I just returned from a three-day spay/neuter clinic on the island of Jamaica. And it was no vacation. A group of six American veterinarians and three technicians volunteered our time and skills for the International Spay/Neuter Network, a grassroots organization out of Florida whose mission is to help the animals in that desperately poor country. We stood from 8AM to 6PM, Friday thru Sunday of last week doing as many surgeries as possible. We worked in conditions that were far from ideal, but labored knowing that what we did badly needed doing.
In Jamaica, as in many Caribbean islands, stray dogs run rampant. Overall there is little veterinary care and none at all exists in the county where we worked. There are no humane societies, shelters or animal control officers. So neither owned pets nor strays are ever sterilized. Dogs and cats have repeated litters, sometimes producing 18 puppies/year. The problem is simply out of control. Three dedicated women, one originally from Jamaica, formed the ISNN years ago in an effort to mobilize veterinary resources to address the problem. I volunteered because of my experience with spay/neuter and because I wanted to see how a large scale MASH unit functions out in the field.
We operated in an open-air cinder block building using folding plastic tables, wearing camping style headlamps to supplement the natural light. Lack of adequate lighting was one of the biggest challenges. Another was the incredible amount of bleeding from each animal. These dogs are poorly nourished and often have significant worm burdens. In addition, debilitation from tick-borne illnesses causes lack of blood clotting ability. These three factors combined to cause a huge amount of bleeding during each procedure.
Anesthesia was delivered by injection and we did not have any monitoring devices to measure blood pressure or oxygen saturation. We surgeons just had to work as quickly as possible in order to minimize anesthetic down time. We did have three techs and several Peace Corp volunteers who played a superlative support role. These folks divided their time among six doctors. They ran from one end of the room to the other positioning animals, checking heart rates, assessing gum color, scrubbing incision sites, delivering instruments and cleaning up after each procedure.
Animals recovered from surgery on a newspaper- strewn floor. The ambient temperature in the room was 85-90 degrees. Still, since normal body temperature is 101-102, and animals loose body heat during surgery, they needed to be kept warm. Newspaper can be a cheap blanket and easily soaks up any excess bodily fluids.
All dogs were given an antibiotic shot, a general dewormer and had their incisions sprayed with a noxious blue colored fly repellent. This was particularly important in order to keep wounds free of screwworm. Screwworm, a scourge in the Caribbean, are the fly larvae. Though they physically resemble maggots, they are far more destructive as they burrow into live tissue. And they have barbs like a fishhook so are extremely difficult to remove. (They have been virtually eradicated in the US) Dogs were discharged as soon as they could stand.
We had a host of Jamaican volunteers who weighed animals upon arrival, completed paperwork, and helped with discharge instructions when animals went home. Midday, they also made sandwiches which were extremely welcome to weary workers!
This clinic was free to the Jamaican people. They were grateful, gracious and friendly. I was proud to be part of the team which for three days devoted our shared energy toward a common goal.
Celeste Conn, VMD
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