Veterinarians Without Borders back from Belize

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Holding Annie, "the last and sweetest" surgery patient, was Debbie Weiland, one of three Carroll County women who traveled to Central America in February to spay, neuter and perform other surgical procedures on the dogs and cats of Hopkins, Belize. Photo submitted

Working "like a well-oiled machine," three Carroll County women spayed and neutered more than 50 pets and performed other surgical procedures during a one-week stay in the tiny village of Hopkins, Belize, Central America.

Calling themselves Carroll County Veterinarians Without Borders, veterinarian Tina Cone and veterinary assistants Debbie Weiland and Ramona Hambrick used their air miles and supporter contributions to travel in mid-February.

The trio decided to donate their time and expertise after vacationing there in August and learning that stray dogs and cats were indiscriminately poisoned as a means of animal control.

Arriving in Hopkins, population 1,000, on Feb. 21, they met up with members of the Hopkins, Belize Humane Society.

"They kindly presented us with a badly needed bottle of bug spray," recalled Cone. "We had ascertained by this point that sand flies liked us, but we did not like them."

She said Nancy Collier had been their primary contact since August.

"We had corresponded so much via e-mail that I felt like we were old friends, but it was still a relief to discover that she was even more wonderful in person.

"That first day we made house calls with Nancy to examine and treat some sick animals. We met some more of the Hopkins locals and humane society volunteers.

"Later in the afternoon, we went to our 'clinic' which was a small one-room building within easy walking distance of our complimentary accommodations," continued Cone. "We spent some time getting our clinic organized with the supplies that we had and we were able to perform a few minor surgeries that afternoon.

"The next day, Saturday, we started our spay/ neuter clinic. Nancy had a list of 76 animals that had been signed up for spaying, neutering, or examinations for various problems.

"That day we did 14 surgeries, all dogs, working from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. with a short lunch break. Ramona and Debbie did all the pre-op exams, anesthesia, surgical prep, surgical monitoring, and post-op care, including giving the owners instructions on aftercare.

"There were also several people coming by with their dogs, wanting check-ups and heartworm testing. Ramona and Debbie did a lot of this work while I performed surgery. We were like a well-oiled machine!"

She said they had two helpers, Raju, a young Garifuna man, and Steve, "a very interesting ex-patriot American," who helped lift and carry the dogs and assisted with surgical prep and post-opt.

"Our clinic was perfect in size," she said, "with two sinks and two scorpions, running water, and even a tiny bathroom. There was a little window air conditioning unit that didn't seem to put out anything except noise and water, so it was pretty steamy in there.

"We were able to adjust the height of the surgery table by using two-by-fours. A bar stool was my instrument stand. Overall, the facility and equipment were quite adequate.

"Monday and Tuesday we worked all day in our surgery clinic performing 30 more surgeries. Lots of people would stop by to say hello. The kids from the village rode their bikes out after school and enjoyed watching the activity."

The following day, she said, they traveled to the nearby town of Placencia where they visited with members of the Placencia Humane Society.

"We enjoyed hearing about their efforts to help the animals in that community," she recalled.

"Thursday we worked at our clinic all day. The weather was cloudy and windy, so it was quite comfortable in our little "hot house" even without the fans and alleged air conditioning. The natives were miserably cold, wearing sweaters and shivering. Best of all, the flies were a little subdued. We finished up the animals on Nancy's list performing 14 more surgeries, 58 for the grand total.

"In all, we spayed 34 female dogs and two cats and neutered 16 male dogs. About six of these spay/neuter patients had ingrown back dewclaws that we removed while we had them under anesthetic. We also performed six other anesthetic/surgical procedures and countless exams and heartworm tests.

"We did get all the work on Nancy's list completed. The HBHS folks were ecstatic to make such a dent in their dog population."

On Saturday, she said, they went to the city park where Nancy hosts "puppy classes" for the children every Saturday.

"We got to see a lot of our surgery patients who belong to these kids," Cone recalled. "We had an opportunity to talk with the children about their dogs and answer their questions. They are beautiful, sweet kids who love their little dogs. Nancy has done wonders with them in teaching them how to care for, train, and treat their dogs with kindness. She thinks the key to change is through education of the children, and we agree.

"In summary," Cone said, "we think our trip was very successful. We accomplished much more than the HBHS had dreamed that we could. We made a very positive impression on the people of Hopkins -- native and imported.

"We donated our substantial inventory of unused supplies and medications to the Hopkins Belize Humane Society. Some of the items that they may not be able to use will be given to "Nurse Judy" of Equity House, the local, primarily charitable, human medical clinic. The rest will be used by other visiting volunteer veterinarians -- which hopefully will include us in about six months."

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