After 8 days in Mexico it was time for us to get a little more serious. We had arranged with a local dogs and cat charity that we were going to help them with their stray problem, as well as helping out with animals that are owned by poor people in southern Mexico. We had agreed to meet the charity people at a bordertownt to Belize called Chetumal. They had not provided accommodation for us, but luckily I got in touch with a local Couch Surfer named Roberto.
It turned out that Roberto was a really great guy. He lived in a small villa in the middle of the main street in Chetumal. The house was very nice, and we got our own bedroom with a private bath, quite luxurious, and much better than sleeping on a sofa. We discovered that Mexicans are very fond of collecting small trinkets, as there were porcelain statues everywhere in the house. Many of the characters were religiously motivated. There were many angels, and many small porcelaindiciples whowere having an eating party with Jesus. Jesus was very present there. On many of the doors and in the rooms hung Christ. Not exactly the decor I had chosen for my kitchen, but everyone has different taste I guess.
Roberto was living with his mum, his wife and a small daughter. 3 generations in the same house, as is common in Mexico.
We heard nothing from the charity we would be involved in, so we had to stay in Chetumal for 2 days with nothing to do. There is not much to do in Chetumal, Both the museums were closed and there was no beach there. We mentioned it to the grandmother in the house and she insisted on driving us half an hour to the nearest beach. It was very nice of her, but when we arrived there was really no beach anywhere, just a dirty swamp and dirty water. We skipped any plans of swimming and…headed for the local pub instead for some Coronas`…
After 2 chilling days in Chetumal an American named Steve drove us to Bacalar. A lady called Maedi was also coming as she was the one who had organized the whole thing. It is she who started the charity PAWS that me and Torunn had decided to work with.
Bacalar was an incredibly idyllic place due to a crystal clear blue lagoon. The first thing we did when we arrived was to jump into the lake. The water was really hot.
We were pre-warned that there were many crocodiles in this lake, and that they hunt at dusk. It had been a while since anyone had been eaten up, but I still felt a surge of increased adrenaline as I was having a little swim at dusk.
We got to stay and eat for free in a very nice little cottage right by the lake. There are some advantages when doing charity work :) :=)
They had collected 40 animals to be sterilized in 2 days, Most of them were bitches, which is one of the most difficult operations veterinarians do. It would be a challenge for us.
We got up before the sun on the first morning, ate a quick breakfast burrito, and were ready for a long day of operating in improvised conditions.
The operating room was just an unfinished empty brick house at the edge of town. They had some makeshift operating tables and a fan.
Everyone was very excited when we came strolling in, They had been planning this for months in advance.
The 20 dogs who were there waiting for us was not quite as excited to be there, just very scared…and some were very aggressive.
BEfore starting we had told them that we wanted to start with some castrations, as it is a much faster surgery. This would give us a chance to get used to the anesthesia procedures. We had never worked with injectable anesthesia before, only gas anesthetics which is much safer and easier. If the animal starts to wake up druing gas anesthetics we simply turn up the throttle a little bit, then they fall asleep again, injectable anesthesia is an entirely different matter .. something we would experience the hard way.
My first dog was a large mix breed which turned out to be an abdominal Cryporchid, which at once makes it a bigger and more complex operation. Cryptochid means that one testicle has not descended into the scrotum, but lingers in the abdomen somewhere.
I began chopping away to get into the abdominal cavity, and there were abnormally many veins on the way down…which was bleeding constantly. There was much more veins than what is normal, and they bled considerably more. When I finally got into the abdomen and found the hidden testicle the dog began to wriggle and was about to jump off the table. The anasthetics passed quickly out of the system and the dog needed more, but I was a bit preoccupied with keeping it on the table to prevent it from running off with an open abdominal cavity !. Torunn came running and miraculously managed to find a vein on the squirming dog - Crisis Averted. I spent over an hour and a half just on this first dog, now there was only 9 dogs left for me that day.
The next dog was a giant bitch who needed to be sterilized. I opened the abdomen, and experienced the same problem; all the small vessels in the skin and the muscle continued to bleed without stop, which is not normal. When you sterilize a dog there are many things that must go right; first you have to find the uterus and ovaries, Then you have to go and rip the ovaries to get them up so that you can tie all of the blood vessels. In large dogs, it is often very difficult to get the ovaries up since they are very large,thight and sits deep in the abdomen. Then it is like working with a blindfold. It's not as fun having to tie off the giant veins down in the abdomen when you can`t even see them.
With this dog it went okay; I got the ovaries and uterus tied of , but the abdomen continued to fill with blood. It's at that point that you start to doubt yourself and think; What if one of the knots have fallen off and the major blood vessels located at the base of the abdomen are bleeding….In this case the dog will bleed to death pretty fast, and this is something one wants to avoid.
