The adventure began already at the German airport Düsseldorf. Listening to the 8 kilos respiratory aid rustling in my suitcase with every step I took I asked myself if they would arrive in the Dominican Republic undamaged and undiscovered by customs. Clearly, if my suitcase didn't pass German and Dominican customs unquestioned, neither would the carefully wrapped parcel with the 10 bottles antibiotics and diverse medicaments for parasite control.
Arriving at the airport of Puerto Plata, in the midst of a crowd of smiling, goodlooking Dominicans, accompanied by the sound of Salsa and Merengue, I heard my name being called and was asked to pass right through with all my luggage. That load was taken of my mind! With a sigh of relief I stepped outside. The project could start!
I was welcomed by the hot Caribbean sun and Jeanette who greeted me with a hearty "Holla" and I knew immediately: "Here I am in the right place!"
We drove to the office of the Asociación de los Amigos por los Animales de Sosúa.
Jeanette, always laughing and in a good mood, has immigrated with her husband a couple of years ago from England to the Dom. Rep. They have built a house here and now she works as volunteer for the A.A.A.S, doing the bookkeeping and PR work. During my stay I was to meet other volunteers with a similar background from Canada, England, the Netherlands and Germany.
At the office I met Judy, president of the A.A.A.S and always in action. She came to the Dominican Republic in 1996 to work in the clinic of an American vet as veterinarian technician. Soon she devoted her attention to the many stray animals without any medical care. Together with Kathryn Neal she founded the A.A.A.S to help them and continued to lead the association after the death of Kathryn Neal. Judy thinks, speaks and acts fast, it's hard to follow her...
Immediately upon arrival I was invited to a barbecue by a German lady who'd just passed by to drop off a dog to be neutered. She turned out to be a former EU translator who lives with her American husband, an architect, at the Seahorse Ranch, a guarded area. She'd foud the dog at the beach.
There are two types of dogs in the Dominican Republic, street dogs and beach dogs. If undisturbed, they often feel quite well in their area. They live as singles or in small groups and are generally friendly against people, be it Dominicans or foreigners. But they are regularly victims of poison, diseases and their own surpopulation.
After a brief presentation of the surprisingly well equipped clinic - with 2 isofluron machines, autoclavs and 2 OP-tables - I was told that my first clinic was to take place the next day in Santiago, the second largest city of the Dominican Republic. Here lives Giselle, a Dominican vet who had taken in at least 80 dogs and 150 cats left behind by a German couple who had to escape from the Dom. Rep. in great haste. This formerly wealthy couple had brought these animals on several flights with their private jet to the Dom. Rep. from Delaware where the cats had been strays. The coupel fled in such a hurry that the anilmals had to be taken care of immediately without time for plannig, otherwise most of them would have died.
Free stables at Giselle's father's poultry farm at the outskirts of Santiago were used to board the dogs. The costs of transportation with trucks over a distance of 80 km, castrations, food and medical care had to be taken care of by Giselle and the A.A.A.S. Workers of Giselle's father took care of the daily feeding and cleaning of the stables.
After this short introduction Jeanette took me to her home where I met her husband David. I was invited to stay in a very pleasant room with view of banana plants and free running chicken. The day ended with a delightful dinner with Jeanette and David.
The next day I drove with Judy and Francin, a volunteer from the Netherlands, who radiates calm and confidence, no matter what the situation, and 2 members of an American animal welfare organisation to Santiago. It became apparent to me that humane organisations here work together and help one another when there is shortage of money, medicaments or boarding room. The clinic in Santiago was a result of this support.
Giselle, who teaches parasitology and laboratory science at the university of Santiago, had invited her students to participate and gain practical experience.
When we arrived at Giselle's practice at the Hazienda Urbana which at the same time serves as pet lodge and dog parlour, the first dogs were
already waiting to be neutered. Also here I was very warmly welcomed. I never had the feeling that Dominicans don't care for their animals or
that I, the foreign vet from Germany, had to show them how to treat animals. It was rather that both sides profited tremendously from each
other's knowledge and experience.
