Saturday, December 02, 2006

Trinidad & Tobago Trip

Earlier this year the Canadian Animal Assistance Team was invited by Theresa Awai of the TTSPCA (Trinidad & Tobago SPCA) to assist them for a two week spay and neuter program greatly needed in their area due to the growing numbers of stray animals roaming the streets. A group of 6 CAAT members, three veterinarians, two technicians and a veterinary assistant left on November 4,2006 to embark on a 14 day journey with the purpose of spaying, neutering, vaccinating, deworming and treating as many animals as we safely could while educating as many people as possible about our mission and the importance of it.

Dr.Ken Seaman (team leader), along with Dr.Rebecca Ferrier, Dr. Ben Weinberger, Jackie Emard, Isabelle L'Hebreux and Katrina Wutke flew to Port of Spain, Trinidad and spent the first couple of days getting settled and sorting supplies at the SPCA where we would be doing the majority of our work. We came with suitcases full of donated medical supplies, medications, and anesthetic drugs, much of which was left behind for the SPCA to make use of when we returned home to Canada.

Once our supplies were organized we were taken by Dr. Raymond Deonanan of the Trinidad SPCA and his assistant Shivani Maharaj to a more remote area of Trinidad called Rio Claro in Mayaro. There, the councilors of Rio Claro opened up a community centre for us that we quickly transformed into a surgical suite.

Despite the initial resistance from the community our four days in Rio Claro ended up very successful. We found the people a little suspicious of us to start off and somewhat confused by what we were there to do but after introducing ourselves, handing out flyers & speaking to some local schools to spread awareness, we watched the community transform and start supporting our mission. The centre we had set up at started buzzing with people coming from all around the area bringing us their animals. We ended up busy enough that our doctors were in surgery over 120 animals for exams, vaccines from 9am to 5pm, hardly taking time for lunches, every day we were there. Not to mention seeing, flea & tick treatments, skin issues, open wounds, broken limbs, infected eyes, and several eye enucleations.

It was a very rewarding week because of the number of animals we were able to treat but also because of the friendships we developed with the local people. People that were originally skeptical ended up spending almost the whole week with us, watching, learning, helping where they could and treating us to an array of the most tasty and beautiful fruits that one could imagine. The pride in their eyes when they would present us with a bag of bananas, portugals, oranges or cocos that were hand-picked from their own backyards was all the thanks we could have asked for. The gratitude came through in such beautiful ways making Mayaro one of the greatest highlights of our trip.

After finishing our work in Mayaro, we took a one day detour to the island of Tobago to see some sights and meet up with the coordinators of the Tobago SPCA. The plans we had made for Tobago took a bit of a backseat to the endless rain and lightning storms that we were told we must have brought with us from Canada! We made the best of our rainy day and still managed to set up some contacts in Tobago should CAAT ever return to the area.

When we made our way back to Port of Spain there were nearly 100 surgeries booked for us. We spent the last leg of our trip doing spays and neuters like a well oiled machine in the tiny little surgery room of the Trinidad SPCA, two dogs to a surgery table, at times. We laughed and sang and enjoyed the company of Dr. Ray, Shivani, Mark and other TTSPCA staff members while working our way through a long list of surgeries.

Nearing the end of our trip we learned of some pretty devastating statistics that we tried to share with the people of Trinidad during the two television interviews and newspaper reports that we gave. Approximately four hundred dogs and cats per month are brought to the TTSPCA and 90% of those animals are euthanized. Many of them are sick or injured and unable to be adopted but even many healthy animals are put to sleep. There simply is not enough space to house such a large number of animals and despite attempts to strengthen the adoption program, fewer people come to the hospital to adopt an animal than those that come to leave an unwanted animal behind.

Still with such an outrageous volume of animals passing through we were all very impressed with the SPCA. It was very well run, very clean and well-staffed with constant help from volunteers for the kenneled animals. Such an effort is put out by all the people involved in the animal’s welfare that it is disheartening to know that they hardly make a dent in the stray population. Hopefully our presence in this country will start the decline in those numbers and that the children from the classrooms we spoke to are of a new and informed generation that supports better care of animals, awareness of the population control issues and that the quality of life for all animals in Trinidad steadily improves.

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