had seen in our entire lives. She was, quite simply, one entire, solid dredlock over her entire little body.
She was shaved down to her skin until the clippers ran out of batteries, and then she underwent a spay. Over in recovery, one of the doctors who had a free moment patiently sat with her and cut away at the remaining mats on her feet and tail with scissors, doing his best to get her comfortable. We were all concerned that, although she was now clipped, she was now also going to be cold.
Then she hit a hard patch in recovery. I spent the next two hours helping her through that period, as she had a fairly hard time working her way through the anesthesia. Eventually I handed her to one of the local volunteers and asked her to just hold her and keep her warm and comfortable until the rest of the anesthesia wore off. We all felt just terrible for this little girl who had fought so hard at life.
I checked on her every few minutes, the volunteer patiently holding her for about three hours. And then I went over and she was awake, resting her head quietly on the woman who had nursed her so kindly.
“When should she get her dewormer?” asked the volunteer through a translator.
“Ideally tomorrow,” I said, “but since she’s a stray, we should probably do it now.”
She said something else, and the translator paused. Then she smiled.
“We can do it tomorrow,” she said. “This woman is adopting her.”
And that is how Serena’s worst day ever became her best day ever.
And that is how I answer the question of whether the 12 hour workdays were worth it.
Pawcurious: With Pet Lifestyle Expert and Veterinarian Dr. V.