Monday, April 23, 2012

My experience with World Vets in San Andres, Colombia

My second trip with World Vets International Aid for Animals ended on Saturday April 21, 2012 after 8 amazing days on San Andres Island, Colombia. 
It all started April 14, 2012 when I arrived in San Andres after 25 hours of travel.  I was introduced to our team, made up of myself, 6 Veterinarians, 1 Registered Veterinary Technician RVT), and 4 others of varying qualifications.  We were made up of 11 Americans and myself (a Canadian) and after 2 days of exploring the island we quickly gelled into a cohesive group.
By the time it was our first day at the clinic the Island was well aware of our arrival. A roomful of strays along with local residents and their pets were waiting outside when we arrived an hour early the first day.  The clinic space was made up of several rooms in a government building – it was bright and would suffice as a makeshift Veterinary hospital.  Our goal was to spay, neuter, and medically assist as many cats and dogs as possible in the next 3 days.
World Vets operations are well-planned and take every volunteer’s commitment and skill set to run smoothly.  Several locals (including army, government, and rescue workers) were on-hand to assist us.  Their dedication and love of animals made the 3 days even better.  The World Vets volunteers I worked with also made the experience enjoyable and educational for me.  The Vets were skilled and efficient, the RVT was highly trained, and everyone else was committed and competent at their assigned tasks. 
My job for the three days would be a duty called “Recovery”.  Recovery involved the monitoring of every animal’s vital signs and surgical site post-surgery, administration of needed medications and parasite prevention, catheter removal, and discharge with care instructions to the owners.  I also distributed the leashes and collars that myself and one other member of my team had brought – many thanks to Sweet Paws Dog Walking, Big Heart Rescue, Yaletown Veterinary Hospital, and Laughing Willow Pet Care for your generous donations.  Recovery suited me perfectly – it was fast paced, ever-changing, and involved getting up close and personal with every dog and cat that had received surgery.  While I didn’t know how to do absolutely everything, the Vets educated me on what I needed to know and were always there when I had any concerns.  The support was truly spectacular.  My biggest challenges were avoiding dehydration from the heat and humidity, and keeping up with the surgeon’s quick work!
By Day 2 we were all in our groove and I decided that Recovery and me were a good match.  One of my Recovery volunteers adopted a little female puppy that had been spayed day.  I asked “Does she have a name yet?”  The answer was “No”.  I jokingly said, “Well, Lisa’s a great name for you little one!”.  Her new owner quickly replied, “Perfect, I will call her Lisa then!”.  The tears welled up in my eyes; a little piece of me would remain in San Andres when I left and I was honored (see posted picture of us together).
By Day 3 I could barely walk when I woke up – my legs were incredibly stiff from the hours of squatting and my knees were in pain from all of the kneeling on the hard floor.  I didn’t care; I couldn’t wait to get to the clinic.  That day, the line was even longer then the previous 2 days and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to accommodate everyone.  To add to the challenge, the power went out midway through the day.  Since the power supplies the fresh water it was uncertain of how many more surgeries could be performed.  We continued in Recovery (wearing headlamps) and the power was fortunately restored.
The day wrapped up and exhaustion set in.  We picked up some food, went back to our house, and slept like babies.  The next day was reserved for one last chance to connect and see the island.  We spent it at the beach relaxing, snorkeling, and jet skiing.  I was sad to go to sleep that night knowing that I would be leaving my new little “family”.
The next day at the airport we were sent off by the local Veterinarian and Staffperson of the Sanitation department.  My mind was spinning with thoughts: “Would I ever return here?”, “How many of our stray “patients” would be adopted”, and “How would the animals recover from their surgeries?”  And most of all, “Did we make a difference?”.  I was told that 12 of the animals had already been adopted.  I was then later told that 307 animals had been treated by World Vets – a record for a 3 day pilot trip.  My questions were answered!
Now that I am back at home in Canada, I realize that even if I hadn’t gotten those answers, I know we made a difference.  And in addition, another difference was made within myself.  I have 11 new amazing friends, contacts in Colombia that I would never have made, and an experience that I will cherish for a lifetime.  That and I got to work with the sweetest dogs and cats in need for 32 wonderful hours.  I got much more back then I ever could have given and can’t wait to do it all over again.
To learn more about World Vets International or to pledge your support, please visit .
Lisa Wagner is the Operations Director of Walks ‘N’ Wags Pet First Aid, an International provider of Pet First Aid training for cats and dogs.  Learn more about Walks ‘N’ Wags at or on Facebook at:

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