Sunday, October 18, 2009
On Monday morning, the team was greeted once more by a barrage of dogs and cats awaiting surgeries. Six of the dogs belonged to Nicki, a 15 year old Inuk teenager who lives and breathes dog sledding. Her dogs are much-loved working animals and, though she is a young woman of few words, Nicki soaks up dog care information like a sponge. One of her husky crosses has four young puppies, who are about 4 weeks of age. The pups were too young to do much with, but Dr. Jess examined each of them and gave them a dose of wormer. Much fuss was made when Nicki announced that she wanted to give the babies away, and a few members had to really deploy the willpower to give them back to their mum!
Many team members headed out onto the tundra to vaccinate sled dog teams. Dr. Jessica swiftly became the sled dog vaccination champion! Working with her faithful "A Team", consisting of Dee, Laura, and honorary member Christina, she examined and vaccinated both Joe's and Victor's teams. In some Arctic communities, the increased use of ATVs has rendered the necessity of keeping sled dogs obsolete. That said, dog team is still the preferred method of long distance travel for many. Unlike ATVs, dogs don't break down or run out of gas when one is hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town in an unforgiving landscape.
Back at the ranch (or, in this case, the clinic in the Arctic College), the rest of the team continued with intake for surgeries and vaccines. One three-month old Lab mix arrived with an excruciating ailment- she had been unable to resist the tempting smell of a piece of bait fish outside of her owner's house. The catch? The fish was already on the hook when she chewed and swallowed it. The result was that the hook had firmly embedded itself through her soft palate, upper lip, and tongue. Gina located some bolt cutters from a local resident and, after the puppy was sedated for the procedure, she was able to remove the hook in several parts from the pup's mouth. These are the sorts of cases that are extraordinarily satisfying for the team, as without veterinary intervention, the pup would surely have died a very painful death. After an injection of long-acting antibiotics, the puppy returned home with her grateful owners.
Monday evening after work, Janet and Caitlin set up next door in the library in preparation for a vaccine information session for interested members of the community. They hoped that dog sledders in particular would make use of this opportunity to learn more about the benefits of administering vaccines to their dogs. Unlike dogs kept as companions either in or outside of homes, sled dogs are typically tethered together out on the land, ranging from just outside of town, to several kilometres away. This means that they are subject to increased vulnerability to wild animals attacks, and the ever-present risk of rabies infection.
Various dog sledders came to the info session to learn more about vaccines, and to ask questions. Janet and Caitlin discussed rabies, distemper, and parvovirus, among other diseases covered by vaccines. Many of the attendees were surprised to learn that, for instance, rabies virus is not airborne. It is the team's hope that increasing the knowledge base of the community will help somewhat to avoid the confusion and fear surrounding a rabies incident, such as the one that occurred most recently. The casual meeting allowed people to ask questions about not only vaccines, but deworming and sterilization procedures. CAAT seeks to provide ongoing information over the next year to residents of Baker Lake, until a team returns next fall to resume the work started on this trip.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Four dog surgeries were performed on Sunday morning, and the dogs were husky crosses belonging to local dog sledder Joe Hicks. It is usually very apparent when working sled dogs arrive at the clinic to be seen. The equivalent of human marathon runners, these athletes of the dog world come equipped with sinewy muscles, sleek bodies, and very high drive. Since many of these dogs never go indoors, the team seeks to sedate them for their surgeries very quickly so that they are not too stressed inside the clinic.
As well as a spay, Dr. Gina performed a surgery to repair a cherry eye on one of the working dogs. Cherry eye is a largely hereditary condition whereby a gland located in the corner of the eye becomes inflamed and everts. The condition is aptly named, as an aflicted dog ends up with a large, cherry red protrusion in the inside corner of the eye. Cherry eye surgery is tricky and has about a 50/50 success rate in the best of circumstances. Given that this can be a very irritating condition for a dog, hopefully this surgery is successful! It certainly has a great shot given that, as is the standard with CAAT veterinarians, Dr. Gina is a fantastic surgeon.
Sunday was a bit of a dismal day, weather-wise. This team has been very fortunate throughout this trip, as the weather has largely been clear and sometimes even sunny. The sight of the endless blue sky peppered with clouds climbing over the vast expanse of red and yellow tundra is a breathtaking one indeed! Sunday, however, it rained. Not too much, but enough to paint the dirt roads with rivulets of reddish-brown mud. The team was intrigued at the start of the trip to find that the dirt here gets it's color from iron deposits in the soil. At this point, it's a normal part of the day to get home and brush off pink crusty mud from one's shoes and pant legs!