The field clinic, into which we turned Giselle's yard, was divided into different sections: Preparation area OP-area with table and mobile isofluron machine Postoperative monitoring and care Students and volunteers in turn care of the diverse tasks in the different areas after having been carefully instructed. This was the only time where occasionally difficulties arose during the whole run of the operative: It's never easy to maintain the attention of students and make them understand the extent of responsibility they have carrying out every single task; the preparation of the patient, the shaving, the monitoring of the anaesthesia, the exact medication, the keeping of the protocol, tasks as important as the surgery itself. Since all students are of course keen on operating themselves, it was at times quite difficult for me to focus their attention on the task ahead of them.
And of course I had to adjust my approach towards the students' activities: When I was at universtiy myself I had been allowed to particpate in clinics only as a senior student and only after having proven my technical accomplishment. Here undergraduate students carried out operations after a short introduction without advanced knowledge of anatomy, surgical techniques or pharmacology. And of course I hated the cutting of tails of 4 - 5 weeks old Rottweiler puppies, a practice still to be found in Germany as well.
The nice thing about it was that I could always share my thought and discuss my ideas with everybody around me without anybody ever feeling offended.
Initially the clinic at Santiago had been planned for 2 days and was prolonged for 2 additional days. I stayed with Giselle's very hospitable family who treated me with great kindness. We had to stop working every afternoon at five o'clock because we didn't have enough light at our field clinic.
Two evenings I spent at the farm of Giselle's parents to get an impression of the condition of the dogs which the German couple had left behind.
When we arrived it was already dark. The first thing I saw were huge open-air henneries. From far I heard the dogs bark. We were using the truck
of Giselle's parents, in the back 5 dogs which had been neutered the day before.
One of the dogs was coughing and I was a bit scared that it might turn out to be distemper, fatal for the whole bunch. At the back of the farm we found the unused stables with walled kennels with a trough in front of them where water was running through constantly. The stables were amazingly clean. Only some cockroaches ran around excitedly whenever I turned on the light or took a photo with flashlight. One - three dogs were staying in each kennel, some friendly and curious, others shy and suspicious.
I was deeply moved by these visits and ashamed when I compared the "problems" we are dealing with in Germany with the situation here where people were trying to keep animals alive with the simplest means until a better solution could be found. I realized that this journey could not end with my return to Germany but that we as veterinaries and peple with responsibility can leave neither these animals alone nor the people who are trying to help them.
After these four days Giselle departed to the US to raise donations for her project while I returned to Sosúa, accompanied by thoughts such as: "Wouldn't it be better to euthanize the animals requiring a therapy not available here and without perspective of adoption, so that at least they could pass on in dignity, increasing the chances of others?"
After a night at Judy's house, where I finally got to know her better, work started at Sosúa. After the field clinic at Giselle's I felt like being in a high tech hospital when Istarted that morning to neuter the first dogs together with Dr. Frank Alfano who comes down several times a year from Massachusetts to spay and neuter animals in the A.A.A.S clinic. Working with him was a pleasure. Very professionanlly and with great calm he instructed the volunteers, while working fast and with great expertise. As his assistant, I learnt many techniques from this experienced vet.
Judy's team is very well trained, especially considering that none of the volunteers has had professional training. The volunteers are usually women of various countries who are helping part-time without being paid. Of course they have lots of news to share when meeting and there is never-ending gossip while they are performing their tasks under Judy's watchful eyes with the utmost conscientiousness.
Considering the circumstances it is surprising that we lost only two of the hundred dogs spayed and neutered in 10 days, one because of a hernia caused most likely by a prolapse of the uterus which may have led to a pyometra days before the surgery took place.
Apart from the medical excursion, I wanted of course to get to know the island and its people. Since the focal point of my journey had been the spay and neuter clinic I didn't travel around a lot but took a closer look at Santiago, Sosúa and Cabarete. There I had the opportunity to get to know life in the Dom. Rep. like no tourist ever will. Every day I was invited by people to visit them. I visited a jazz festival and a surf cup at Cabarete beach, well known among surfers. Many kite rentals are located here as well.
I didn't have enopugh time to go horseback riding but I had an unforgettable Thanksgiving Dinner with Dr. Frank Alfano, his wife Karen and their hosts, Cary and Bruce, whose villa lies directly by the sea, the only place where I ever saw two rainbows at the same time.
