IFAW Canada: Journal of a Heroic 7 Day Veterinary Effort
This post was filed by IFAW's Jan Hannah, working from remote Cree communities, in the James Bay region of Quebec, Canada.
Day 1 – Today we headed out from the Guelph area on the first of our two day drive to the inland James Bay Cree communities to run veterinary clinics. Everything you need for a mobile veterinary clinic is packed into one mini van – two anesthetic machines, suture material, surgery packs, vaccinations, intake forms, leashes and collars… you need it for a mobile clinic, we have it! It’s always exciting to head north again, knowing the vets and vet technicians provide a service that isn’t accessible. Many of us take our vet clinic for granted -- where we’re headed, porcupine quills can be a death sentence. For a change, we took the 101 up the Quebec side of Temiskaming. No exciting animal sightings to report but the scenery was beautiful! Nine hours of driving down, six more to go.
Day 2 –Crystal drove up from Ottawa and met Jen and I in the hotel just before a wicked thunderstorm blew in last night. But today is clear…and the temperature is reminding me that I didn’t bring my winter clothes like I’d been told to. It’s always difficult to pack hats and mitts when the temperature at home is hovering around hot. As always, we have to drive a section of road, just before you really feel like you’re leaving the south, where you see dogs tied to dog houses, curled up or straining on their chains. Note to self -- stop and drop off some info on responsible dog ownership. We arrived in our first community at about 2 pm and there were the dogs, doing what they do best -- lounge out front of the house, lie on their porch, hang out at the gas station, or meander through town looking for food, friends, or action. Crystal and I are so used to seeing roaming dogs now but when anyone new is on board, it takes some getting used to.
We headed straight to the high school to make 7 boxes of equipment and supplies plus one classroom and a chunk of hallway into a seriously functioning veterinary clinic. It’s hard to imagine but once you move all the desks to the side you can make a pretty perfect surgery room. Six foot tables become surgery tables topped with $10 air mattresses, sheets and a blanket. The air mattresses raise the height of the table to help the surgeons’ backs and the softness allows the animals to sink in a bit when they are undergoing surgery on their backs. Desk lamps make for good surgery lights and are easily clipped near where the animal’s head will be. Anesthetic machines are set up on at the head of the surgery tables and when the vets and techs arrive tomorrow, they will lay out the meds and vaccines in the most efficient way for them. The autoclave is set up near the sink in the corner so that the techs can wash and steam-sterilize surgical instruments and we head out to set up the intake. Another couple of tables, surgery authorization forms, after care instructions, master sheets to keep track of numbers… it’s all there. The vets and techs will arrive by plane in the morning and I expect them to be doing surgery by 11. It seems that with the long weekend, two out of three restaurants are closed so we are off to the ET Chip Wagon for some grub.
Day 3: We had a good night’s sleep and were at the clinic at 8:30 to receive our first patient. The plane was to arrive with the rest of the team at 9 am but then they still had another hour to drive to get to us. 10:00 am - no team. 10:30 – still no team. 11:00 - still no team. By now Roxy, the 1 year old Boston Terrier who had been waiting for over an hour and a half was asleep on the floor and her owners looked like they were a step away from sleep themselves. Finally (for those of us waiting at least), the vets and techs arrived near 11:30, and hit the ground running. We’ve all worked together for about four years so it’s a well oiled machine. They just waved hello and disappeared into the back to work their magic by finishing the setup. At intake, we started seriously taking patients. When we were first in the communities, spay/neuter was a new concept and it took some time for people to be comfortable with it. At first, they wondered if we were going to kill their dogs. But now… it’s a soft sell -- it doesn’t take long for people to recognize what fewer dogs looks like, and to see the behaviour changes. If you haven’t experienced an intact dog population recently, you probably can’t picture what males packing up on females looks or sounds like (imagine a mob focused on one individual along with the sound of a very nasty fight with crying thrown in – just outside your window). Spaying/neutering means fewer male fights, less wandering and certainly fewer heats and puppies!
To be honest, today was a total a blur. The highpoints that I remember… I fell for Barney, a husky cross because he was 10 weeks of cute. We neutered him, spayed his mother and neutered another littermate. Meh-hee-gan was another husky mix who’s name means “wolf”. Her owner came in with her and another dog, Pete, a lab cross who had been hit by a car the week before. Wouldn’t you know that his lower jaw was broken right down the middle. Have a look at the picture to see the vets wiring it together, using canine teeth on both sides of his mouth to hold it tight. I will have to remember to call to check on him when I get home. There were also the two cats that came in, Jasper and Scoffield, but all I saw of them were huge, black eyes full of terror and a lot of hissing behind closed doors. It’s always a joy to see Blanche, a yellow lab, who we spayed in 2006 after she had had a litter of 13 puppies – she looks fantastic and her owners have another dog who they say saved Blanche’s life when she fell through the ice this past winter. More small dogs continue to show up; house dogs they’re called. Lots of shitzus and Chihuahua mixes. Thirty surgeries, 56 vaccinations and almost 12 hours later we were finally sitting down to dinner. Thanks to Mrs. MacLeod, we had a fantastic home caught and cooked and dinner. And a big congratulations to Krystyna MacLeod for receiving IFAW’s Youth Animal Action Award for all her work at the clinics over the past 6 years. She deserves it! However the day wasn’t over until we drove (carefully, while scanning for moose) the hour and a half to the next community…. Bedtime = 2 am.
