by Sarah Clark
Our star para-veterinarian in training, Andrés Carrillo, was born and raised in the remote indigenous community of Todos Santos, Guatemala. In 2007 he worked with Vets Without Borders to conduct a series of surveys of households in Todos Santos and then began to assist with the annual veterinary campaign spearheaded by Vets Without Borders, now continued by the GAAP. Andrés says that “little by little” he has been getting more involved with the work and learning more things over the years.
Now he is extremely excited to participate in the four-day para-veterinary training supported by Dogs Trust International. Andrés had been involved in past veterinary campaigns in his community but he hasn’t been working with the animals directly. He described how in the week before the training in Huehuetenango he was nervous, “I was very tense! But once I arrived I knew everything was going to go well and that we had the best team.” He also explained how in the 4-day training, he’s learned the basic but vital skills of administering flea, tick and parasite treatments; learning to humanely restrain dogs and cats; preparing for surgeries including sterilizing equipment and putting all the materials in order; monitoring the patient during the surgery; and learning to communicate with the veterinarian. According to Andres, “Everything was so new! I didn’t know where the needles were, or the scissors or the tape!”
Andres’ training is vitally important for the community of Todos Santos, as they currently do not have a veterinary clinic, and families often do not make the hours-long trip to the nearest city of Huehuetenango to receive veterinary services for their pets. Andres will now be able to provide immediate, basic care to animals in Todos Santos. “It’s very basic but it’s very important because when our dogs do not have parasites, when they don’t have fleas, we (humans) are also healthy.”, he says.
The importance of being able to respond in an emergency was also highlighted by Andres: “I didn’t have any experience with a dog that was at risk of dying but it’s important to understand how to resolve an emergency situation. It’s very important to learn these skills to save lives. There are not emergencies every day, but every once in a while there is one. It’s something new for me, and it motivates me to go forward because when you save a life it feels really good inside. And when you feel really good inside it’s because it’s worthwhile to help someone.”
Andres laughed when he reflected that the hardest thing about the training was “grabbing the needle, taking the needle from the bag… It was a completely new thing!” But he goes on to explain, “I had trust that I had the best teachers, Melissa and Elena, and if I make a mistake they’ll tell me. So I have a big weight on my shoulders but I have the best teachers so I could trust myself more to do the things well.”
Andres is very excited to apply his new skills in Todos Santos, and to keep learning: “Inside I want to know more. I began, I took the first step, and I want to keep advancing. When I understand things well, everything is going to be great. To know how to do things well. It’s a great responsibility… When you like to do something there is no limit, you can keep working and working and doing things well. it’s very gratifying.”
What about his plans for the future? In Andres’ words, “I have 2 children and I know that one day one of them will be a professional veterinarian and it depends on me for them to have the opportunity to go to the university so that we have a veterinarian in Todos Santos. It’s a great step we’re taking forward.”