In June, I had the honor and pleasure of traveling to Cusco, Peru with the non-profit group, World Vets. World Vets is an American organization that provides veterinary aid and disaster relief. The purpose of the trip was to run a high volume spay and neuter clinic. There are many areas of the world where pet overpopulation is a major problem. Cusco, in particular, is highly populated not only street dogs (and cats), but pets who run around without fences or leashes. To control the overpopulation, many municipalities have had to resort to poisoning the animals to control their numbers. Through World Vets’ work, some of these area have agreed to stop poisoning and start educating owners about the importance of sterilization, and animal health in general.
Of course, if you are traveling all the way to South America, it is a good idea to take some vacation time too. I spent my first four days hanging out in the Amazon Rainforest with a tour group. We slept in a treehouse overlooking a clay lick one night, where I was able to see the elusive tapir. We saw 6 kinds of monkeys, tarantula, scarlet macaw, blue and yellow macaw, and capybaras. I met some really cool fellow travelers and got to stretch my legs in the jungle. My last four days in country were spent in the Sacred Valley, exploring Incan salt pans, ruins, and small towns. The end of my vacation was, of course, capped off by a trip to Maccu Piccu and an intense hike up Wayna Piccu. This archeological site is so grand and so perfect that it doesn’t even feel real. For the record, I did NOT eat cuy (guinea pig).
However, the reason I was in Peru was to do some surgery and hopefully help some people in need. I met up with the World Vets group and was immediately taken by the general good feeling you get from working with a group of like-minded people. There were 7 veterinarians, 3 veterinary technicians, 4 veterinary students, and 3 assistants. We ran our clinic for 3.5 days. The first 3 days were in the municipality of San Jeronimo. On the fourth day, we worked out of a veterinary clinic in Cusco. While the goal was to do as many spays and neuters as possible, we were also able to do some teaching with the Peruvian veterinarians who were helping us and the veterinary students who were eager to learn and get their hands dirty. I remember how cool I felt when I did my first surgery so was glad give back to my profession by helping the students do theirs.
The clinic was run out of a community center. People were lined up when our van dropped us off. We felt like celebrities as everyone watched us get off the van and get our surgery tables set up. This was definitely a third world experience. We were doing surgery on desks with headlamps as our light source. The animals recovered in another room, which was really a bathroom. As soon as they woke up, they were sent home with their eagerly awaiting and nervous owners. People waited for hours for their pet to move through the line. The animals had to bring their own blankets for recovery. We sent as many people home with leashes as we could- the pink leashes that Frontier Village Veterinary Clinic sent with me were very popular! In general, people there don’t have leashes for their dogs. We ran into a few snags. When the sun went down, it got dark and we were finishing surgery with flashlights and rigged lamps. We ran out of supplies and the group leader had to run around town to find the gauze and suture we needed. Some of the clients got a little upset when they found out that a Peruvian veterinarian (and not an American one) might be doing surgery on their pet. However, in the end, we did 214 free surgeries in 3.5 days with no mortalities. The people were so kind, gracious and grateful. The mayor came one day to honor us at the clinic, then had us up to his office the next day to do so again. Best of all, they are no longer poisoning animals.
We have it so good here in the United States and our veterinary care is so advanced. I don’t take that for granted. This trip was gratifying and fun in every way. I love doing surgery, and knowing I could use my skills to really make a difference in the world was life changing. It was such a wonderful reminder to me to be grateful for what I have. We are so lucky to have the ability to offer pets the quality of care that we can in America. World Vets is a great organization and I hope to go on more of their trips in the future.