In the afternoon on Sunday, some team members headed home for much-needed and much-deserved naps. The rest of the team followed later and, after another delicious meal, retired to bed early. There were several surgeries lined up for Monday morning and everyone wanted to get a good sleep.
Surprisingly, there are many, many cats and kittens in Baker Lake, and the team has thus far seen a reasonable number of them! Cats have made up approximately 1/4 of the surgeries performed. On Friday, Dr. Jess's surgical team (the self-appointed "A Team"!) was thrilled to have been able to neuter a massive orange and white tom cat named Sam. Sam possessed the massive facial muscles and thick skin typical of intact male cats, as well as the battle scars which are hallmarks of his pugnacious lifestyle. Many of the young cats and kittens in town very much resemble Sam (ahem), so that particular surgery was a satisfying one indeed! Several more mature males followed and as well as being neutered, they had their many wounds shaved and disinfected.
Friday morning, Caitlin and Laura headed to the local high school to speak to the entire grade 6, 7, and 8 classes about safety around dogs. In the afternoon, Caitlin and Christina walked to the local elementary school to do the same, but with two classes of first K-2 and then 3-5. Remote Northern communities are significantly overrepresented in dog-caused fatality statistics, especially among children. Dogs are often left to roam freely or tied to houses, both potentially dangerous situations as dogs pack together and resource guard their territories. Children up North do not have access to the types of humane education programs that are set up to arm them against dog bites, so CAAT aims to provide this service in each community visited.
The two CAAT ladies were armed with an incredibly effective weapon for educating children about dogs: Harley. Harley is a lovely German Shepherd cross owned by Ron Knowling, a man who lives in the community and who graciously offered to have Harley participate in the dog safety talks for the kids. The entire team would like to thank Ron for his generosity, and the secondary and elementary school principals Bill Cooper and Ivan Payne, respectively, for their willingness to have the CAAT team work with the kids. Many of the children ooh'd and aah'd over Harley when they saw him in the gym, but reactions ranged from broad smiles to fearful grimaces.
The kids learned about incidences in which they should not approach dogs and why, as well as some basic dog body language, how to avoid being bitten by a strange dog that approaches (stand like an Inuksuk!), and how to approach and greet a friendly dog (always ask the owner first!). Caitlin and Laura encouraged the kids to think about how they might feel in similar situations (ie. comparing disturbing a sleeping dog to how we would feel if shaken out of a deep sleep at 3am!). Research emphatically suggests that the formation of empathy (the ability to put oneself in another's place) plays a crucial role in the development of pro-social behaviour.
One of the most notable things about teaching dog safety in remote communities is the reaction from the kids when they are asked if any have ever been bitten by dogs. Almost every single hand in the audience goes up, every time. This makes CAAT more and more determined to introduce humane education to remote communities in as many cases as possible.
Both Friday and Saturday evenings were late ones at the clinic, with some team members staying until 10pm to recover dogs. A difficult quandary exists: Does the team stop admitting surgery patients early in the afternoon so that they can be done by 6 or 7 pm, or do they do as many as are presented? Team Baker Lake is such a hardworking, dedicated, and committed group that team members invariably choose the latter option. This has resulted though, as previously mentioned, in some overnight guests both at the staff house and at the clinic location.
Saturday night was the group's first real chance to decompress and chat with some community members outside of work. Sue and community members Bill and Andrea put on a wonderful BBQ and party for the CAAT women at Sue's house. It was a great chance to mingle and learn about what other people do in Baker Lake, and just generally talk about other things besides reproductive organs and clinic schedules! Baker Lake RCMP officer Brent joined us, as well as Mona, Pat (whose dog team was vaccinated that day), Lindsay, Rachel, Bob, and others. Team members enjoyed some good homemade wine and delicious food. Thank you to Bill, Andrea, and Sue for all of your hospitality!
As of Saturday night, the team's totals for surgeries were approximately 50 animals, with many more vaccinated, examined, dewormed, and with other minor medical issues treated. Go Team Baker Lake!
Friday, September 11, 2009
There are approximately 7 dog teams in the area, and most of the dog teams are composed of Alaskan huskies. The term Alaskan husky actually describes a mixed dog used for sledding, and doesn't even have to be a breed mix that includes huskies! Apparently, one of the sled teams here is even made up of short-haired gun dog mixes. The team members are excited to see for themselves when they visit each of the sled dog teams, tethered outside of town on the tundra, to vaccinate and deworm each dog.
On days 3 and 4 in Baker Lake (Wednesday and Thursday), another 20 or so animals (both dogs and cats) were spayed and neutered, and many more were vaccinated. It is always interesting to see the common dog breed mixes in town- in Baker Lake, there are many, many spaniel mixes with lovely floppy ears! It certainly indicates which of the dogs are doing most of the reproducing around here. Satisfyingly, the team has sterilized several mature male spaniel crosses- hopefully the surgery takes some of the swagger out of their step!
