Sunday, October 18, 2009

Baker Lake- Day 9

The last clinic day in Baker Lake began with a few surgeries. While Janet and Julie diligently worked on sterilizing the last few animals, the rest of the team began the arduous task of clean up. Since a classroom was used as a clinic site, it was imperative that every last trace of dog and cat smell was vanquished from the air!

Tuesday was the slowest clinic day, as it appeared that everyone who wanted their animals seen had arranged for this in the past week. There were a few more vaccines and exams, but other than that, the team chattered excitedly about the town caribou feast which was to be held that evening at the community centre. Later in the afternoon, Jess, Christina, Laura, and Caitlin headed out to a dog team situated about 5 km outside of town. Their owner, Oscar, wanted the 17 dogs examined and vaccinated. Wolves and barren land grizzly bears are frequent visitors to his family's cabin out on the tundra, and one of his dogs had been injured several weeks prior by a wild animal (the dogs are not able to interact with one another as the way they are tethered does not permit this).

The mini-team worked with the dogs over the next 30 minutes or so, while the Arctic sun dipped over the land. The ladies marveled at the small lagoons composed of melted ice, which were bathed in a pink glow from the setting sun. Laura performed a wonderful feat of true "dog whispering", calming a terrified dog who was determined to protect her haunch of caribou from us. Laura spoke soothingly to her, and assured her that we were not interested in taking her meat from her. Finally, Laura was able to slip a muzzle on her, which allowed Dr. Jess to safely administer the vaccine which could potentially save her life someday. Way to go, Laura!

Later on, the tundra adventurers arrived back in town to join the rest of the team at the caribou feast. It appeared that the whole town had arrived to celebrate an evening of good "country food" and fun games. The caribou was roasted and then distributed among three giant barrels, and people could help themselves. There weren't many leftovers!

The highlight of the feast for the CAAT team was the presence of the children. The kids were fascinated by the presence of digital cameras, and were eager to take as many pictures as they could of themselves and their friends. In addition, they enjoyed braiding hair and creating new hairstyles for the CAAT women. Then, a couple of team members joined in an Inuit game, the object of which was to carry a small dried bean between one's knees across the floor to a small cup, and drop it in. Laura and Caitlin joined the adults of the community in some friendly competition, soon losing out to those with more experience! The team returned home later that evening tired and ready for a good sleep in preparation for the next day's adventure- their last day in Baker Lake and a trip out onto the land with Vera Avaala.

Baker Lake- Day 8

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

Baker Lake, Nunavut: Day 7

After a late night at Sue's party, some team members slept in on Sunday while some battled through the exhaustion and headed to the clinic for 9am. It is worth noting that, though all team members have been traveling since Sunday the 6th or Monday the 7th, and the first day of work was Tuesday the 8th, there has been no day off thus far. Many Baker Lake residents work during the week and are more available on weekends or later in the afternoon on weekdays, so the team is trying to cover all their bases to ensure that any person seeking veterinary access for their animal is accommodated.

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.

Baker Lake Nunavut- Days 5 and 6

Days 5 and 6 were the busiest days for the veterinary team in Baker Lake. Day 5 (Friday, September 11th) saw 16 animals come through the clinic for spay and neuter surgeries, while the tally for day 6 (Saturday, September 12th) was 15 surgeries. Add a few dozen more vaccine, deworming, and physical exams to each day, and the team was swamped!

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

Baker Lake, Nunavut: Days 3 and 4

The first full day of work in the community was Wednesday, September 9th. The team was ready to go at the clinic for 10am and already had several surgery and vaccine patients booked. Though Baker Lake is an Arctic community, the majority of dogs here are not sled dogs- most are pet dogs that live either inside or outside the house. Team Baker Lake members noticed that, in contrast to many other communities in Nunavut, the presence of the ancient pure breed of dog called the Canadian Inuit Dog is virtually non-existent. Canadian Inuit Dogs (CIDs) are still used in the far North to pull sleds, but in Baker Lake, many people seem to prefer pets over working dogs. ATVs have replaced dog teams in many areas, so people are beginning to "experiment" with having dogs solely as companions.

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!

Baker Lake, Nunavut: Day 2

*Note: The Canadian Animal Assistance Team would like to thank Calm Air for donating two FREE flights to CAAT Baker Lake team members. Calm Air, we would be unable to serve remote Northern communities without you- THANK YOU for your commitment to helping us continue to provide veterinary care in the great white North!

After a good night's rest in their cushy digs, team Baker Lake was ready for action on Tuesday morning (September 8th). The team agreed to spend the morning unpacking the supply cases and setting up the clinic, and then officially open to the public starting at 1pm. After a team meeting at the house, everyone set off to the "clinic" site, a classroom in the Nunavut Arctic College here in town. The weather was cloudy and incredibly windy on the first work day, and team members were certainly grateful for all of the extra winter clothing that they had packed!