At this point I was sweating like a pig, and had 2 assistants who were wiping sweat from my forehead . There were 35 C in the room and in addition, I was beginning to get quite stressed from everything that was going wrong.
After a lot of digging around I eventually found all my knots and saw that they looked completely fine and intact, so it was just a lot of blood coming from the smaller blood vessels, so then I closed it up after well over one and a half hours. It turned out that all the dogs in this area are infected with a blood parasite that makes the blood unable to clot properly. It does`nt exactly make the operations any easier.
I was beginning to think that these guys must think I'm the world's worst veterinarian who is spending that much time on these routine surgeries. Next dog I chose was one that I figured would be fairly straightforward and easy, just to show them that I know what I'm doing(and to build on my own self-confidence, which had hit rock bottom). The operation went smoothly and painlessly this time. The only problem was that the dog began to wake up in the middle of the surgery so we had to give it a little more anesthetic. As I began to suture the muscles my assistant discovered that the dog was white and had stopped breathing. We began heart massage and mouth to mouth immediately . We gave epinephrine injection directly into the heart to restart it. The heart started, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately the heart stopped beating a minute later and we continued with the resuscitation for 5 minutes before we had to declare it dead.
This was starting to feel like the worst day of my life, what a horrible day, and this was supposed to be my holiday !
I bitterly regretted that I had volunteered to be part of such a nightmare. I have operated over 1000 dogs and have never lost anyone before. It was not a good feeling, but at leastb I knew that it was`nt my fault as the operation itself went very smoothly. It was simply a dog that did not tolerate our anesthesia drugs.
The rest of the day went as planned. After some operations there we knew that all the animals would bleed, and we knew everyone was going to need more anesthetic at one time or another during the surgeries. So we put a catheter in all the dogs and had extra anesthetic ready on the side, While we had to ignore all the blood because there was little we could do about it anyway.
It was a very long day, we started at 07.30 and operated until it was 9 P.M, but at least we managed to do all the dogs we said we would do. Then we went back to the lake and jumped into the water to wash off all the sweat and blood. It was not very cooling as the water was almost at body temperature, but at least we did`nt get eaten by crocodiles .
The next day we had another early start, but this day we knew what to expect, and started with the operations quickly after arriving. We managed to finish after 10 hours, just as sweaty and bloody as the day before. During 2 days we had operated 26 females, 8 male dogs and 6 female cats, 40 altogether. The local animal rights people were very grateful, some even bought us a proper luxury dinner in the moonlight right by the lake.
The local animal rights people are doing an amazing job for all the animals, and they are working against the flow and without any subsidies. Most people in this area see animals as a pestilence and plague, and would never lift a finger to help all the suffering street dogs there. These people used their own time and money to treat all of the hundreds of street dogs for common diseases and parasites, in addition to driving around with dog food for them. They have absolutely zero resources, but they still manage to help all the needy animals in the town. Our role as veterinarians was to get some of these animals sterilized so that they stop breeding, This is the alpha and omega in places like this. Without such projects the street dog population would explode in a short time, and then there are suddenly 3 times as many animals suffering unnecessarily.
You get a little humbled by meeting people like that. They thanked us repeatedly for all we had done, but there's no one who thank them for all they are doing. There are the people who live with these issues day in and day out, we just came to do some operations and kept on travelling.
The following 2 days would be very very different....
We went back to Chetumal and got back to our couchsurfing host Roberto. He was very nice in driving us around to show us everything there was to see in Chetumal(typical mexican small town.). He even bought me some local weird cake things, among other things, a kind of ice cream cone structure with Dutch cheese and chocolate topping(much better than it sounds). He also took us on a delicious breakfast where there was lots of Moleta, Tacos and quesedillas . Unfortunately we could not spent very much time with him as we would continue to operate the next day. In Chetumal we had aranged to work with many different animal care groups. Madi had found these other groups, and a place where we could do the operations. She had in fact contacted a professor at the medical school in the city and arranged it so that we could operate in proper operating rooms at the medical school. It was quite different than the brickhouse we had in Bacalar.
When we arrived at the university it was full of people with their dogs who were awaiting surgery. There was probably 50 people there in addition to a bunch of medical students and volunteers who would be helping out. The condition of using the surgery rooms at this school was that all these medical students should be allowed to watch when me and Torunn were operating. There was also a political motive; they had hired a photographer to take lots of pictures so that they could publish how kind they are by operating all those poor dogs. This was a little bit strange since they had nothing to do with the operating scheme, they just gave us a room to operate in and were taking all the credit for everything that was beeing done. It did`nt matter too much for us as we were only there to neuter the dogs.
