Saturday, April 28, 2012

Back to the old grind...

Day 10- April 23 Back to work, back to reality. Fourteen dogs awaited us this morning. Nation asked how many we wanted before we left on Friday, and he delivered. He spent his Sunday afternoon rounding up dogs from one of the local villages.Unusually for a Monday, there was no onslaught of walk-ins over the course of the day. All dogs were done and back in the recovery kennel by 1:30. All in all, we are quite pleased with this anaesthetic protocol despite it not being quite what we'd choose if other options were available to us. But this is what we come to expect on trips of this nature- we won't have all the drugs and machines that go beep that we have at home, and we have to make do with what we have. Under the circumstances, we are doing quite well. The MAWS clinic provides us with facilities superior in many ways to what we operate in at other projects We did have one mid-day drop off- a very skinny pup, about 3 months of age. He was quite anemic (pale gums) from both fleas as well as a probable load of internal parasites.He's a sweet little guy- very receptive to attention, and eager to eat anything we offered- he would have eaten a full can of Ecco Dog and Cat food had we offered it. He'll be at the clinic for a week or two getting back on his feet before MAWS starts looking for a new home for him.

Vumbara Bound!

Day 7- April 20 We woke bright and early, looking forward to our trip to Vumbara. We checked in on our two overnighters at the clinic- both were doing well and were to be discharged later in the day. Richard picked us up promptly at 8:30 and we made it to the Wilderness Safari HQ well ahead of our departure time. Tana gave us our tickets and took us to the airport to drop off our bags, then left us at Bon Arrive to grab a coffee and kill some time until our flight left. It turned out we were on the milk run- not a direct flight to Vumbara. Not a problem- the delta is breathtakingly beautiful, and flying over it gives you a true sense of its size. We stopped at Chitabe and Tubu Camp prior to landing at the Vumbara airstrip, each strip littered with the poop of various species from impala to elephant. There were random wildlife sitings from the plane- elephants, giraffes, zebra, but nothing that prepared us for the drive to our lodge. We were greeted warmly by our guides for the weekend, Go and Zee, who informed us we might see some animals between here and the lodge. Less than 5 minutes into the drive, Eagle-eyes Richard spotted an elephant several hundred yards away. Zee maneuvered the truck into the best viewing position, which turned out to be unnecessary- while we were watching elephant number one, a mother elephant and her calf walked out of the brush behind us, not 20 metres away. They passed slowly within 10 metres of the vehicle. She seemed unfazed by our presence- her baby separated itself from her several times, and she waited patiently for it to catch up, but always keeping a watchful eye on us.Once they'd crossed the road, we moved on. The wildlife came fast and furious over the course of the 30 minute drive to the lodge. We saw a few giraffes, two herds of zebra, several more elephants, as well as kudu, impala, wildebeest, and wart hogs. Wow! Upon arrival at the lodge, we were greeted warmly by Cara (a Toronto ex-pat) and Tizzar, a Motswana being trained for a management role at the lodge (I learned from the map on the flight in that Botswana is the country, Setswana is the language, Batswana are the people as a whole, but each individual is a Motswana). The rest of the staff came and introduced themselves- Ruby, Gladys, Kenny, and Owner. We had a quick lunch while getting an orientation and a rundown on the rules of the lodge. While there are lions in the vicinity, when walking after dark it's the hippos and elephants that are the real danger. The lodge is built on the shores of a large wetland, so over the next 48 hours we'll have the option of seeing wildlife from both a land cruiser and at water level in a mokoro- a traditional dugout canoe. Our choice. We feel so incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity. Our rooms are massive- larger than many a Vancouver apartment. There are seven in total, separated by enough tress and brush that you truly feel like you're in your own private home. Each looks out onto the wetland. As hard as it was to tear ourselves away, we gathered in the lobby area at 4, as instructed, for tea (very civilized). Then we piled into our Land Cruiser for an evening game drive with Zee and Go. One objective was to return to an area where lions had been seen earlier in the day. While there were none to be found, we did manage to see kudu, impalas (of course), zebra, more elephants, and a bull giraffe with 2 cows nearby. The sun was setting, so we made our way back to the lodge, only to get very effectively stuck in a stream bed. Zee is a wise man who knows better than to try more than once or twice to dislodge the truck, so he and Go went towards a nearby thicket to grab some wood to use as traction under the tires. The thicket also contained several elephants. They scratched that plan and called for the assistance of a tractor to come pull us out- apparently this has happened once or twice before. We had our sundowner (an evening cocktail consumed whilst watching the sun set) sitting in the truck, watching the light fade and the mosquito count escalate. Eventually we heard the growl of the tractor and directed the driver our way with flashlights- these guys truly have an amazing knowledge of the area and an uncanny ability to locate the lost and stranded. They truck was chained to the tractor and we were pulled free. The driver then towed us another several hundred meters down the stream/road until we were on dryer land. We made out way back to the lodge in total darkness, much of the route under water ranging from 4 inches to 3 feet deep. Fireflies flashed off to our sides. We made it back to the lodge within minutes of dinner, and were invited to have a seat at the bar while the table was set- our choice of beef or bream. Cara recommended the beef- Botswana beef apparently ranking among the best in the world. I'm not much of a red meat eater, and that dinner made me seriously question why not. It was amazing! Our dining companions were an entertaining quartet from Santa Barbara touring SA and Botswana for a few weeks. Dinner and dessert were finished by 9. We were escorted back to our rooms by Tizzar, and in bed by 9:30, so as to get 8 hours of sleep before the 5:30 wake up call for the morning game drive. Days 8 & 9- April 21 & 22 Suffice it to say, the next day and a half were incredible. 