These past months we’ve been very busy at the GAAP with our Field Services Program. With the support of Dogs Trust Worldwide, we’ve traveled to three rural communities near Valdivia: Futa, Chaihuín and Corral where we have performed 107 sterilizations since the beginning of the program last year.
During April and May, we focused on Chaiuhín and Corral and the team traveled weekly to these communities to offer veterinary services. The preparation for each visit takes at least a week; first we receive a list of people interested in having their pets neutered/spayed and the community offers a place to perform the surgeries, then we call the owners to set up the appointments and the day before the trip, we get everything ready packing and loading our clinic on the back of the truck.
For these rural visits, the GAAP team includes Dr. Elena Garde, Dr. Angélica Romero, Veterinary Assistant Marina Muñoz, GAAP’s Miranda Barros (who takes care of the paperwork) and one or two assisting veterinarians. Several doctors rotated throughout the program filling this position, and we were lucky to work with great professionals, including Canadian surgeon, Dr. Michelle Oblak from Veterinarians International who joined us on a rural visit to Futa.
Working in field services was a very interesting experience for the team. The trip itself was one of the best parts of the work. To get to Corral, we first drive to Niebla where we take a ferry to the island. Depending on the weather, boarding the ferry can sometimes be quite the adventure. In fact, this is one of the reasons we are taking a little break from the program during the winter. As soon as the days get sunnier, we’ll be back on that ferry!
Working in rural areas can be challenging and the circumstances are not always ideal. Dr. Angélica remembers one visit in particular where the team had to work under terrible conditions; the place was filthy, humid and very cold. “It just shows a lack of interest and preparation from the people who offered the place”, she says about the situation. Marina, our vet assistant, agrees that was one very challenging campaign. “Sometimes the conditions are not the best, and in a way that can complicate our work. We worked in some places that were really dirty and not appropriate to perform the surgeries.”
It is not always like that, though. Usually, the places are comfortable enough and although there are sometimes little things that escape the team’s control, they manage to overcome these small difficulties.
One thing that complicated the team’s work was that, although the appointments are made in advance and then confirmed, some people simply wouldn’t show up to the surgeries. And this is something that we’ve seen happen in other countries we’ve worked too. We believe this is because some people tend to undervalue their pets, and the veterinarian’s work and time.
Another thing that caught our attention was how little knowledge the community has about pet care. “There’s lack of information, and it’s because they are kind of isolated. They do care, in a way, but they don’t really know how to do it properly. They don’t know their pets need vaccinations, dewormers or sterilizations. No one’s told them that. What they hear is all these ‘myths’ associated with sterilization, and they believe them. In general, there’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation”, says Marina.
The experience working in field services is largely positive for the team, and not only successful but a lot of fun. Bringing this service to people and pets that wouldn’t otherwise have it is always rewarding. For Marina, it feels like the service in itself, is also a form of education for the owners. “The people always paid a lot of attention to what we told them. They always followed all the indications for post-surgery care. And they asked questions… ‘should I do this or that’, and if they had any doubts they asked. They were interested and sometimes they would call days later and tell us about their pet’s recovery, ‘is it normal if my dog is doing this’. Most of them were really responsible”.
When asked about some of their best memories, the team had plenty of good things to say. “I really liked how ingenious the people were improvising cages to bring their pets!”, Dr. Angélica says. And indeed, we saw some really original methods for transporting their animals. Both Dr. Angélica and Marina agree that the best part is how humble and grateful the people are. In Futa, there was one family in particular that gifted the team with freshly baked bread and apples from their own garden. It was one of Dr. Angelica’s best memories from the program. “This lady said we were welcome anytime. She lives near the river, and she said if we ever want to go camping we’re welcome there. She was so sweet!” Marina continues,”The best thing is the people; how caring and respectful they are”.