Day 4: I’m so excited about today because over the past couple of years, the number of dogs to the clinic in this community has dropped precipitously. In fact, last year we only performed 7 surgeries when we used to do more than 20. It’s disheartening to feel like you’re wasting your time after you’ve worked to build trust and provide a necessary service… and realistically, it’s not cost effective. Thankfully, Samuel returned to Public Safety and the numbers came back with him! When we visited in April to teach the elementary school kids, we put posters in all the mailboxes but I have not doubt that it was Samuel who made the real difference. The building that we work in here is the sports centre but it’s more like a wonderful wood cottage. There are lots of windows and the surgery tables are set up in an alcove the overlooks the sand and spruce landscape. The prom had been held recently so the decorations were still up… I’m not sure what the theme was because we were pretty quick to start tearing everything down. Our first client was a mother cat and her two teenage kittens. We know the owner from past years and he said that he now has cats since he had had bad luck with his dogs. That’s three spays right off the bat. Then came Mack, a lean and fit basset hound who had unfortunately known the discomfort of frozen testicles over the winter. Get rid of those! Next, Stanley brought in a lovely red, golden retriever who we called Golden Girl. He didn’t know who her owner was and someone over 18 years of age has to authorize any services. Spay and neuter surgery is often described as a ‘simple’ surgery but remember, the animals still have to go under general anesthetic and for females, you’re going into the body cavity. We tied Golden Girl to the front desk and she slept the morning away while Stanley promised to find her owner. It was early afternoon when he came in to say that the owner had given her stamp of approval and that he would sign for her. Even if dogs are roaming, they are owned and owners need to be aware of what they are agreeing to and also take responsibility for their pet’s after care. Golden Girl was sedated and readied for surgery. The next thing I heard from the alcove was that she was pregnant with 15 pups. 15! Thank goodness we were there when we were or else there were possibly 15 puppies having or making more puppies within the year.
Day 5: We are in our last community and for the past two years, the dog clinic has coincided with Community Day with great success. But this year, we’re here a month ahead of the festivities due to scheduling conflicts so I don’t expect as many ‘customers’ as recent years. We still carry out the clinic in the firehall here – surgeries are undertaken on the board room table in the back, and intake takes place in front of the fire trucks in the garage portion of the hall. Our contact here is fantastic and I know that when we come, he’s done his homework. Oxygen is ready, the posters have been posted and he’s been on the radio advertising our visit. When we visited in April we went into the elementary schools in all three of these communities so I was really pleased to hear when our first patient’s owner said that her son was in one of our presentations and now he knows that dogs have feelings too! Jennifer, who volunteered for this set of clinics, has decided that she has found her niche by making sure that the master spay/neuter and vaccination-only sheets are filled out properly. Each sheet contains the dog info and owner contact information and it is these masters that I pull statistics from when I get home. One stat that has changed over time is the number of dogs that come for vaccinations who have already been spayed or neutered at a previous IFAW clinic. That is probably the best feeling… to know that people are keeping their animals from year to year, and taking care of their health. I’m helping Denise by dispensing dewormer which goes home with each dog. Each dog is weighed so that they are given the appropriate amount of dewormer – to weigh a dog, pick the dog up and stand on the scale. Get the total weight of you and the dog. Then put the dog down and weigh yourself. Subtract your weight from the total weight and voila, you have the dog’s weight. Denise does all the physical exams, vaccinates the animals and listens to any issues identified by the owner.
Day 6: This is it for these communities for this year. The airport is about an hour and a half away and we need to make sure to stop the clinic in time to take everything down, update the inventory list (so that we know what to order for the next set of clinics), pack up and get the vets and techs to the airport on time. This year they are driving themselves to the airport and we will stay behind to recover any remaining dogs and to sweep and mop up. We plan to stop at 2 pm in order to get all this done. But for now, it’s business as usual.
Our team photo was taken and we were packed and ready to go. While we were about three hours towards home, we actually backtracked to pick the van up at the airport and carry on back to the first community where we were picking up a dog and cat for rehoming in the south. The dog was about 4 years old and had been neutered at a previous IFAW clinic. The owners travel a lot and wanted the dog to find a new home. When we arrived, we drove over to Oscar’s house to let the owners know that we would be taking him the next morning. There he was, wrapped around the pole of the back porch, his posture quite cat-like -- low head, high back and a tail that was so tightly tucked, it touched his belly. I told him we would be back in the morning and off we went for more French fries at the ET Chip Stand!
Day 7: I always wake up the morning of our long drive home and think about the rest of the team who have already arrived home and even slept one night in their beds already! For us, it’s up and off to pick up our travelers with the intention of getting on the road for 8 am. From past experience, I know that expecting to be on the road at 7 is just plain unrealistic. We’ve arranged the van in order to accommodate our new passengers and off we went to pick up Oscar. Obviously not a morning dog, he growled when we approached but I think he knew he was outnumbered and wasn’t going to win this battle. With some coaxing he was in the van and off we went to meet the cat. Amazingly, a number of cats have traveled the long trip to the south and every single one has done it in close proximity to some number of dogs. They have always been super quiet, and very easy going. This one, however, vomited in the crate and while Crystal was in the back cleaning up messes, she found that he was happiest if in her vest. So that is where this little guy spent the first few hours of his trip south.