5:30 wake up calls to make sure we were ready for 6:30 game drives. An incredible wealth of wildlife in a relatively small area, our guides did all they could to ensure we saw as much as possible. Their skills and mother nature combined to give us a weekend we'll not soon forget. It was very hard to leave on Sunday afternoon- we'd seen so much and been made to feel so welcome. We found ourselves hoping that Zee wouldn't make it through the next stream, or that we'd be stopped by a herd of rogue water buffalo. Alas it was not meant to be. We arrived back in Maun around 4, and returned to the cottage to prepare for work tomorrow. For a full detailed report of the weekend, visit my blog on the Yaletown Pet Hospital web site, but then please return here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 4- April 17 I find myself getting back into the routine. We all met at the MAWS clinic for 8AM- all our patients were already present, having been dropped off the day before- Nation goes and picks up dogs from the surrounding villages mid-day, by which time our surgeries would be well enough recovered to pile into the 4X4 and be dropped off at their homes. 14 dogs were brought in for today, although one was surrendered to Nation for euthanasia- an ancient old man with generalized mange- not treatable under the circumstances. The remaining 13 cases were pretty straight forward spays and neuters, and we add the old girl with the TVT to the roster. Lazarus and Michelle have their technique down, and as soon as Richard or I finish one surgery, another patient slides onto the table. We're finished by noon, even with an unexpected baby-tooth extraction thrown in. I was successful, but had to improvise my technique since there was no actual dental equipment on hand. The old girl did well through surgery, and since we'll be here for 2 more weeks we'll be able to monitor how here TVT improves. While we're waiting for the last couple patients to recover, Ally arrived with Jackie and Isabelle in tow, fresh off the plane from Jo'burg. They're looking incredibly refreshed and awake considering their time in transit. They get the grand tour of the clinic and the 'Palmer Compound' and get introduced to the dogs before settling into the cottage. Day 5- April 18 Isabelle and Jackie seemed to sleep well last night, and I'm up puttering in the kitchen making coffee and eggs for quite some time before the door to their room opens. Jackie had expressed a concern for spiders last night, and after staking her claim on the big bedroom, changed her mind after finding spiders in the room. We cleared out the first one- a specimen about an inch in diameter, legs included, but very flat, coming only about 3mm above wall surface. But boy those suckers can move!! After discovering a couple more on the ceiling above her bed, she opted for a mosquito net and a single bed in Isabelle's room. After breakfast, we made the (2 minute) trek to the clinic where awaited a local woman, Helen, who wanted to have her dog spayed. "What's your dog's name?" we asked, thinking we'd discover a new Batswana word. "Lipice" she replied. Interesting. "What does Lipice mean?" She made a motion around her mouth as though putting on lipstick- her dog was named after a local brand of lip gloss! Lipice was amongst the 16 dogs we did surgery on- an equal mix of spays and neuters. Isabelle and Jackie got quickly up to speed under the expert tutelage of Lazarus, giving him time to do things he usually reserves for after the days' surgeries are finished. The recovery period is still the rate limiting step, and we stop early to allow the slow ones sufficient time to wake up before Nation loads them into the 4X4 and takes them back to their homes. We took advantage of Richards Monster Safari Truck, and had him chauffeur us around town. We stopped at Kalahari Kofi to use their free wifi- catch up on a couple hundred e-mails, mostly junk, that had accumulated over the previous 4 days, post a few gloating comments on Facebook, and have a decent cuppa coffee. This followed by a visit to Spar, one of two local grocery chains, for a few staples. On the way back to the ranch I received an urgent text from Ally- 2 dogs at the clinic had opened up their incisions and needed attention. I had left the MAWS phone at the cottage to charge- this made certain that we'd need to return to the clinic. We pulled into the clinic 5 minutes later and located the two dogs in question and assessed their situation: both had licked out their skin sutures, and one had pulled a little subcutaneous fat through the incision- it looks very dramatic, but only needs a little trimming. We sedated them, cleaned their incisions, restitched them, and reversed the sedative. In and out in less than 30 minutes. We thawed a couple tubs of chili for dinner- much of the food provided for the veterinarians has been donated to MAWS by local restaurants, so our freezer is full. A yummy dinner, a couple bottles of Windhoek lager, some entertaining chat and then off to bed. Day 6- April 19 Yesterday it was confirmed that the trip to the Cheetah Conservation Preserve at Ghanzi had been cancelled. The staff had apparently dispersed, so there was no one present to round up dogs for us. This morning we learned that instead of working this weekend we were being flown to Vumbara Plains on the northeast shore of the delta to spend a couple days at one of Wilderness Safari's lodges, as thanks for work done and work we'll be doing next week. Not bad work if you can get it! We are now working like a well oiled machine. The 14 surgeries were finished by 12:30- 12 spays and 2 neuters- and they had all recovered by 2. We kept one old girl at the clinic for observation, simply she because she's old and recovered slowly. We'll look in on her tonight and again tomorrow before flying to Vumbara, before sending her back home.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Maun, Botswana- April 2012