Community members Sheila Sweetwater and Mona Autut have been instrumental in booking surgeries and vaccination appointments for the CAAT team. Mona especially has spent hours assisting with everything from fundraising to communicating with owners to ferrying dogs and cats to and from their houses pre-and post-surgeries. Team Baker Lake loves Mona, and her smiling face is a pleasure to see every morning!

On Tuesday, Dr Janet, Julie, and Christina spent a busy afternoon working the vaccine table while the other two teams, composed of 1) Dr. Gina, Vanessa, and Caitlin and 2) Dr. Jess, Laura, and Dee, worked the two surgery tables. All in all, over 20 animal were vaccinated and four surgeries were performed. Not too bad for only half a day's work! One of the dogs was a graceful and elegant Irish Wolfhound; pretty much the last breed the team expected to see in a remote Arctic community! One very exciting development from the day was the invitation for team leaders Gina and Caitlin to speak on the local radio station about why CAAT is visiting Baker Lake. The radio time would also afford community members an opportunity to phone in and ask any questions relating to animal care.

After arriving at the radio "station" at 7pm, Gina and Caitlin waited nervously to go on the air. When it was finally their time to shine, they took turns describing spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, deworming, and some ailments common in Northern dogs. After speaking for around 45 minutes, the two women were suddenly inundated with phone questions. Community members asked questions ranging from how deworming works, to whether crushed egg shells would kill internal parasites (no!), to why should they spay and neuter their animals. Gina and Caitlin were indebted to the wonderful Vera Avaala, who acted as Inuktitut translator. Vera was a great sport, considering she was subjected to a crash course in basic veterinary terms prior to the radio show!

Later that evening, upon visiting Sheila Sweetwater to check on her post-surgical dogs, it was learned that she had been flooded with phone calls to book appointments. It appeared that the radio show was a success! Gina and Caitlin then headed home to join the rest of the team in having some good hearty laughs before heading to bed in preparation for the first full day of work.

Please note that we are still working on uploading photos. Thank you for your patience!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baker Lake, Nunavut, 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

Interview with Madi Collins

It was in late 2007 that the Canadian Animal Assistance Team first heard from Madi Collins, founder of the P.A.W. Cat Sanctuary in Caye Caulker, Belize, in the form of a press release.

“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.

A view from the kitchenette suite

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
Pasero Street
Caye Caulker Island, Belize
Central America

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Carmen Wagner and Jennifer Picard exhibit photographs from CAAT's time in Caye Caulker, Belize.

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's Fund

Dr. Anna with Charlie en route to Canada (Photo Credit: Kim Buker)

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:

Transport from Caye Caulker, Belize to Canada - $500
Diagnostic testing upon arrival - $500
Medical treatment (including medication, dentistry and spay) - $2,500

Help Charlie get the care she so needs! Donations to Charlie's Fund can be made online at Canada Helps, or by telephone at 1-888-500-3330.

Every little bit will help Charlie on the road to recovery!

Charlie in her winter coat

CAYE CAULKER, Day 15 (The Final Day)

Sunday was the last day on the island for the majority of the team. Gina, Sherisse and Chris were the first to depart, leaving in the early hours, with a second group heading out later in the morning.

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’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."

Carmen, Donna, Barb and Caitlin with Kenny (wearing his very own CAAT t-shirt)

"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."

Michael and Tammy Smith, the Canadian couple who loaned us their golf cart

"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.

Team members Donna, Jennifer, Monica, Corinne, Barb, Caitlin, DeAnna and Carmen remained on the island for a bit longer, tidying the apartment, packing medical supplies for the return home, enjoying a pancake breakfast, and swimming for the last time in warm Caribbean waters.


Today was our last clinical day on Caye Caulker and the team worked shortened hours from 9am until 12 noon.

Barb holds one of Miss Lola's eight puppies

Miss Lola

The puppies play at Miss Lola's

Barb, Jackie and Caitlin were able to wrangle a vicious dog, the mother of yesterday's eight puppies, at Miss Lola's place near the south end of the island. "We walked around the corner and she tried to eat me," said Barb. "After she decided not to eat me, she hid under the stairs. So we blocked the stairs off and with some careful wrangling - Caitlin putting the rope around her neck and keeping her in - Jackie managed to stab the Dormitor in her...we brought her back in the golf cart." After spaying the mother, the group returned to Miss Lola's where they fed the puppies and checked their incisions.

Dr. Jennifer spays the mother dog

Dr. Jennifer with Monica during the spay

After cleaning up and organizing the supplies, we were treated to a special lunch prepared by Madi and her family. Drummers from local restaurant 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.

Drummers from Herbal Tribe perform on the beach

Twin sisters after their belly dancing performance

Taking advantage of the warm weather, the team went swimming at The Split as a group for one last time. The late afternoon was spent packing and tidying up the apartment.

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.

Another gorgeous sunset

The sun sinks on the horizon

Sunday, March 15, 2009


A warm island breeze woke us gently this morning. Donna was in the kitchen fixing oatmeal for breakfast, and many of us strolled down the street to Deals on Wheels for fresh fruit juices.

