Last December, I was randomly chosen by Air Canada to receive 2 tickets to anywhere they fly through their holiday promotion #FlyTheFlag. The catch was I was supposed to use one ticket for me and Pay It Forward with the second ticket.
My wonderful husband suggested I use the tickets to help animals in some way and that’s how I came to be sweating like crazy in a little place called Suriname in November. How does a holiday in some remote country help animals? Well, I ended up using my tickets to fly myself and Dr Laura Major to Miami and then we flew on to Suriname and spent 4 days spaying and neutering the local cat and dog population along with Caribbean Spay Neuter. In total 7 vets, 7 techs and 3 non-medical volunteers ensured that 401 animals will no longer be able to reproduce!
To help prepare myself for the different environment of a MASH-style spay and neuter clinic, I volunteered here at home all summer with Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force. There I was first exposed to the world where the vet just stands at a surgery table, and animals just keep getting placed in front of you to do surgeries on. It can be long, and hot and tiring on the back but it’s also very rewarding to help animals that otherwise would possibly not get sterilized/vaccinated/dewormed. I can’t wait for “Task Force Season” to start again!
I choose Caribbean Spay Neuter because they responded to my offer of help right away and had a clinic coming up in November. I had never even heard of Suriname and didn’t realize at the time that it is the start of the Amazon Rainforest. We arrived at 1 am and were met by warm humidity and stray dogs at the airport, so we knew we were in the correct place. Day 1 consisted of setting up our location which was a covered outdoor kitchen/eating area near the river.
My surgery area was a plastic table raised with cement blocks and some folded heavy-duty plastic to keep my patients from rolling over. A plastic bottle duct taped to the end of the table for disposing of used needles and scalpels, and we were ready to roll for Day 2! Days 2-4 were a blur of animals, they came carried in arms, packed in boxes, in the backs of trucks and held in laundry hampers (I still look for cats in every laundry hamper I see). As they came, they had a basic health check, and then they were sedated, prepped and placed on whichever surgery table was free to do their surgeries.
Ok, I admit – I refused to take the dog spays – it’s been far too long since I last did that surgery but the cats and the dog neuters kept me busy. Once we were done a volunteer moved them to recovery where they were monitored and kept cool until they were able to go home. I remember one day it was so warm when I raised my hands from doing surgery sweat poured out of my gloves and splattered on my shoes. Dealing with all the ticks and fleas is also something we’re not used to here in Calgary! I was long, and hot and tiring and I loved it all. No animal that came to the clinic was turned away unless there were health problems that made to procedure too risky. We had hoped to sterilize 500 animals, but we cannot complain about 401.
Day 5 was tidy up, and then we got to spend a couple of nights actually in the Amazon Rainforest before flying back to Canada. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I met some wonderful people I will always keep in touch with. I’m already thinking about where my next exotic spay-cation will take me to, but until then I’ll do my best to give back locally with the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force.
Written by Dr Tasha Kean