One dog & cat at a time
An upbeat solution to unwanted dogs & cats
Mexico...in small bytes
TRAVEL..........STORIES OF MEXICAN LIFE..........& MORE
(To my readers: Two weeks has a way of extending itself in Mexico. In the interim since the last article, my husband had a total hip replacement and Rita and I got the book manuscript ready and sent off to her agent. Between the former and the latter, I played nurse. But still, a very long two weeks. Here's the second installment.)
The protection of animals forms an essential part of the moral and cultural aspects of civilized cultures. (Benito Juarez 1806-1872)
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948)
“Seventeen dogs today. Not a record but still a respectable number.” Dr. Luis Hernandez at the A.I.P.A. clinic pulled down his mask and surveyed the line of cages in the small reception room as we started another interview.
The one in the cage across from me was an adult female. Her seven puppies romped in a cage nearby. They had each been sterilized the same day as their mother.
“I didn't think that sterilization was possible so young.” I looked at the A.I.P.A. literature, Edad cuatro months y adelante ( age four months and up).
“We can do it. The fours months is a standard. But I've found the younger puppies metabolize the anesthetic faster and have less problems with side and after effects.”
I looked at the puppies rolling around each other and playfully chewing on an ear now and then.
“Doesn't look like they're showing any ill effects.
“Naw. The owners were fed up with more puppies, and when we came to pick up the mother, they asked if we would do her latest litter as well. We always explain the procedure, and if that's what the owners want, we go ahead with it.”
“So how many were females?”
It's estimated a female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 more dogs in six years.
At home, I did the math. Five times 67,000 is 335,000. That saved the Pátzcuaro area 335,000 extra dogs over six years and all that in less than an hour of surgery time. Dr. Hernandez estimates that spaying a female takes only ten minutes for the actual surgery.
Returning to the time needed for the surgery, Dr. Hernandez went on to say, “We spend more time calming the animal down, preparing it for the surgery and then doing the after care then we do to sterilize it. A male takes even less time.
“Still doesn't seem possible.” I shook my head.
“Oh, almost anything is possible with the right tools and knowledge.”
He went on to relate the case of a North American who brought her cat in to him. The cat had been spayed by a local vet but continued to come into heat, escape and produce litters. By the time the woman brought the cat into the A.I.P.A. clinic, she had paid for two more operations.
“I suspected one of the ovaries had been left behind during the first operation. These get harder and harder to find as the years pass. I was afraid I'd never be able to see that remaining ovary hiding in the mass of intestines after all this time. I told her of the difficulty of the operation and the risk of a fourth surgery, but the woman was desperate.
We went ahead with it. I made the incision, separated the intestines and just happened to spot that second ovary right off the bat. That was a bit of luck. I snipped it out and sutured up the cat minutes after starting.
The woman does great promo for the clinic now.”
“The god of animals must have been with you that day.”
“Yup, perched right there on my shoulder.”
The figures from an earlier interview came to mind. In the month of April the A.I.P.A. clinic sterilized two hundred thirty-eight dogs from Tzurumutero, a small town to the west end of Pátzcuaro. By the time of my May 9th interview, the figure was over 300.
Figuring half of those animals would be females, that's ten million, fifty thousand less dogs in six years.
An unwanted puppy is often killed or abandoned alongside the road in a box or a sack with its unwanted sisters and brothers. It might be played with for a time as a cute toy. But without training, the biting or the barking or the chewing soon become too much trouble so the animal's tossed out to fend for itself. Even if it manages to survive, fleas, mange, disease, beatings, dog fights, hurled rocks and vehicle wheels take their toll.
That's a lot of unnecessary suffering prevented by A.I.P.A. in Pátzcuaro And all for free.
In addition, rabies shots, vaccinations, and de-worming is provided gratis.
“You sure see a lot less strays in the center of town these days,” I mentioned.
“Right. The centro campaign is practically complete. We've been mainly concentrating on going out into the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Just then Alicia and Gil walked in. They're the couple in charge of going into the outlying neighborhoods or colonias to recruit patients for the clinic.
“How do you do it?” I asked. “ Lot 's of people are suspicious of anyone who looks official. Many won't even answer the door to the census taker.”