There was a lot of clutter and nonsense in the beginning, and we were tempted to just leave on the first morning. Everything were supposed to be so sterile, we had to wear 2 layers of surgical clothing(in the blistering), have bags covering our shoes, face masks and hairnets, while the instruments and surgical site were only ¨clean¨, not sterile. They had no gloves for Torunn, and yet they were complaining that she was operating without gloves, although she had sterilized her hands first. There is not much point in having a sterile foot bag when the instruments are not sterile. The instruments will actually be inserted into the abdomen of the animals, but we had no plans of sticking our feet into the abdomen. That would not be particularly productive.
But it obviously looks very nice in the photos if we are wearing lots of fancy surgical clothing, like very professional.
At least we managed to do very many operations in the 2 days we spent there; 50 dogs and cats in total, Most of them were bitches. We were very pleased with having neutered 90 animals in 4 days, Now the time had come for some well deserved relaxation at the nearest tropical island we could find.
After we were done with the surgeries in Chetumal maedi was very angry as she had found out that some of the groups had been profiteering on the dogs that had been operated by us. Maedi had accounted for all the expenses in buying the sutures, instruments, and medication and it was she who had arranged for us to go to Mexico. Yet she has not taken a dime for anything that has been done, And then she finds out that these other guys who have not contributed anything are making money on our work. There is so much corruption in Mexico, and if you are trying to run a charity there you will be fighting against it day in and day out. Maedi told us that another time she had kept all the medicines, which she would be using on the street dogs, with some women whom she knew. Eventually she found out that drugs were missing from her supplies. It turned out that these ladies had joined up with a corrupt veterinarian and used her medication to do operations on animals for high prices. They had made a lot of money by using the drugs that would be used to help the suffering street dogs. It's pretty sick.
We said our goodbyes to Roberto, thankful for the opportunity to be a part of his family for the last 5 days. We took one of the local chicken buses to Belize city. It took well over 4 hours, mostly because the bus stopped every 50 meters to pick up people who had not bothered to go to the bus stop to wait. Belize City was not a very beautiful place. The bus station is located in the worst slum imaginable, so we were pretty happy to get there when there was still daylight.. The people of Belize are different than Mexicans. It is easy to see that they have a different origin. There are very many tall black people with rasta braids. They are mostly descendants of slaves imported by the British when they colonized the country. They are also horribly religious there. There are Jesus quotes everywhere ! There was`nt a single bus stop without some anecdote about how cool God and Jesus is once you get to know them, mass delusion in practice..
Our taxi driver in Belize City was a chubby rasta woman. I reacted when we drove through town and saw another rasta woman with the most massive ass I've ever seen in my life. The backside was almost as big as the lady was tall- The taxi woman saw my reaction and explained; ” that`s the Belize woman, that`s how we are buildt” wheras I just had to ask: ” so it has nothing to do with diet at all?”. She was almost offended; "No maaan, it is just the belize woman, is how we born ya know!” . When she dropped us off, she showed us how she dances when the Belize ladies go out for a night at the town; ”This is how we dance maaan” , as she lifted one leg and put her arm behind her head and jumped around in circles like a headless chicken.
The boat to Caye Caulker from Belize city was painlessly quick.
Maedi told us that she had inherited the boat taxi compani from her father who started it. One day when she was sitting in the office all the men she worked with came in and threatened her at gunpoint to leave her company. They could of course not work for a woman. There was not much she could do about it, and the police do`nt care…pretty crazy.
Maedi has over 90 cats in her house , which is quite a lot of work for her. She has saved all these cats from a life on the street where the locals will often torture and kill them for their own entertainment. She told us that in Belize nobody respects the animal rights, not even the right to be left in peace without harassment or torture. Maedi feels quite alone on this island as no one else understands why she bothered to help all these animals. For the other residents of this small community she is simply known as the crazy cat lady. She also told us that teens here sometimes come over to her house to torment her and laugh at her. Many of them keep aggressive dog breeds(pitbulls) which they try to let loose on her property. One time they did it and the dog mutilated several cats while the boys stood outside and were laughing themselves to pieces.
Maedi have tried to change the attitude of the people by going around to the schools and talk about why one should not torture animals for fun. Then she experienced that the different kids boasted of all the different ways they had abused cats. It was just too depressing for her, so she stopped visiting schools. She has also written letters to the government to try to get them to make laws to protect animals, but no one cares. She works against the current all the time, it's amazing that she manages to keep on going. Her whole life revolves around cats, she does nothing for herself. She has no money because people continue to cheat her, and the cats eat for 200 $ every week.
We helped her a little in that week we were on the island. We operated some of her cats and came with medical advice for some of the sick cats There. What do you think about the way animals are treated ? Please comment , and let me know if you want to make a donation to help Maedi and I can provide the details.