by Siobhan Rickert.
My name is Siobhan Rickert and I am a student from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. I have always loved animals and have spent the last seven years working in a variety of veterinary practices in small animal, equine and wildlife. A third of our final year in college is composed of a Senior Project to dive into a topic of our choice. Throughout my college career, I have been fascinated by the connection between humans, animals and the environment so I decided to do my Senior Project on how One Health is implemented in Chile. I reached out to GAAP and they invited me to volunteer with them. I also wanted to get a better understanding of traditional veterinary medicine in Chile so Dr. Garde connected me with Dr. Boroschek and I spent the last 10 days volunteering at Clinica Boroschek. Thank you to Dr. Garde for setting it up and thank you to all of the amazing people who let me work with them and help me understand the work they are doing at Clínica Boroschek.
On my first day, I met everyone here at GAAP and got a tour of the office and clinic. Over the next two weeks, I got to volunteer both in the clinic and with some of their many projects.
I spent my second day working on a project to train a para-veterinarian (Andrés Carrillo) from Guatemala to provide basic care and stabilize patients in remote villages that do not have veterinarians. Andrés is coming to Chile in two weeks so I created owner histories of hypothetical cases that the GAAP team and volunteers will use to help train him. Dr. Angélica Romero made a list of the most common cases that Andrés will see and then we worked on creating the owners’ history of symptoms and other basic information for the volunteers to present to Andrés during the mock case training. I got to learn about some of the most common cases that they see in Guatemala like roundworm and distemper which are rare in practices that I have worked at in the past in the United States. It was fun to make up histories and create different stories about what was happening to the patients and use my past experiences to get into the mind of owners. We will be editing the cases and planning more of the training over the next couple of weeks. I am disappointed that I won’t be here for the actual training but it is great to be able to help with the organizing.
My next project was creating a survey for us to get a baseline information on the pet’s health of the homeless people in Valdivia. Tomorrow we are going to go out with “Los Caminos De La Vida” who bring hot food and check in on the people who are living on the streets. They have allowed GAAP to join them for a night to get an idea of what kind of health these pets are in and what kind of veterinary care they will need in the future. We created a survey to ask basic questions like “has your pet ever seen a vet?”, “has your pet ever been dewormed or treated for parasites?”, “is your pet spayed or neutered and would you be interested in veterinary care for your pet?”.
I also shadowed Dr. Romero in the clinic during four appointments. The first appointment was for a dog that was hit by a car but luckily came away with only a small limp likely due to a muscular strain on one of his back legs. The other three appointments were from the same family. They are artisanal craft makers who have two dogs and a cat. Although they do not make a lot of money they are very dedicated to getting their animals annually checked, vaccinated and dewormed by the GAAP veterinarians. To cover the cost they put down a little money each month. One of their dogs had fleas and you could see the eggs when he was brushed. They hadn’t noticed it before so Dr. Romero wanted to show them the difference between dirt and the eggs so she put them on a towel and poured water over it to show them that the flea eggs don’t dissolve. I have never seen this kind of client education before and it is clear that this is something that GAAP is working hard to accomplish. In addition to being dedicated to their pets they are also very dedicated to GAAP, Dr. Romero asked them if they would be willing to volunteer when the para-vet comes in a week and they happily agreed.
On my fourth day working at the GAAP, we prepared for the survey and then finally that night we got to go out with “Los Caminos De La Vida”. We meet them at the kitchen where they prepared the food around 9pm and followed them around to different locations around Valdivia where they know homeless people sleep. At the first location, we pulled over on the side of a busy street across from a field that had a bunch of garbage and wire and followed the volunteers as they lead us to the side of the field where there was an old storage container and tent where three people lived. I would have never known that there were people there but the volunteers just started unzipping the tents and walking into the container completely comfortably. At every stop, we gave them food and coffee if they wanted it and Dr. Romero and Dr. Garde would talk to the people and ask them questions about their animals. A lot of the people that we talked to had mental disabilities or were intoxicated so it was very difficult to get complete information about their pets. About half of the people had pets and all of them could use some form of veterinary attention, most haven’t had vaccines or dewormers and some have medical issues that need attention. For example, there was a young litter of puppies (maybe 2-3 weeks old) laying out in the cold and their lactating mother who was very malnourished. You could tell that their owner was trying to take care of them because he had put a blanket under them but they still had very little protection. What was really amazing to me was the relationships that the volunteers have with the street people and the relationships that the street people have with their pets. The volunteers are clearly very close to the street people; they had secret handshakes, would joke and tease them, and clearly provided a companionship that is incredibly important.
At the end of the night we went to the public hospital’s urgent care center to check and see if there were any of the people that they normally visit at the hospital. When we arrived you could look through the glass to see how many meals we needed to grab.
One of the people that they worked with looked completely sad, exhausted and angry. But soon as he saw the volunteers he completely changed to a smiley happy person joking with the volunteers. The flip was amazing.
We got home at 1am, hoping to recap and figure out the best plan of action the next day when we are more rested and have had the time to process the experience.
After I went home, I was up until about 4am thinking about that night, so once I finally fell asleep, I slept in and worked a half day at GAAP. When I got to the office we all talked about our experience the night before and discussed the best possible plan of action. We all agreed that doing anything that would require physical restraint (like vaccines) could be traumatizing to the animals and the people and we could lose their trust. In addition, because some of the people have mental disabilities, getting informed consent to do things like sterilization would be nearly impossible. It seems like the agreed upon plan is to start with simple non-invasive treatments such as antiparasitic pills that we can put in food and topical flea prevention once a month. I am very excited to see where this project goes and I am so glad that I got to be a part from the beginning, and have the experience of working with the amazing volunteers.