Animal Spay and Neuter International has just completed its first spay and neuter trip in the Dominican Republic in collaboration with several local welfare groups. It took six months of planning and finally on the 4th February our team (Dr Aurelian Stefan, Dr Petrisor Stefan, Ruth Osborne and Luminita Negrila) departed from Romania.
Disaster almost struck before we left home as one of the airlines brought its flight 7 hours earlier making it impossible to make the connection. Our Dominican partners were counting on us being there and promises had been made so we changed airlines and reached the capital Santo Domingo only 1 hour later than originally planned.
Our first day of work was in the capital of Santo Domingo We thought the heavy traffic in Bucharest was bad but Santo Domingo is ten times more crowded. Motorbikes and buses stop at random places making the traffic even worse. A volunteers family kindly allowed us to use an under construction office block they owned for the campaign. There was no running water but we had electricity, plenty of space and big windows that look out over the city so were happy.
Our first three surgery days were spent alongside volunteers from Pets Breeding Control. Dr Lourdes Ripley, Alexandra Morillo and Dr Geraldine Mejia Soto organised an amazing number of hardworking volunteers and both groups formed one well oiled team in a short space of time. The recovery station was packed with volunteers that look after the dogs and cats at all times, measure their temperatures, administer parasite treatments, recovery drugs and fluids if required. Lead by Julie, they were a vital part of the campaign. We saw more Chihuahuas in a few hours than we treat in Romania in a whole year!
The second day of surgery in Santo Domingo ended in a late night as there was so much demand for spay and neuter and our team had only a limited amount of time in this location and did not want to send people away. We exceeded 100 surgeries on this day.
Our vets were also able to share the surgical techniques they use to ensure a minimally invasive surgery with quick recovery. Ruth Osborne spent some time teaching volunteers Nancy Ines Ramirez Castillo and Raul Morillo about anaesthesia and patient preparation. They were the stars of the campaign and kept up with the speed of the ASNI team which is not an easy task.
It was not all work and on Sunday volunteer Jennifer Rienecker an American vet who lives in the DR, took us to her favourite beach. Endless sands with hardly any people. Just like in the pictures. Thank you to Jennifer and her family for a wonderful day.
From Santo Domingo the team started a tour, first stop Puerto Plata. We passed through many little villages and our own Dr Aurelian takes a turn behind the wheel to give Dr Ripley a rest. In Puerto Plata, local animal welfare campaigner Yvette opened her home for the day. Here, as in Santo Domingo there has been regular neutering campaigns and public education. The people who came were interested to learn what happens and why it is important. They commented that the neutered dogs look much healthier and fatter and they don’t have to worry about litters of puppies anymore. They have noticed the difference ongoing spay and neuter can make. We had one gentlemen from Santo Domingo travel and bring us more of his dogs as he was so happy with the teams work in the capital.
We saw some aspects of Dominican culture and life that are a world away from our own. We saw cockerels used for fighting. Very beautiful and meticulously looked after birds. They were even massaged daily but we struggled to understand why the men use the birds they care for in fights which are watched by many people. It seemed that there is a far away horizon to changing peoples attitudes about these fights. At least we were seeing people on the street supporting welfare improvements for their companion animals. It was a small start in the right direction.
Next we traveled north with several of Dr. Ripley's team to Rio Grande. In many parts of the Dominican Republic the road system is very poor and only a few people have any form of transport. As a result we had to move locations in order to reach the people for whom getting their pet to a vet for surgery is virtually impossible. This took up a lot of time but the surgeries are all the more valuable in these regions.
A small farm offered us their workshop to operate in, still we have no running water but there is electricity which is not always the case in the DR. About 30 animals were operated for the local people including some stray dogs from the beach. A small number for us but it meant the world to locals who have no way of getting their dogs to a vet if we did not go to them.
After this we moved to Cabrerra where we operated next to the street in a kiosk covered in palm fronds near to a banana plantation. People normally play domino here on Sundays so it created a lot of interest when our team set up. Passers by would stop and talk so it was a great opportunity for educating both pet and non pet owners.