On day 3, Dr. Gina and her team spent the day at the vaccine table, while Dr. Janet and Dr. Jess and their teams were in surgery. Several tough surgical cases meant that many team members stayed at the clinic until very late. On the night of day three, two of those cases stayed as pampered overnight guests at Casa CAAT. Spot is a young and sweet female spaniel and Girl is a beautiful, graceful German Shepherd/Husky mix. Girl in particular swiftly wormed her way into the team's heart, with her liquid brown eyes and earnest expression.
Team member Dee was up several times during the "sleepover" night, checking on Girl and Spot and ensuring that they were comfortable. Every day on this project, each team member proves their compassionate and unceasing commitment to animal care and welfare time and time again. Thankfully, Girl has a very good home here in Baker Lake. Thus, the team can rest easy knowing that with continued veterinary care provided by CAAT in future trips, she should have a long and healthy life.
Please stay tuned for more news of the CAAT Baker Lake project! Thank you for reading and please remember that CAAT is not able to provide veterinary care in remote communities without financial assistance from generous donors. Thank you so much for your continued support, in whatever form it takes!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
*Note: Our sincere apologies- due to a glitch in the computer system, we are unable to upload photos at this time. Please bear with us, we are hoping to have some up and ready soon!
On Monday, September 7th, a team of nine veterinary professionals from all over Canada embarked on an expedition to the great white north. Specifically, the team headed to Baker Lake, the only inland community in Nunavut, and one which is aptly referred to as the "geographic centre of Canada". Nestled in a beautiful and remote landscape of vast tundra and shimmering lakes, the community of Baker Lake is home to around 2000 people, as well as approximately 250 dogs and around 20 cats that are in desperate need for veterinary care.
After flights from their respective hometowns, seven of the nine team members met with great excitement (and exhaustion!) at the Winnipeg airport for the two flights which would take them to their final Arctic destination. The remaining team members, Gina and Julie, would arrive in Baker Lake later that evening. CAAT is sincerely grateful to First Air, "the Airline of the North", which has been exceedingly generous in subsidizing team member flights not only to Baker Lake, but also to previous communities in the territory. The Eastern Arctic is one of the most expensive places to fly in the world, so as such, the help is much appreciated. Thank you, First Air!
Team Baker Lake consists of the following nine lovely ladies:
Gina Bowen, DVM (Team Co-leader)
Caitlin McLagan, Veterinary Assistant and Humane Educator (Team Co-leader)
Julie Scharf, Veterinary Technician
Vanessa Forster, Veterinary Technican
Dee Brown, Veterinary Assistant
Janet Walter, DVM
Christina Pham, Veterinary Assistant
Laura Sutton, Veterinary Technician
Jessica Grandish, DVM
After a flight in a small plane to the coastal hamlet of Rankin Inlet, the team graduated to an even *smaller* plane called a Beech Craft which holds only twelve people, including the pilots! The group had to lose some of the baggage, as the pilot informed them that the tiny plane would not take off unless it was lighter. Most definitely, the team's two gargantuan medical supply cases had a little something to do with that!
The arrival in Baker Lake was marked by a bumpy landing and friendly welcome from Sue McIsaac, the team's host for the duration of the visit. Sue moved to Baker Lake 10 years ago from Ontario to work in library services, and has a warm smile and a huge heart. She and her loyal dog Bandit have welcomed many local stray and unwanted dogs into their homes before finding them soft places to land, and when Sue became concerned about the lack of access to veterinary care for the animals in the community, she discovered the Canadian Animal Assistance Team. The rest, as they say, is history!
As the first team co-leader to arrive, Caitlin received a briefing from Sue about the situation in the community and some of the obstacles that the group would be up against. Nunavut is a rabies-endemic area, and the main vectors for the deadly virus are wolves and foxes. Since both species frequent both the community and the surrounding area, sled dogs and pet dogs are at risk of becoming infected through a bite by a rabid animal. Recently, a rabid wolf came into town, killed a dog, and bit a person. As a result, many other dogs that may or may not have been exposed to the virus were shot, and the person who was bitten underwent a prolonged course of post-exposure prophylaxis. There is quite a bit of confusion about what rabies is, what the vaccine is, and how it is to be stored and administered. One of the team's goals is to increase the knowledge base in the community so that members can cope effectively with future incidents involving rabid animals. Education, as always, is to be a crucial part of this project.
