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 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."

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.


Sticky in the humidity and ravaged by an assortment of biting insects, our hard-working team was in much need of a break.

It was our second day off since arriving on the island. We enjoyed breakfast at the Happy Lobster before splitting up on several adventures.

Much of the group partook in a manatee boat tour at Swallow Caye, led by Chocolate's Manatee Tours, lasting more than five hours. It was a beautiful boat ride out to the site. “Several of us felt a little seasick at first,” revealed Donna. "But it was pretty exciting. One manatee even flipped his tail!” The group even witnessed a manatee love-making session, and was exposed to a lot of sun out on the water.

A manatee glides past the boat (Photo Credit: Donna Lasser)

Chocolate leads the group around Swallow Caye (Photo Credit: Donna Lasser)

“Being a group of veterinary professionals, we’re obviously really interested in conservation as well. Chocolate has been running this tour for many years. He does a really good job of educating people who come on the tours about the manatees and why they’re endangered and why it’s important to protect their habitat,” remarked Caitlin.

Manatee observation hut (Photo Credit: Donna Lasser)

“Chocolate told us the cruise ships are the worst thing that ever happened to Belize, conservation-wise,” said Donna.

Jen P. and Carmen took off to Ambergris Caye for the majority of the day, shopping, exploring and documenting San Pedro, finishing their stay with dinner at Wet Willy’s on the water taxi dock.

A few members of the team stayed behind, and Kim was there to welcome Choncho, a German Shepherd cross, into our care. The five-week-old puppy was found wandering Front Street and brought to us by a concerned local.

For dinner, Isabelle prepared salad with avocado, tomato pasta, and shrimp, and the team called it an early night.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Charlie was feeling a bit stronger today

Dr. Sherisse cleaning a cat's belly after her spay

Wheatie II during his enucleation

Today was Baron Bliss Day, a bank holiday honouring a British-born traveller who willed $2,000,000 USD to a trust fund in 1926 for the benefit of the citizens of Belize. Many of the locals were out of town celebrating. However, it did not prevent many animal owners from bringing their animals by for surgeries and vaccinations.

The very hot and humid day was made better with Donna's preparation of oatmeal and fresh fruit for breakfast. Soon after, a team meeting was held to discuss issues emerging from yesterday's challenges. The team decided that they would no longer take animals for surgeries after 4pm, and that recovering cats should be monitored more carefully.

Dogs and their owners began filing through the gate as soon as we opened at 9am. Dr. Anna completed an enucleation on Wheatie II, another one of Kenny's cats, who was missing an eye. "My best guess is that it was a cat's claw in the eye or some sort of ulcer that then became a melting ulcer through infection and then the eye just fibrosed down to nothing," she said. "Very different than a regular. If you're doing a regular enucleation, you hold onto the eye and you dissect all of the muscles from the eye, and it's quite simple because you follow it around and then you ligate the optic nerve and you cut it. But this was very different."

Chris elaborated later in the afternoon: "That went well. Then we came over here for the vaccination table. We had three or four. Now we have a mommy dog and her puppies coming in."

The puppies!

Chris feeding a two-day-old puppy with sugar water

The said litter of puppies was born yesterday. Unfortunately, only nine of the thirteen puppies survived for today's visit to the clinic. Dr. Anna, Chris and Eve provided the healthy puppies with fluids and sugar water and made sure the mother was in good shape.


Dr. Anna

Miguel, a thirteen-year-old local boy, who heard about CAAT through Caitlin and Barb's presentations at his school, has been quite a help to the team. He visits almost every day to help out. So far, Miguel has trapped three cats for us. He sets the traps up in his yard, right behind the I & I, a local bar. "I'm going into the bar business, taking over from my dad," he said. Perhaps he should consider a career in veterinary medicine?

Miguel and Carmen

One of the most interesting things about the work here is the team's ability to improvise and work with fewer options than they have in the veterinary hospitals they work at in Canada. Each team member has had challenges to overcome. Today Caitlin's challenge was the wrangling of a feral cat on the street.

Kim and Dr. Gina in surgery

Dr. Gina

"Each trip is different," said Donna. "The team makes a big difference - how everyone's getting along. It's certainly nicer to work out under the palm trees than to be in a building all day. Everything's going really well so far. Our anesthetic protocol is excellent."

Much of the team attended a hatha yoga class at Random Yoga, on the rooftop of a building just a few blocks from Madi's place. The class, led by Jessie Wigh, an instructor, certified in the U.S., was by donation, providing a panoramic view of the sunset and full moon. It was worth every penny.


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