In total we operated in 3 locations in the Cabrerra region. There were a couple of important surgeries. Volunteer Connie Durkee managed to catch a few dogs that have been evading her for a while, which was a great achievement. She is an American who lives in Cabrerra and has a great relationship with the local people. These connections often go unnoticed by people ‘outside’ these campaigns but her work is so important in getting local people to understand and bring their animals to these events.
In one place we are touched by the love and care of the local people. One little Chihuahua recovers a little slower than normal, so her owner sits with her in the hot sun, patiently rubbing her to keep her warm until we are happy she is awake enough to go home. The family who own the land where we were working cook us rice, beans and fish with coconut milk sauce. Very tasty! It was nice to sit in the shade out of the scorching sun with everyone while we ate. It was very hot but we carried on.
At the end of the day we bandaged a broken leg. X-ray machines are non existent in most of the DR let alone the equipment to surgically repair a broken leg. The owner had no transport so it was great we were nearby to help her dog (as well as castrate him).
Things were going very smoothly until the generator that we rented from Puerto Plata broke down. Without electricity we could not use our lamps, and without good lighting we were not happy to operate. There was no need to worry for long as Irma called a mechanic and within ten minutes the generator is working again.
The short break gave us the chance to drink the water from inside some coconuts that were a gift from a local person. A very pleasant surprise was Jean Baptiste Pappo. A Haitian immigrant who brought his male dog, Chucky to be castrated. He came back later with his cat too!
The last day in this region was spent in a local school. We set up the surgery room in the classroom among the alphabet pictures and lessons on the walls. We felt honoured and happy that a school had decided to help us. It is the centre of the community so an amazing place for people to see what is involved in sterilisation surgery and talk to other people who have neutered animals. The generator was put to work again as there was no electricity in the school. The children came with their animals and they came out of curiosity to find out more. It was a little like being a zoo animal with a row of children watching us through the window of their classroom but it was a wonderful experience seeing how much the next generation cares.
One little girl was very concerned about her doggie we just operated she was afraid she might die. I smiled at her and gave the dog an antidote to recover faster as i could not see her crying. Remember the little dog and owner that sat in the sun? The lady came to us worried that she wasn’t eating. We examined her and could fine nothing wrong so Connie produced some tinned food as if by magic and the little dog started to eat. She just wanted some really tasty food after her surgery. We gave her some fluids to help her keep her appetite and off she went home.
Our last surgery here was a dog with an aural haematoma. We had seen him near to where we were staying and Connie very kindly collected him and spent time talking to the people who care for him. He should be feeling much more comfortable now his ear is not huge and swollen.
It was very sad to say goodbye to the Pets Breeding Control team but our last location was calling.
The ASNI team ended their tour of the Dominican Republic in Las Terrenas with Asociacion Amigos de Lucky. Founders Miriam and Andreas Busch have been holding large scale neutering campaigns in the area for the last 10 years since they moved to The Dominican Republic from Germany. On the way we stopped to pick up two female dogs who have been producing litters after litters and circumstances were perfect this time for they to be spayed.
Miriam told us she has noticed a big difference with the street dogs. People are much more positive and accepting of dogs that are tagged as spayed and vaccinated. The dogs are living longer and there are now grey muzzles to be seen!
The campaign fell on Miriam's birthday so it was a particularly special day. One of the last surgeries was a female with a broken leg and large wound. We were able to amputate her leg as well as spay her and gave a happy ending to ASNI's Dominican Republic Campaign. A total of 489 dogs were sterilised, one eye removed, one leg amputated and a broken leg cast.
It was an amazing experience to see the effect of spay and neuter on a community and be a part of the ongoing process. The work is far from over in the Dominican Republic but with local people such as Dr Ripley and her team, Alexandra Morillo, Connie Durkee, Irma Labelle-Dumais And Miriam and Andreas Busch committed to animal welfare through spay and neuter and education little by little the lives of stray dogs and cats will improve.
Thanks to our partners: Pet Breeding Control and Asociacion Amigos de Lucky. A special thanks to everyone who has donated as without financial support from regular people campaigns like this are just not possible. Pease support ASNI’s ongoing sterilisation and educational work.