Sweat was streaming down my forehead. The sun was at the hottest point in the afternoon as we moved into position on opposite sides of the field moving slowly and stealthily. We did not have to wait long until we heard the Pfft-plunk sound of Khun Chai's blowdart going off followed by a quick yelp of the dog as it took off into the underbrush with a tranquilizer dart dangling out of its thigh. The trick at this point was to follow the dog but not to scare it in the process. Adrenaline causes the tranquilizer to not work as quickly but if the dog runs away too far before succumbing to the sedation it will not likely be captured. In this case the dog disappeared into some deep underbrush. As I traversed around the edge of the thicket I could see and hear brush rustling and moving. I expected a dog to come charging out at any moment but it turned out to be Maggie, one of the local residents, and a dedicated dog lover. She was smothered in leaves and covered with scratches and cuts all over her arms and shoulders. We filled the truck and returned to the shelter. In an afternoon of darting dogs we managed to catch 3 grown dogs and 2 puppies. One dog had a large laceration across its nose and the two puppies had such a heavy tick burden that they were anemic as a result. Blow darting isn't the first capturing method of choice, but in circumstances where the dogs are skittish and difficult to catch, it's the only way. The dogs were treated, vaccinated and sterilized; and after 1 week of recovery, they were released. This is how my week began.
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and is estimated to have 60,000 stray dogs wandering the streets (Bangkok is estimated to have 300,000). Many are dumped at Buddhist temples where the monks won't turn them away but have limited capacity to care for them, some are beaten to death or poisoned, and some end up in the dog meat trade. The dog meat trade is perhaps the most frightening. Strays are rounded up and shipped to Vietnam, often multiple dogs in the same crate where many die en route. The ones that survive are then force tube fed to fatten up and then are boiled alive as there is a belief that the adrenaline tenderizes the meat and has beneficial effects when eaten. (www.tradeofshame.org for more information and a video - viewer discretion strongly advised).
Care For Dogs Foundation (CFD) is where we spent a week helping out where we could. Their primary goal is to control the dog population in the most humane way possible via sterilization programs. This organization is doing a good job under tough conditions. Out of the several dog shelters we have toured they have the nicest and cleanest facility and their dogs appear to be in the best health. Their shelter sterilizations operate out of one small operating suite and their medical team compromises one full time vet and a 50% part-time vet; and whenever possible, international vet volunteers. Other volunteers fill their days by assisting with medical bathing, walking and socializing the dogs which is a huge help. Like all shelters in Thailand they are at maximum capacity or even over it.
|The main yard at Care For Dogs|
Last year CFD accomplished 635 spay/neuter sterilizations. The goal is to expand to 1000 this year. With the current surgical suite and the requisite in-house space it will be hard to reach that goal. That is where I was able to help. I spent the bulk of the week using my former grant writing skills from the University of Washington to apply for a grant from Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) seeking funding for the design, orientation, implementation and start-up of a mobile veterinary clinic that would primarily function as a sterilization unit; but would also double as an aide vehicle for community outreach in times during disaster (floods or Tsunami) or crisis (dog meat trade). Naturally, the WVS grant application process is competitive, so irregardless of the announcement, I hope someday this concept can be realized. It's a shame to see such passion and dedication restrained by resources.
I spent the week spaying/neutering and helping out with some of the other sick and injured dogs. It was fun doing surgeries all day (yes vet friends, I did just call surgery fun) though my lower back would be screaming by the end of the day.
In the US I juggle what needs to be done (ideally) with what owners can afford. Here it was balancing what needed to be done with what was available for diagnostics, medications, and equipment. I realized how spoiled I have gotten over the years with pretty much everything I needed available. The hospitals I have worked at have MRI's and CT scanners. Now I was reduced a lot of the time to history, signalment, physical exam, and best guess. No imaging was available and just some very basic blood work. A blood parasite called Ehrlichia is rampant so low platelets are almost "normal" here which helped make some of the surgeries a little more exciting. A lot of the time I had help from a volunteer vet from Russia but there were times I would pre-med, induce, prep, do surgery, and monitor the anesthesia all by myself. Not like the small army of vet nurses I have helping me at home. For those of you that know Monty Python, all I really wanted was the machine that goes "ping". Any type of device that beeped to tell me the heart was beating (pulse ox, EKG, doppler, etc). Instead it was more just watching the chest to see if breathes were being taken. The week showed me that at some level all the fancy gadgets are not necessary (but they sure are nice).
Besides the surgery it was interesting to see some types of cases that I had never seen before. I had seen pictures of Transmissible Venereal Tumors (TVT) before but was now able to help treat some cases. This is a strange type of cancer that is actually contagious and is treated with chemotherapy.
|TVT case undergoing treatment|
It was a great week working with some amazing dedicated people trying to make a dent into a huge problem. We are hoping that this will not be the last time we cross paths with these folks. www.Carefordogs.org to see more on the excellent work they do and how to help out.