On August 19, 2007 CAAT received word from Molly Mednikow, director of Amazon Cares, Iquitos, Peru, that our immediate help was needed in the earthquake-stricken areas of Ica and Pisco. We responded that we would begin to prepare a team to go within one week’s time. After a week of seemingly endless media interviews, travel preparations, packing and last minute details, twelve team members departed from the Vancouver International Airport for Lima, Peru. The team members were the following:
Dr. Tara Huggins, DVM, Vancouver, BC
Dr. Terill Udenberg, DVM, Vernon, BC
Dr. Ken Seaman, DVM, Comox, BC
Karen Belanger, (Registered Animal Health Technician) RAHT, Delta, BC
Jackie Emard, RAHT, Vancouver, BC
Daniel Harvey, RAHT, Vancouver, BC
Tyler Udenberg, Veterinary student, Saskatoon, Sask.
Laura Chenier-McFadden, Assistant, Delta, BC
Jennifer Picard, Team Photographer, Vancouver, BC
Barb Ashmead, Assistant, Qualicum, BC
Corinne Barker, Assistant, Qualicum, BC
Donna Lasser, RAHT and Team Leader, Hope, BC
After fourteen hours of travel, we arrived safely at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima and were met by Molly of Amazon Cares. The night was spent at the Manhattan Inn Hotel, and by noon the next day we were off by mini-bus to Ica, approximately a five hour drive along the west coast of South America. The terrain is desert, with mile after mile of sand and the occasional tent or mud-brick house.
En route to Ica, we were forced to take a detour around the city of Pisco, which was 90% destroyed by the earthquake. Every time our bus would stop, the bus would be surrounded by children begging for money. They would attach plastic pop or water bottles with the tops cut off to a long stick which they hold up to the windows of the bus, hoping someone will drop a few centimos or soles into their bottles.
When we arrived in Ica, we were taken to the home we would be staying at for the next three weeks. The home belonged to the Pena- Castillo family (Leonardo and Maria), the parents of Esther, a veterinarian who works for Amazon Cares in Iquitos, Peru (http://www.amazoncares.org). Esther is a small animal veterinarian and her husband, Miguel Salas, is a wildlife veterinarian. They, along with their two children, live and work at the Amazon Cares clinic and shelter in northeastern Peru, along the Amazon River. Esther’s family home was virtually untouched by the earthquake. The family very graciously offered to house and feed our large team during the time we were working here. We were given the entire upstairs of the two storey home. Wall to wall beds on the floors (air mattresses and sleeping bags) as far as the eye could see. The one and only bathroom posed a few small problems at the beginning but everyone adapted and cooperated and we all learned how to be quick at whatever we did in there. The meals (breakfast and dinner) were a culinary delight, with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals served. However, instant Nescafe coffee seemed to be all that was available for coffee in a country that is one of the largest coffee bean exporters in the world. Starbucks – you were very much missed!
Our work days would start early, usually awake and getting ready by 6:30 a.m., and off to work on the bus by 8:00 a.m. The first three days of this week were spent working in a large room on the main floor of the San Andreas Municipality building, a suburb of Pisco. Our Veterinarians, Dr. Terill, Dr. Tara, Dr. Ken (and their wonderful technicians) along with Amazon Cares’ Veterinarian, Dr. Esther (assisted by Harry and Behtjane) were kept busy with spays and neuters while Corinne and Barb hit the streets with our three American friends, Gerald, Marcia and Thea to vaccinate, deworm and give food to the dogs. Molly from Amazon Cares did intake, and Dr. Miguel helped to triage the dogs being brought in. Some owners just wanted vaccines, while other owners agreed to have their dogs spayed or neutered.
The Peruvian Ministry of Health agreed to sit down and meet with members of CAAT, as well as with members of AASPA (the Peruvian version of the SPCA). Daniel and Donna were representing CAAT. Two days of this week were spent in talks with several of the Ministry of Health officials, and by the end of the two days, the Ministry agreed to let us work in conjunction with them to address some of the public health issues facing the people as a result of the earthquake. The majority of the population of Pisco had lost their homes and had been moved into soccer stadiums (tent cities). Many families brought their dogs with them to these tent cities, and the dogs run free. The Ministry of Health had received complaints from non-dog owners about the loose dogs and the Ministry was concerned about the public health risks to the people. At one point the statement was made that all of the dogs should be rounded up and shot. CAAT, Amazon Cares, and AASPA agreed to work within designated areas in the tent cities in several locations around Pisco, ensuring as many dogs as possible received Rabies vaccines (generously donated by Intervet in Canada), were dewormed, and were given food. The owners of the dogs were so grateful that we had “saved” their precious dogs.
For the remainder of the first week and well into week two we worked in the tent cities. The military which was stationed at the tent cities were very good to us. They rounded up tables which we could use for surgeries, the brought us a tent for shelter from the hot sun, and they provided us protection, especially as darkness began to fall. The Ministry of Health from time to time brought us mandarin oranges, apples and buns to eat and soda to drink (Inka Kola, Sprite, Coca Cola and bottled water).
On the weekend a group from Lima (AASPA volunteers) came to where we were working and brought bags of donated dog food to start handing out to hungry dogs. Several Veterinarians from Lima and the surrounding areas came to see what they could do to help also.
We saw two or three cases of distemper virus in dogs, and they had to be euthanized. Many dogs had venereal tumours also. Venereal disease is very common amongst the dogs in South America and is easily spread from dog to dog – sexually transmitted. It always ends in death for the dog.
At the end of week one, Donna and Jen accompanied Tara by bus back up to Lima to see her off at the airport. She flew back to Vancouver to return to work. At midnight, nine members of Team Two were met by Donna and Jen. More to come shortly!