Oreo during his dental surgery

Dr. Anna began the day with a difficult dental extraction on an owned cat named Oreo. “I got to take nine rotten teeth out of him without a drill, which is a bit of a challenge. We had a few elevators and extraction forceps, so I just used those two tools. I think he’s going to feel a whole lot better now. Those teeth would be so painful to eat on,” she said.

Dr. Sherisse and two puppies in surgery

Dr. Gina hard at work

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.”

The puppies rest after their surgeries

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.”

Caitlin gives Charlie a hug

Caitlin clips Charlie's nails

Just after 4:30pm, Jennifer and Carmen visited Kenny's yard to watch him feed his thirty-three cats. He feeds them a homemade concoction of bread, Friskie's wet cat food and chicken livers. (Stay tuned for an in-depth interview with Kenny, to be posted later this week.)

A few of Kenny's cats enjoy each other's company before feeding time

A kitty waits patiently to be fed

A cat licks his lips as Kenny prepares their grub

Kenny makes dinner for his 33 cats

Kenny's cats rush the troughs to be fed

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.

The sun sets on the west side of the island

Friday, March 13, 2009


Upon waking, the team knew another very hot day was upon them. Even the ocean breeze could do little to combat the island’s intense heat.

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.

High school students observe Dr. Jennifer in surgery

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.

Isabelle with a scruffy patient


Meanwhile, DeAnna visited the elementary school, presenting a collection of drawings by students at her eight-year-old daughter’s school. She spoke to a class of thirty-plus students there about life in Canada, requesting that they draw pictures illustrating their lives on Caye Caulker to exchange with her daughter’s class.

DeAnna speaks to the Standard 1 class at the elementary school

DeAnna explains a drawing to the young students

A student shares his drawing

Eve and Kim were able to find a home for Choncho, the puppy who had been in our care since Tuesday. “I guess his real story is that a woman at the council office – he was sort of her puppy - she didn’t want it. He ended up at the basketball court, and the lady was kicking him around, so her co-worker took the puppy. He was the one who brought him to us,” she said. The new owner, Val, holds down jobs at the post office here and in Belize City. “Her sister-in-law lives with her in Belize and will be there during the day to feed the puppy and she has two little girls...she assured me they would wrap it up like a baby and carry it around,” Eve elaborated.

Carmen holds little Choncho

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.

Dr. Anna performs a cat neuter

Today's greatest achievement was the capture and spay of Bambi, a skittish female dog in heat whom the team had been after for days (along with an enormous number of male dogs on the island). Dr. Gina and Corinne were responsible for bringing her into the clinic. "A lady came by – Amanda, a British lady - and she said that Bambi was sleeping outside her place. For some reason she knew that we were trying to catch this dog. So she told us she could take us in her golf cart to go get her," recounted Dr. Gina. "We went there, but she was gone." The three ladies then headed for the beach and found Bambi sleeping next to a fence with her bodyguard, a ten-pound Pekinese-Chihuahua cross with a mouth full of teeth.

"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.

DeAnna and Gina during Bambi's spay

Bambi goes under the knife

A close-up of Bambi's surgery

Caitlin made mention of how positively the community has received CAAT's help. "I wish I was writing stuff down, being out and about," she said. Unfortunately, much of the team doesn't get a chance to hear feedback because they are busy working at the clinic. "It’s very heart-warming," Caitlin continued. "Lots of local people have thanked us for coming and doing this work on the island. The kids run up and they talk about their animals. That’s exactly what we want - that kind of interest in animals."

"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


Today was the team’s second consecutive day off and Isabelle’s birthday. Donna fixed a quick breakfast of eggs with vegetables and much of the team headed out early to catch a water taxi to Belize City, with plans to visit a baboon sanctuary and ancient Mayan ruins.

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.

A black howler monkey in the trees above

Shane seated beside a two-hundred-year-old banyan tree

Chris, Jackie and Corinne ate live termites and agreed that their taste is much like that of carrots. He pointed out a two-hundred-year-old Banyan (fig) tree, brought to this country from Africa, and its impact on the monkeys’ habitat.

Shane, our impressive guide

“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.

The group stands before the crocodile-infested Belize River

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 caged and lonely 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.

One of the many Mayan temples excavated at Altun Ha

“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.

Phil gets under the bus to repair it

By this time, it was late in the afternoon and the team boarded the bus on its way back to Belize City so that they could catch the last water taxi back to Caye Caulker. Approximately forty minutes away from the city centre, Phil’s bus broke down and we were stalled at a gas station in the countryside for at least half an hour, which caused us to miss our boat. Luckily, Phil was able to work out a deal so that we could make it home to the island via a boat hired especially for our group. The boat coasted confidently through rough waters, guided by the light of a full moon.

The team gathered at a nearby restaurant to celebrate Isabelle’s birthday and enjoy a chocolate birthday cake prepared by Idalmi, and it was another early night for the hard-working team.


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