Nearly all of the dogs in the community are unvaccinated, but the team hopes to remedy this. As well as rabies, Northern dogs can suffer from Distemper virus, Parvovirus, tapeworms, ear infections, eye infections, wounds, and malnutrition, among many other things. Though dogs anywhere can experience these hardships, those in remote communities are generally unable to access regular or even occasional veterinary care. While in the community, the CAAT team seeks to provide spay/neuter services, vaccinations, deworming, and basic care of wounds and infections. They also hope to address questions and concerns of community members, relating to any aspects of animal care ranging from nutrition to parasite control.
After the team had settled in and eaten a wonderful home-cooked meal (complements of Sue!), some members began to turn in. Half the team is staying at a government house in town, and the other half is staying with Sue. Gina and Julie arrived at around 9pm and completed the team. The team was nervous yet excited, and determined to work as hard as possible to make a difference for the animals and their owners in Baker Lake.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
“It was 1:30 in the morning. I was searching for funding, number one. I started writing and sending press releases all over to see who would respond,” says Collins. It was her plea for help for the community's animals.
She invited CAAT and its team of veterinarians, technicians and assistants to visit the island to provide clinical and humane education services. For two weeks this March, a team of seventeen volunteers stayed at the P.A.W. Cat Sanctuary, making a difference in the lives of hundreds of animals and residents on the island.
Collins was born and raised on a small waterfront property on the island, a half-hour’s boat ride from Belize City. In all the years spent growing up in Caye Caulker, there were very few dogs. They were not running rampant like they are now. “And you didn’t really see many cats like that – there was more jungle, more trees…the cats had a lot of space, a lot of places to hide.”
As a teenager, she accompanied a high school friend on a visit to the United States. What was meant to be a six-month visit turned into twelve years. She first worked as a nanny in New York City. “When I got there to visit my friend, she was with her boyfriend. And then I started looking around, ‘cause there’s not much for a young girl to do,” she recalls. “My first job – taking care of two girls and an entire household…was a lot of work for one person.”
The experience demanded that she grow up quickly. She worked in childcare for the next five years and tried out part-time modeling for local businesses. But Collins had more in mind for herself – she wanted to attend college. “The people I was involved with were not college-educated people who wanted to go to school. They wanted to remain in that environment – just babysitting, or apartment cleaning, or whatever. I knew I wanted to do more with my life. It was very hard trying to break out of that circle – find out where to go, how to register…there was a lot I had to learn.”
After completing a legal assistant program, she was able to secure her first office job and obtain legal papers to stay in the States. “I would work a nine-to-five job and in the evenings, after my job, I would go to school.” She continued to educate herself, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in political science.
After twelve years living in New York City, she was beginning to question the lifestyle in New York.: "It was all work, work, work. There was no time for yourself, for anything. I couldn’t even have pets in the beginning because I couldn’t take care of them.”
“I always loved animals,” she says. “My dad is an animal lover. My mom respects them – she would not hit them or hurt them or anything, but she was always scared – especially of dogs – because she was bitten as a child. She was never raised to have pets. Animals belong outside, they’re dirty, they’re the devil, too much hair…wouldn’t want them in the house. When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to have cats or dogs for pets.”
Around this time, her father fell ill and she returned to the island. “I came here and I really wasn’t sure if I was going to stay here and live,” remembers Collins. “I figured I would help my parents out, see how things were going.”
A year went by and she was still in Belize. She watched as her savings dwindled and began considering ways to earn an income. She purchased snorkeling equipment during a visit to the States so that she could open a diving shop. There weren’t many diving operations on the island at that time.
“I would get up early in the morning to get my stuff ready for business,” Collins remembers. “One morning I started hearing some kittens crying.” She followed the sound to the end of the dock and spied a bag in the water. “There were a few kittens in there and I just couldn’t believe it!”
In the five years since her return, there have been several instances of cats being washed up on her shore with ropes tied around their necks or legs. “That started opening up my eyes and I thought, something needs to be done.”
A natural researcher, Collins insisted that if she did something, it be done right and by the book. “This has to be registered, legal, so people could take me seriously,” she explained. She had been rescuing animals since her arrival in Belize, but the P.A.W. Cat Sanctuary wasn’t made legal until 2006. “Everything takes time in Belize to get done,” she explained.
At first she housed sixteen cats in her cattery (called the Meow-tel), a storage area which used to house her diving equipment. “As the cats kept coming, I built a tiny little place…I started investing some money. When I could, I put another roof and it started to grow.”
Right now, the sanctuary is home to fifty-two cats, all of which are spayed and neutered. “I learned everything on my own,” says Madi, “through trial and error. When they’re sick, I research it on the computer. We have no vets on the island.”