One of the things I enjoyed the most in the Dominican Republic was the ease with which I could get in touch with people of all walks of life without
obligations. There was always enough room for privacy.
Judy, well known because of her work, has a lot of supporters and so I was offered a room in a very nice, small hotel while staying in Sosúa.
From there i explored Sosúa and Cabarete every night.
Sosúa is focused on the entertainment of men. I myself preferred Cabarete where I enjoyed the warm surf of the Atlantic or visited the many surf shops in town, never getting tired to watch the colorful people hanging out there.
The two weeks went by fast. Despite having worked a lot, I felt like I'd had a relaxing holyday and I felt an even deeper attachment towards my profession than ever before which includes a great amount of idealism. I want to return to continue my work here as well as to motivate colleagues in Germany to follow the call of the A.A.A.S and other humane organisations to take part in clinics like this and to develop their consciousness for their fellow beings - maybe not quite easy for some considering the conditions in which humans in the neighbouring Haiti live. Very often the statement of Mahatma Gandhi came to my mind: "The stage of civilisation a people has reached is revealed in the way they treat their animals."
Always show your best side!
Little man - feeling great!
Health plan patient
Of course we wanted to send also in 2010 agains vets from Germany to the Caribbean. To advertise this we designed an exposé about our work including the spay and neuter clinics we had so far participated in, either through financial support or by sending doctors, and send it in the beginning of 2010 to many German veterinaries and animal clinics. Heike Müler, veterinary from the animal hospital Bergstrasse, was the first to follow our call. Her employer, befriended colleagues and pharmacies were incredibly generous and donated medicaments, instruments, suture, drapes and bandages worth 900 Euro. Heike Müller flew to Puerto Plata with 61 kilos of medical supplies. Between July 30th and August 6th Heike Müller spayed and neutered 36 animals, 17 bitches, 9 males, 6 queens and 2 toms.
Wolfgang, Judy's German boxfriend, who took the same plane as Heike Müller, took care that the recreational part wasn't nglected during Heike's stay. On her way back Heike was accompanied by little Bonita, a puppy which had been rescued by the German tourist Marcus Speh in January 2010 at Bonita Beach near Las Terrenas. Marcus, being in love with his puppy, wouldn't giver her up for no reason in the world and asked us for help to get Bonita to Germany. This was our first encounter with the difficult procedures of importing a dog from outside the EU. After having spent half a year at Judy's Pet Lodge and having passed all the necessary tests, Bonita could finally fly to Germany with Heike and was met at the airport by Marcus who was at that moment the happiest man in the world…
Bonita has now her own homepage http://bonitas.hunde-homepage.com/, where we can follow her progress. Heike will come back. Next time her mum wants to come along for a vacation after having heard all the wonderful stories about the Dominican Republic…
A very special clinic took place in Sosúa from June 7th til June 18th 2010: Dr. Claire Clooney from Canada taught 2 young Dominican vets and 4 students how to spay and neuter in the best possible way, fast and safe for the animals.
Dr. Robert Amelingmeier, who often helps with difficult surgeries, assisted…
…as well as Dr. Werner who had come to the Dom. Rep. from the States with a group of students for a rabies vaccination campaign. 10 days, from Monday to Friday, the young vets and students worked side by side with experienced veterinarians.
67 animals were spayed and neutered during this time, 39 bitches, 17 males, 8 queens and 3 toms. One of the participating young vets, Giselle Drasantosdiaz from Santo Domingo, wants to put into practice at home what she has learnt in Sosúa, and plans her own spay and neuter clinics in Santo Domingo Special thanks to Gabriele Mertens, Margot Weiner, H. Kuchel, Gerda Precking, Erika Csatlos, Christine Elbe, the Rottaler Tierfreunde, Marion Krah, Helga-Martina Zander, Martina Patterson and Ute Gerling whose donations helped to realize this project.
As promised, Dr. Diane Levitan was back in Sosúa from January 26th to January 29th and spayed and neutered 36 bitches, 7 males, 5 queens and 4 toms. With the help of our faithful donators we could send 300 Euro to the A.A.A.S to help support this clinic.
Here the photos of the clinic with Dr. Diane Levitan:
Thank you very much!