Alicia laughed. “We just keep knocking. Knocking and knocking. Eventually someone opens and then we give our pitch and hand out a brochure. Lots aren't convinced at first. They'll say something like, ‘If my neighbor does it and everything works okay, I'll think about.' So we keep on knocking and talking and handing out brochures.”
Alicia took one of the kittens that had been brought in for vaccinations and cuddled it against her chest as the assistant got the syringe ready.
“Looks like you like cats.
She rolled her eyes. “You could say that. I have over twenty.”
That counts as seriously liking cats.”
She gently held the kitten for her shot, ruffled its fur a bit and took out the second, rubbing its tiny body up and down along her cheek.
“So it's just a matter of knocking on doors?”
“That's about it. Someone in the neighborhood always agrees. We can be pretty convincing. We pick up the animal in the morning and by five o'clock , it's back home. People are amazed how healthy each animal is so soon after surgery. Then we get a slew of animals and keep bringing them in as long as there's the anesthetic.”
"Is it hard to keep the anesthetic in stock?” I asked Dr. Hernandez.
“If our headquarters in Monterrey has problems, we have problems. It's an expensive drug here in Mexico, not so in the states. I buy 100ml flasks for eight hundred pesos with the vet discount. Sometimes it costs more. This will last for fifteen to twenty small to medium-sized dogs and ten large ones. We have the capacity to do twenty-five dogs a day...if we have the anesthetic. Sometimes I have to limit the number we do just to conserve the product so we can have some animals coming through each day. In comparison to other animal control methods, it's cost effective but try telling the municipality that.”
“Do you get any financial help from the government?”
I had touched a nerve with the doctor. The local presidencia and the state Departamento de Salud get funds from the federal government in their budget for animal control. Some goes to pay for the annual rabies campaign in March. Some goes for rounding up strays and carting them off to Morelia where they are electrocuted and the carcasses dumped. Some gets deterred into other projects completely apart from animal control and some, in the manner that is commonplace with government funds, simply “disappears.”
“It's an uphill battle. Right now I've convinced them to quit picking up the dogs for electrocution. I have the necessary medicine here for humane euthanasia. We can calm the animal down, get it relaxed and put it to sleep painlessly and with dignity. They only need to dig a pit so we could dispose of the bodies in a sanitary fashion and then cover them up. It's not the answer but certainly more humane than electrocution. I've seen where the killing's done. It's horrible! Just horrible.” He gave an involuntary shudder.
“So, what kind of reasons do you get from people who don't want to sterilize their pets,” I asked Alicia.
“The one I thought the strangest came from a woman in Tzurumutaro. She told me and all her neighbors, I might add, that the operation was a sham. She had paid out good money to have a vet do it, and her dog kept having litters. She told everyone she could that it was a waste of time. That made it hard for us. After all, the neighbors could see the evidence all over town.
“We kept at it, emphasizing that the procedure was free. What did they have to lose? We'd bring the cat or dog back in good shape, and they would see that it would never have a litter again.
“Again, all we had to do was convince one person. When that party saw how frisky their dog was only hours after the operation, we had no problems. In fact, before we were through in town, the original woman brought us her dog. Now that was a victory.”
“You know,” I said, “I always thought the story of the botched sterilization was one of those urban myths. When I researched the first part of this article, I ran into the same kind of story but in Lima , Peru . Then I started talking to people and joking about it. I found out fast it was no joke. Everyone I talked to had a similar story. It was scary.”
“You really can't blame the vets totally. They're simply not taught the procedure correctly...or at all in vet school,” Dr. Hernandez added. “After all, I had graduated from the faculty in Morelia and had to find out how to do when I worked with Dr. Padilla in California . The schools are big on theory...book knowledge but not hands-on practice.”
“I can believe it,” I said. “The grandson of the old man who lives up the hill from our house is enrolled in your old alma mater, and he just recently bought a book to try to teach himself the sterilization procedure. He told me it's just not taught at school. In fact one of his professors said it's not done because the animal is more susceptible to a lot of disease problems afterwards. He listed the problems. From what I've read, these are the very diseases that are avoided by the sterilization process. Weird.”
There is no doubt in my mind on which side of the bridge Dr. Hernandez will find himself. In case you are wondering, he has fifteen solovinos (strays) at his home outside Santa Fe.