DAY "1"
I call it day "1" because it started at 6AM on April 12th in Vancouver, but is only just winding down at 9:30PM, April 14th, having traveled more than half way around the world to Maun, Botswana. This is my second trip to Maun, and I look forward to sharing the experience with two other CAAT members. I'll have to wait to do that since they are currently spending a couple days in Frankfurt, having been sufficiently delayed leaving Calgary that they missed all their subsequent connecting flights. They won't be here for another couple days due to limited availability for the last leg of the journey: Johannesburg to Maun.
This was not a problem for me, even though it meant a delay getting up to speed with our efforts here. I must admit to having some feelings of trepidation as I made my way here via Beijing and Hong Kong- amongst the joys of traveling on air miles are the interesting itineraries they come up with. My concerns were quickly allayed as soon as I touched down at Maun International and that sense of comfort that comes with familiarity set in: Even though the box of medical supplies I brought along was held up at the airport awaiting the arrival of the appropriate permit. Even though all government offices are closed for the weekend and nothing would be done until Monday. Even though the official at the airport is the same one that Ally, one of the MAWS team, has been speaking with over the past week to ensure the supplies won't be held up, but still seemed completely unfamiliar with it all. Even though the only thing preventing me from opting for the 'Nothing to Declare' line at the airport, and bypassing the minimal security they have in place, is the fact that I'm Canadian, and it's what we do.... Even before Ally came through the doors of the customs area to my rescue, I was at ease- this was Africa. This was Botswana. This was how they do it here.
Ally and I got caught up on the ride from the airport- staffing changes at MAWS over the past year; our new quarters on the Palmer property a couple hundred feet from the MAWS clinic; the amazing success the group has had in their efforts last year, and that they're set to break those records again this year; the number of crocodiles still at large in the Thamalakane after a spring flood unleashed them from a local crocodile ranch. That sort of thing. We stopped at Choppies for some supplies, and the liquor store for a sixer of Windhoek, and made our way out of town to my home for the next couple weeks.
Once settled, we wandered down the road to the clinic to check things out. The calf who has been a resident for the past couple weeks following an altercation with a couple dogs, is still in the yard, keeping the grass trimmed and fertilized- her owners are taking their time retrieving her, but she should be gone tomorrow. Lucy, a recent tail amputee following an altercation with a car, is happy to see us, and even happier to be let out of her kennel for a run. Ally is twisting my arm to suggest she might need long term care at the clinic- perhaps for the rest of her life. She's sweet and rambunctious. The two other patients in the clinic will need attention tomorrow- one was hit by a car and has sustained pelvic fractures, but the last veterinarian through the clinic was optimistic that strict rest should get her through her predicament. The other is an older dog with several litters under her belt, and a transmissible venereal tumour (TVT)- something seen with significant regularity in these parts. She'll be on the to-do list for next week- spaying and the first of three or four weekly doses of vincristine, a chemotherapy agent, to address the tumour. She should do well.
The jet lag is kicking in. My eyes are becoming more and more challenging to keep open. I'm looking forward to these next two weeks perhaps even more than last year, since I kind of know what to expect. I'll keep you posted.