“When I got here, I wanted to take my cats to the vet. I was new here and didn’t know many people, didn’t know the people at the dive shop had a vet here. It was not regular – it was once a month. I took my cats to the city and the same people said, ‘You know, we’re at Caye Caulker on a monthly basis.’ As my sanctuary started growing and more residents started coming into the sanctuary, it was very difficult to take my cats to the clinic.”
Collins was able to organize a clinic on the island with veterinarian Dr. Orlando Baptiste, and her press releases brought the World Vets to Caye Caulker to assist with surgeries and vaccinations.
“I never went to the people who run this village. I could go there and argue with these people forever. I said, you know what, I’m going to find some vets somewhere that would like to come here and help us out – by providing free services so that these people can see that the animals are important, that I think they are important. All these people that are partaking in this event, they think that animals are important. By that people would start learning,” she said.
Focused and determined, one of her greatest hopes is to change the laws in Belize. Currently, animal owners are meant to register or license their dogs, but it is not a law that is enforced. “I just feel that dogs don’t belong on the street,” explains Collins, "especially because it’s such a small community. Tourists are everywhere. Half these people don’t have the money to vaccinate these dogs! God forbid they end up having rabies and biting someone!”
On her website, she has started a petition. It’s her goal to obtain 1000 signatures in support of changes to the laws. One of her ideas is to register pets by taking a photograph of the animal and its owner. “They would be held accountable,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the government’s position to have to pick up a dog. Of course they’re not going to feed it. They’re going to put strychnine on the streets. They would have to pay a fee to register their dogs and be held accountable for that dog. It’s not a right to have a dog; it’s a privilege!”
She has received little support from the island’s residents. “It’s a small-knit community. There’s only so many people to go around. I was so hopeful that people would want to be a part of [the sanctuary]. I’m not giving up,” says Collins. “Even if I have to fight the government and even if I’m alone, I’m going to die trying to get where I want to get. If I’m not going to get the help here, I’m going to get it somewhere else.”
As Collins began bringing more cats into the sanctuary, she found it more difficult to make ends meet. “I came up with my volunteer vacation program.”
She moved upstairs and began to rent out the two suites on the main floor of the house. “This couple from Vancouver came – Tony and Eve…they said they’d try to help me by putting a little blurb on Trip Advisor. Prior to that, I was struggling, wondering where my money would come to feed – selling everything imaginable,” she explains. “I don’t have a bed! I sold everything. This is how I live. The more I got rid of stuff, the more I felt free.”
Since then, she has had people contact her from all over the world enquiring about the suites.
The waterfront kitchenette, which is equipped with air conditioning, refrigerator, microwave, coffee machine, stove, private bath and a large deck, rents for $80 BZD a night (dependent on the season). The back suite, known as the Garden Room, rents for $50 BZD per night, and there is also accommodation available in a small cabana. “The cabana is $20 BZD per person, like a dorm. If they want to rent it on their own, it’s $25 BZD because it has an outdoor bathroom.” She also offers camping onsite for $10 BZD per person.
Collins emphasizes that if guests come to rent or volunteer at the sanctuary, she would be able to invest more in helping the animals. Several of the cats require special food – to aid with urinary and renal problems. Every other week, she journeys over the Mexican border to Czetomal to purchase Royal Canine Renal S/O Feline food. “You can’t have it delivered. In Belize they have a law that you can only buy animal food here.”
“I’ve had a couple of people send me little cans – maybe twenty-four little cans in a box by mail. It got here. It wasn’t searched. If it’s a huge container, they would confiscate it or take it away from me. Each time I go [to Czetomal], I can only afford to bring back two packages. The water taxi is $25 BZD round trip. The bus is $35 BZD round trip. I have a friend there, but if she’s not around, I have to stay at a hotel, which would cost me at least $40 BZD a night….and the pack of food costs $40 BZD for one bag.”
That means that Madi is spending approximately $140 BZD twice a month traveling to Mexico. That’s money that could have been spent on the animals.
She hopes that more tourists will visit Caye Caulker and her sanctuary and take part in her volunteer vacation program. “I really need a little break…I have been doing this for five years without taking a vacation.”
It is her hope that she can start speaking to people in the streets and fundraise for her animal rescue efforts. She’d also like to gather statistics about the location of cat colonies on the island and document the number of stray animals, so that when she speaks to the government, she will be able to provide them with facts about the population and severity of the problem.
“Figures play a good role,” Collins says. “I could do this until I turn blue. We could vaccinate all of the animals we find, but the situation will get the same way in about a year. We’re just going to continue this and what? There needs to be some kind of a change.”
