Animals have always been my passion. Growing up, I was lucky to be surrounded by many different kinds, and I have tried to provide the same experience and environment for my children. Our house feels like a zoo at times!
A couple of years ago, I learned that Los Perros Project needed a Spanish-speaking veterinary technician for a mission to Peru. Natalie Friedberg, a volunteer with the organization, encouraged me to go, but I was recovering from an illness and – to my disappointment – could not participate. The following year, I joined a mission with the Benjamin Mehnert Foundation to help the dogs of Sevilla, Spain, and Natalie was part of that group. We made a great team and worked well together; our June 2014 mission was very successful. Had it not been for Natalie, I may never have found the courage to participate in missions with these amazing organizations.
Founded in 2009 by Matt Webber and Courtney Dillard, Los Perros Project does a bi-annual spay and neuter clinic for the Huanchaco and Trujillo regions of Peru, and it supports local dog shelters through construction projects and donations. The organization conducted clinics in 2011, 2013, and this year’s in June, of which I was a part. Each mission has resulted in improvements in the lives of area animals and deeper relationships with local animal advocacy organizations.
Our mission this year was to improve the lives of Huanchaco’s dogs with a spay and neuter clinic, to enhance the local dog shelter through construction projects, and to educate the area communities about the value of the human-animal relationship. We would oversee the clinic, with American and Peruvian vet staff working together, and assemble the volunteer work crews for shelter improvement.
The mission resulted in the most successful clinic to date and was one of the most gratifying experiences I have had. I wanted others to share in the experience I had helping the dogs and cats of Huanchaco, so I had planned to keep a detailed daily diary. But we were working so hard, I barely had time to write! What follows are my daily notes and recollections, which I pulled together during my journey home.
After spending an overnight layover at the airport in Lima, I arrived the following morning in Huanchaco. The Hotel Huankarute had graciously allowed us to take over the grounds and set up our makeshift veterinary hospital. Matt and Courtney introduced me to the members of the team who were setting up the surgery suite, which was a poolside game room with a ping-pong table in the middle.
We set up four surgery tables and one prep table. Then we checked all the donated supplies and sorted out what we needed in the surgery suite and what would be needed in the recovery area, a small room adjacent to the suite. There was so much work to do, I was grateful for the half-hour break we had for lunch! After a long day of setting up, we had a group meeting to go over all the procedures that would take place the next day.
Breakfast at 8 a.m., and we started bringing in patients soon after that. All of the patients waited under tents at the entrance to the hotel, where they all received a physical and then would be cleared for surgery. In the surgery suite, we induced the patients and prepared them for surgery.
There were small and large dogs of mixed breeds. None were frightened since they really never go to the vet, and we were happy to see that most were well nourished and friendly. Most had fleas and ticks, but overall they were healthy-looking dogs. It was obvious how grateful their owners were, many of whom waited for hours, and how much they loved their dogs. Working throughout the day with only another half-hour lunch break, we were able to sterilize about 25 dogs.
Starting early again, we worked all day and sterilized about 30 dogs. The locals who brought their dogs all understood the purpose of spaying and neutering, and they cared very much for them, waiting anxiously for us to bring the dogs out after surgery. It was so gratifying to see their faces light up when they were reunited with their pets.
Sure, most of these dogs were dirty and had ticks and fleas, but that did not mean they were loved by their owners any less than we in other more affluent countries love our pets – and that love was obvious. And so was their appreciation for our work: Some brought fruit baskets as gifts, and every one of them thanked us. It was beautiful to see and experience.
Our rest day! Monday and Tuesday, we were on our feet most of the day, only taking about a half-hour break for lunch. Everyone needed some well-deserved rest.
Some of the group, myself included, went to visit the area’s unique archaeological sites, while the rest stayed behind to visit local shelters. We had a great day, and among many highlights we saw was a fascinating mummy called Magdalena De Cao.
The two Peruvian veterinarians who had been working with us since our arrival in Huanchaco showed my fellow volunteers the shelters. They was impressed by the clinic: Despite lacking many resources, staff and volunteers were making a difference.
That night, we were invited to dinner at a fine local restaurant to thank us for all we had done for the dogs in the community. Huanchaco is the birthplace of ceviche, so their seafood is really great!
We started earlier today than the other days and sterilized about 20 dogs and five cats. The locals continued to show us how much they appreciated what we were doing – we were treated to another great lunch to show their thanks.
Weary from another full day on our feet, as we were about to close, we learned one family had three dogs and would not be able to come back tomorrow; we had to spay them all before they left. I was moved when the team decided without hesitation to stay late and do all three dogs. We all worked late into the evening – gladly.
The Huankarute Hotel set up a long table to accommodate the whole team on the last night we were there and invited us to dinner. The kindness was overwhelming and very humbling.
Our final day in Huanchaco, and we sterilized eight cats and about 13 dogs. My flight left on time, and I am on the way home. What will happen to the dogs? They will continue to live the same life as before, many roaming the streets and some in yard, but we at least know that they will not be able to reproduce, which means usually having two litters a year.
We had a great and dedicated team, which was made up of many different personalities that blended really well as we worked toward the same goal, so this trip has been wonderful for me both on a professional and a personal level.
I will always remember the acts of kindness, which were very humbling, by the locals. After seeing the poverty in the area, I am beginning to understand why they are not able to provide veterinary care for their pets. But despite the poverty, they brought fruit baskets to thank us, we were provided lunch daily, and were thrown a dinner to thank us for our work.
As I look back, I have so many great memories, but what stands out, and what I think I will always remember most fondly, is the kindness and humility of the owners and that of the dogs.
There is so much to say about them, about the dogs, just seeing the look on their faces. I can’t quite ever put it in words, except to invite you to look into their faces, too, and see what I see.
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About the author: Catherine “Caty” Flowers was born in Geneva, Switzerland, to an American father and French mother. She lived Uruguay, Spain, and France before moving to Arizona, where she earned her veterinary technician accreditation. Caty moved to California in 1985, lives in Los Angeles, and is married with two children. She works as an oncology technician at Animal Specialty Group.