Dogs of Otavalo - the Complete History
Sometimes feelings of helplessness can paralyze us and sometimes they can propel us forward. For Azadeh ‘Azi’ Chegini, it was the latter. In April of 2016, Azi was visiting Otavalo, Ecuador, a beautiful city in the Andean Highlands. Azi came across a street dog with two broken legs. It seemed as though this poor dog had been sitting on the side of the road for days. She was in great pain but too weak to move or make noise. Azi took the dog into her arms and made a promise that she would come back to Ecuador and that she would bring help. The dog was left with Animal Protection in the city of Quito as Azi boarded a plane back to the US. On that flight back to Virginia, Dogs of Otavalo was born. Azi, a Zoetis Pharmaceutical rep in the Virginia area, was determined to return to Otavalo with an army of veterinary professionals including vets, techs and others to help the forgotten street dogs.
Dogs of Otavalo l April 2017
Nestled between two volcanos up in the Andean Highlands, Otavalo is a blanket of dewy green surrounded by clouds; the air smells of eucalyptus and sweet water. Cobblestone roads traverse the hilly countryside flanked by stone houses and farms. Chickens, hogs and cattle dot the lush knolls. Dogs are abundant. Many of them live with very poor local families, mainly farmers whom feed them and give them shelter but many are homeless. As is true in many underdeveloped countries, street dogs are abundant and only the smartest survive. Back in Virginia, Azi began planning her next trip to help the dogs of Ecuador. She formed alliances with several veterinary foundations to raise money for supplies. She began recruiting volunteers and formulating a plan to make this project into a reality. The outpouring of support was amazing. A fund was set up for donations and the volunteer team began reaching out to their friends, colleagues and industry for donations of money and supplies.
Simultaneously, in Otavalo, Nancy and Rachel along with a number of volunteers began to work to set up the project there. No small task, this involved the work of the local government, veterinarians, innkeepers, cooks and project volunteers. After many meetings, a building was secured, permits obtained and arrangements were made to house, feed and transport the American volunteers when they arrived. The local community was gathered and told about the project. There was a talk given about the importance of spay/neutering and vaccinating pets. Appointments were made for over 200 local dogs and cats to be cared for during the project along with the street dogs.
The goal was set to provide quality care to at least 300 dogs and cats over 6 days. Physical exams, spay/neuter, deworming and vaccinations topped the list. Volunteers would need to carry over 3000 lbs. of supplies and equipment from the United States in checked luggage to turn an old concrete community center building into a fully functioning animal hospital. One of the objectives was to start building relationships with the communities of Otavalo and neighboring Cotacachi, so that ongoing care could be established as well as basic client education. The volunteer group was welcomed with open arms by residents of Otavalo who scrubbed the building, helped translate, cooked traditional Ecuadorian food for lunch each day and watched over the supplies at night.
For part of each day, the team focused on altering the street dogs that were rounded up and brought in by the fearless and dedicated volunteers of Patrulla Amigo Fiel, or Faithful Friend Patrol. This group rescues sick, injured and hungry street dogs in Otavalo, Ecuador. There was concern that the street dogs would be difficult to work with but the opposite was true; the street dogs were the easiest group to work with and seemed to respond well to affection. After 6 long days, a group of 30 veterinary professionals had spayed and neutered nearly 300 dogs and 10 cats and made a step towards controlling the street dog population in these municipalities. (see inset on impact) They also made an impact in the communities they touched, received so much in return and made friendships that will last a lifetime. Plans are already underway to form a standing foundation to continue this work long into the future with the next trip scheduled for early in 2018.
One of the goals of the Dogs of Otavalo project is to utilize the highest standard of anesthesia and analgesia despite challenging conditions.
Quality anesthesia and pain management protocols were designed by two International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) board member volunteers. The group was fortunate enough to have had generous donations of drugs and supplies from companies like Zoetis South America, Sentier, and Patterson Veterinary Supply. Nearly 60 cases were seen each day. Each patient was examined by a veterinarian and then premedicated with dexmedetomidine and hydromorphone IM followed by injections of Carprofen and Convenia. Once sedate, the animals were transported upstairs to the induction room where, IV catheters were placed. Every patient was given Cerenia IV and then induced with ketamine IV. Higher risk patients were intubated while others were run on oxygen via a homemade mask. Four surgeries were performed simultaneously and each patient was receiving oxygen from one oxygen concentrator and one anesthesia machine graciously donated by Patterson Veterinary Supply. The machine was set-up as an ‘oxygen bar’ by piping oxygen from the fresh gas outlet and splicing it to feed four stations. Once on the table, patients were connected to a constant rate infusion of hydromorphone and ketamine to help keep them anesthetized and analgesed during surgery. They were monitored using the Sentier Vetcorder pulse-ox and ECG as well as the Massimo EMMA end-tidal carbon dioxide monitor along with direct palpation of pulses, auscultation and mucous membrane color. Local anesthesia was utilized when appropriate for incisional and intratesticular blocks.
After surgery, patients were returned to the recovery area downstairs and monitored continuously until awake. Once alert with normal body temperature, every patient was vaccinated for rabies and other species specific vaccines (RCP, DHPP, Bordatella). All patients were dewormed and treated for external parasites. When they were alert enough to go home they were reunited with their families most of whom had waited all day at the facility.
Story of “Mija”
During the first Dogs of Otavalo project, along with the spay/neuter dogs, volunteers also brought in an injured dog with a forelimb degloving injury that appeared to be days old. The dog was clearly withdrawn and in pain. Azi, and the team of veterinary volunteers committed to helping this small, fluffy female dog. Plans were made to transfer her to the nearest veterinary hospital in Cotacachi. She was given pain medication, wrapped in a fleece blanket and driven to the clinic where she would receive the care she needed. The injury required an amputation but despite losing a limb, she gained a family. Arrangements were made to fly “Mija” back to the USA to live forever with Azi.
Impact of spay neuter programs
The effect on unwanted dog population from our programs is tremendous. Just one unaltered female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in only six years. We spay/neuter 250-300 dogs per trip!
Aside from controlling populations, sterilized animals live longer, happier lives. Spaying eliminates the stress and discomfort that females endure during heat periods, eliminates the risk of uterine cancer, and greatly reduces the risk of mammary cancer. Neutering makes males far less likely to roam or fight, prevents testicular cancer, and reduces the risk of prostate cancer
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