To learn more about vacation rentals and the volunteer vacation program, or to make a donation, visit Madi's website or contact her by email.
Donations can be made online or may be forwarded to:
c/o Madi Collins
Caye Caulker Island, Belize
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Come see the beautiful images they captured during CAAT's project, documenting the country, its people and its animals.
10% of the proceeds from photographs sold will be donated to Charlie's Fund.
Opening Party is tonight!
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Higher Grounds Coffee House (2300 West Broadway @ Vine Street)
Show runs from April 1 - May 15.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Charlie needs your help.
Surrendered by her neglectful owner in Belize, Charlie joined Dr. Anna Wallace on her flight home one week ago today.
Here in Vancouver, Charlie's emaciated and disease-riddled body can be properly treated, and she can live out her days in a loving home.
Charlie's story was featured on CBC News last Monday evening, and Hill's Pet Nutrition was kind enough to donate her food supply.
At Granville Island Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Anna diagnosed Charlie with anaplasmosis and heartworm. She confirmed that Charlie has a BB gun pellet in her armpit and a fist-size radio opaque mass in the middle of her abdomen. More tests will be run and further investigating is in the works.
In just a few days, Charlie managed to pack on a few more pounds, and her coat looked shinier. "She gets feistier by the day,' said Dr. Anna.
But she needs your help.
For Charlie, getting healthy is an investment. Expenses include:
Diagnostic testing upon arrival - $500
Medical treatment (including medication, dentistry and spay) - $2,500
Every little bit will help Charlie on the road to recovery!
There was just enough time to reminisce about the overall experience in Caye Caulker.
"It’s hard to describe in a few words...I think one of the better parts – I think we all probably feel the same way – is just interacting with the locals. And learning a bit about their culture and learning why they do what they do with their animals," Jackie mused. "We come assuming a lot of things with our Western standards of animal care. It’s not the same here...it’s not as simple as they want to be abusive. The one little boy said to Corinne – kind of made her understand why they do what they do and why they are abusive to the cats on the island – the little boy said, 'It’s ‘cause they steal our food.' And he was from one of the poorer areas of the island. It just sort of changes your perspective of things and how you judge other people. Every trip I’ve gone on, I’ve gone home and thought, 'Wow. I have way too many things.' And yeah, you appreciate even just the small stuff, like hot water, for example."
When asked what she has learned from her experience in Caye Caulker, Isabelle said, "I’ve improved as a human being. Working as a team is important. To know how drugs work. Regarding anesthesia, it’s a very good experience – how long the drugs last and all that, that’s very interesting. It’s more like working as a team and all the difference in their personalities and character and working around that. It’s more like a human level that I think you learn the most."
Jackie agreed with Isabelle's comments: "The most you learn is on a personal level. You kind of learn a little bit more about yourself and interactions with large groups of people, outside of any veterinary stuff."
"This is my first trip," said Anna. "It was fabulous. I had a great time. I feel like we did good things while we were here. I learned a whole bunch from all my colleagues here and yeah, it has been great!"
It was also Kim's first opportunity to work with CAAT. She enjoyed meeting a group of like-minded people with knowledge to share. "And helping the island people and animals," Kim elaborated. "It more than exceeded my expectations. I would go on another one. This is my very first one, so I got pretty lucky. This was a pretty good one."
Joked Monica, "I don’t think I’ll ever be able to come back – to another CAAT trip. This was my first one, too and it was way too fun. Now my expectations are too high."
"I liked working with a team. I enjoyed it. We all work well together," said Barb. "I especially liked trapping the feral cats that we did catch: the big males, the pregnant females. That meant the most. And the day Caitlin and I talked our way into our golf cart – to finally have that freedom to travel the island. We made that huge connection for the next time. Next time we come, we have to give Annie and Chocolate and Molly who owns Jan’s place notice...they’ll arrange a golf cart for the whole time we’re here."
"And the cruelty I saw – just to see how cruel people are," continued Barb. The locals here are very similar to the Inuit that we saw up north. It’s a very similar mentality. Both Caitlin and I discovered that most of the kids here did not realize that animals feel."
Lastly, Donna had a few remarks to make about the trip's successes and difficulties: "It's really hard to ensure that what the contact person has promised happens like they say it’s going to. That’s really bothering me a lot. But otherwise, absolutely everything – the team, the teamwork. I know the last few days were tough for everyone. Tired and all the bug bites – it was enough. People were getting distracted. You know, that’s unfortunate, but understandable too."