Day 2- April 15
It was Sunday- the clinic, like everything else in Maun, was closed. Spent the day with friends of Tana, another of the MAWS group, at a birthday party, then dinner with Virginia and Jann, our hosts from last year. I impressed myself with both my comfort behind the wheel of a right-hand drive vehicle, except for the part where I turn on the windscreen wipers when I mean to signal a turn- and my sense of direction, finding my way down the 2Km dirt track to their home. All 11 dogs were still present and doing well.

Day 3- April 16
It's so peaceful here. Until about 6AM when it starts to get light. The the ring neck doves start their rhythmic cooing, which wakes up not only me, but also every hornbill, rail, and 'Go-Away' bird (so named because their song sounds like a sheep saying 'Go away') in the 'hood. I'm feeling pretty well rested- jet lag seems to be a thing of the past. I'm also getting the hang of this 'cooking breakfast' thing- I'll have to dazzle Isabelle and Jackie when they arrive. Eating breakfast on the verandah seems to attract all the dogs on the property. They're good company, and don't really beg, so much as try to will my food into their mouths.
Richard, a veterinarian from Austin, Texas, who I met yesterday, and would be assisting us through some of CAAT's time here, arrived shortly before 8, and we walked down to the clinic. The dozen dogs Nation had dropped off the night before were resting comfortably, not knowing what awaited them. Once Lazarus, MAWS' full time veterinary assistant, arrived, we got started. Considering our unfamiliarity with the anaesthetic protocol, he and Michelle, a tech from Boston also volunteering her services, took control, calculated drug doses, and proceeded to knock out, catheterize, clip and prep all our patients, and get them on the surgery table. All Richard and I had to do was spay and neuter. Easy peasy.
We were done much sooner than anticipated, and in the meantime Nation was out rounding up tomorrow's surgery dogs- eleven as I write this, but that number has been known to change.


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