She mentioned how grateful she was that Caitlin and Barb were able to arrive on the island prior to the rest of the group, to better prepare her for the actual situation on Caye Caulker, with fewer cats than originally supposed. "It wasn’t anything, though, that we couldn’t adapt to. We were concerned that we would be standing around twiddling our thumbs, ‘cause we’ve done that in other communities, but we didn’t do that at all here, which I’m so relieved about. There’s nothing worse than bringing a big team to a place and then everyone’s not put to use."
The team sees Caye Caulker as a place they might revisit, even on a yearly basis. "I think this would be a really great place to come back to," said Donna. "Especially now – people in the community like us and they’re very open."
Charlie accompanied Anna on her flight back to Vancouver. "She’s going to freeze at first," Anna said. "She'll do very well but she has a hard road ahead of her. She’s going to have a bit of shock when she hits Canada and she also has some diseases to overcome so the next few months will be full of rehab, but she will do great." Note: Charlie's story was featured on CBC Television's evening broadcast.
Herbal Tribe played traditional island songs while we drank punch in the sun and celebrated our two weeks of hard work. This was followed by an entertaining belly dancing performance by teenaged twin sisters.
The team dressed nicely and enjoyed a relaxing dinner at Herbal Tribe. On the way home, members of the group witnessed an incident that put them on edge.
Donna described what she experienced during the walk home: "Caitlin, Carmen, Jen and I were walking back from the restaurant. We were the first ones to leave, at about eight o’clock - we were really tired. We were on the main street and I was ahead of them a little bit. And all of a sudden up ahead – maybe 50 feet – there was this guy. He was standing but he had both arms out with his gun pointed towards us." Another man, standing nearby, was shouting at the man with the gun. "We all turned around and started walking to a side street. One guy grabbed Caitlin by the arm and said, 'Don't go. Don't go! It's not a real gun.' And then we continued down the side street, rushed off," she said.
A number of team members, including Corinne, left the restaurant shortly thereafter. "A guy had a machete when we came up - another person."
This was the first and only instance of violence the team witnessed during its stay on the island. According to Kenny, troublemakers sometimes visit the island from the city, often in connection with drugs and gangs. As it turns out, both the man with the gun and the one with the machete were arrested later that evening and taken by boat back to Belize City.
"We were really nervous and scared about that and I think that’s why I didn’t sleep well," said Donna.
Thankfully, no one was hurt or injured from our team, but it did put a few on edge and perhaps made our imminent voyage home a touch more appealing.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
A litter of eight flea-ridden puppies arrived at the clinic and the team worked at spaying and neutering all of the little ones. “It was awesome, those little puppies. We can get them before they even attempt to reproduce,” Isabelle explained. “We saved probably between fifty and a hundred more puppies that would make between fifty and a hundred more puppies.”
Dr. Jennifer worked at the vaccine table for much of the day. “We did probably about twenty-five vaccines and exams,” she said. “We had one boat that came in with seven dogs on it alone.” She also treated six demodex cases. Demodex is a mite that gets under the skin and causes mange.
In surgery, the team has had to improvise with the island’s feral cats. “Their skin is so tough that when you try to feed the catheter on the front leg veins, it’s very hard to feed with these guys. We have more success with this back vein, so we’ve started using it,” Eve explained, injecting a needle in a cat’s hind leg. The team has had no anesthetic deaths or major problems throughout the two weeks.
In amongst the many surgeries and examinations, the team was able to bathe Charlie and clip her nails. Her health has improved exponentially since she has been in CAAT’s care, although she is still bothered by fleas, ticks and flies, as well as a red rash on one side, possibly a symptom of lyme disease, which is treatable. Charlie has more energy than ever – she trots around the yard, wags her tail and jumps up and down for her food. “I think she’s doing really well,” Chris commented. “Anna has worked really hard to get everything organized to get her on that plane.”
Madi organized a complimentary dinner at the local Canadian-owned bar, The Sports Bar. (A big thank-you to Lloyd for the generosity!) After dinner, the team signed a CAAT t-shirt to be placed on the wall with all of the sports jerseys and memorabilia, and called it a night.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Last night’s trapping was a disappointment, producing very few animals – a large percentage of the traps were tampered with, presumably by locals who are opposed to CAAT’s work on the island, and the remaining traps ensnared animals we’d captured previously. With only three days of work to go, and nine missing cat traps, the team worked hard to remain positive in light of its many challenges.
Thankfully, there was good news on the horizon.
“We had one golf cart donated to us for a day by Molly, who owns the hardware shop, and Annie, who’s Chocolate’s wife. It was amazing. They split the cost and they rented it to us for a day," said Caitlin. “We were able to expand and trap all over the island, which is something that we just haven’t been able to afford to do before now.”
A second golf cart was donated to us by Tammy and Michael, a Canadian couple originating from Revelstoke, BC. The carts, while allowing us to accomplish more than ever before in terms of animal pick-ups and trapping, caused the team to be dispersed and less effective than on previous days.
Barb, Caitlin, Eve and Chris headed out to the dump to pick up a mother dog, who recently bore a litter of puppies. She was brought into the clinic for spaying, while high school students came to observe surgeries, granting Dr. Jen a standing ovation as she began a dog spay.
Dr. Sherisse manned the vaccine table for much of the day, assisted by Kim, who then spent the afternoon with animals in recovery. The team was aided by Donna, who worked as a technician for several hours.
Dr. Anna was working hard to get Charlie on her flight back to Vancouver over the last few days. “They don’t like to fly them on weekends,” she explained. Her flight is the most direct: a twelve-hour flight with only a brief stop in Houston where there are kennel facilities. Officials at the Belize airport are helping to organize Charlie’s safe transport to Canada, where she can receive the care she so requires.
"Any time you’d go near to her or look at her, she'd put her head up!" Dr. Gina slipped behind the fence and was able to inject Bambi with a sedative. "We got the drug into her, but of course she jumped up and took off."
Bambi ran back inland, with Amanda, Corinne and Dr. Gina in hot pursuit. "We were just trying to follow her and not lose her because she was going to get sleepy," said Dr. Gina. Bambi and the smaller dog ran into an empty lot. "And the empty lot was owned by a man that doesn’t want people on his property!" Corinne interjected.
By this point, Bambi was sedated and completely catchable, except that the male dog was barking and attacking in an attempt to defend.
"This little feister...he would have taken on the biggest pitbull in the world! He wasn’t backing down," said Corinne. "I’m trying to distract him, ‘cause I’m trying to get him to come on with me." Corinne managed to get a rope around the toothy dog's leg but he lunged forward and nipped her hand. "Just a little knick on my thumb here. It broke the skin. It looked a little bloody. But I’m on antibiotics, just in case," she said.
Bambi was up and running again. Dr. Gina and Corinne had recruited the help of several local men, chasing both dogs through several yards and even crawling under a chain link fence. "I got across the field, and she was snagged...they threw the blanket over her and that was it," explained Dr. Gina, who then returned to the clinic to perform Bambi's spay.
"For a disorganized day, we still got a lot done," said Monica. "It’s too bad we’re going home so soon ‘cause now it seems like everyone’s starting to get excited about us."
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Jen P. awoke with a severe case of heat stroke after her day spent on Ambergris Caye, and the ladies in the cabana suffered from lack of sleep due to Choncho’s antics. Dr. Sherisse and Eve stayed behind to look after Choncho and Charlie, and get some needed rest.
Gina and Anna revisited Hol Chan Reef, this time to do some diving. It had been about eight years since Gina’s last diving trip. “We dove with sharks and sea turtles,” explained Anna. “We dove about sixty feet, so it was a pretty shallow dive.”
Once in Belize City, we met with our tour guide, Phillip Elliott, and hopped on his tour bus, headed for the baboon sanctuary just outside of a community called Bermudan Landing. En route, Phil provided the group with ongoing commentary of all the city’s sights and buildings. Soon we arrived at the baboon sanctuary, nestled in jungle bordering the Belize River. Shane, who has cultivated a bond with a family of baboons (or black howler monkeys), was an able guide, explaining to us the significance of the surrounding vegetation (such as mimosa pudica, or "sensitive plant") and the monkeys’ behaviour, calling out to the monkeys so that we could hear their cry. They are one of the loudest land mammals, perhaps only surpassed by lions.
“I was very impressed with how conservation-minded he was. Very knowledgeable,” said Caitlin.
The team made their way down a path to the Belize River, home to many crocodiles. In the heat of the late morning, many members of the team jumped in for a quick dip before heading back to the bus, their clothes sopping wet.
Phil drove us to our lunch stop, a small restaurant surrounded by gardens with all kinds of beautiful flowers, as well as a captive howler monkey.
A short distance from there was Altun Ha, which translates as “rock, stone, water”, the site of excavated Mayan temples. In The Moon Temple, archeologists found seven different tombs with over three hundred pieces of jade objects and hieroglyphic writings. Much of the excavation project was funded by Canada. Surrounded by jungle, Altun Ha was the source of many pieces housed at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, including pottery and the priceless jade head.
“Altun Ha’s main attraction is the Sun God Temple. Every level has an altar on top,” explained Phil. This was the site of many animal sacrifices. The hills surrounding the ruins are like an onion skin – layer on top of layer. Every fifty-two years, the Mayans would change the design of the structure, building one building on top of another.
The group climbed the ruins’ steep steps, amazed at the structures and their history.