It is said that there are ten dogs for every person in Guatemala. Around Panajachel sizable packs of them range throughout the barrios, but, dogs are most often found underfoot; begging at café tables or asleep on the sidewalk.
Before Patti invited me to drop in on Mayan Families’ (mayanfamilies.org) veterinary operations at the local Zoo Mascota, I had already noticed people in colorful scrubs taking short breaks in front of Dr. Miguel de Leon Regil’s clinic. Patti told me that that crowd was interns; “almost” veterinarians and part of a larger group of volunteers from U. San Carlos, who come up from the Capital work around the lake a couple of days a month.
In 2005, Mayan Families sponsored Dr. de Leon Regil’s training in the McKee Project protocol. And, he has been instructing veterinarians in the “Quick Spay” method, ever since. The procedure (favored by U.S. Humane Society) requires no follow-up care–not even prophylactic antibiotics; so, it is cost-effective and close to perfect for street dogs.
After upgrading their ability to care for local street animals, Mayan Families was able to negotiate with the Panajachel municipal authorities to stop them from destroying animals. This agreement has been in effect for more than five years, now, because the San Diego based organization sponsors free veterinary clinics.
I asked Patti just how the seeming indulgence of pet care squared with the necessities of humanitarian outreach.
“Why would people fund this initiative rather than pay for human food, medicine and education?”
“The street dogs are not always ‘strays’ – sometimes they belong to families, who just let them out during the day to eat,” she began.
“Besides, they are part of the family. The people really love them but when they get sick they have no money to take care of them.”
Another reason why the Mayan Families does this, here, particularly, is that where twelve foot high walls with broken glass tops are the norm, guard dogs and ratters are hardly a luxury.
Inside, the team worked with dispatch and in an ad hoc operating theater set up in a hallway lit by few, widely spaced, low-wattage bulbs. Two vets deftly lifted a large dog and secured her to the work table. Two others moved in to shave and vacuum a less than two inch square operating area while yet another colleague shot a free paw with sedative. The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. And, the morning’s patients were laid out like sausages on blankets covering the recovery room floor. The whole back wall was occupied by animals in various stages of awakening — snoozing side by side, without regard to species.
At 1:30 lunch was delivered in one of Mayan Families’ fleet of yellow tuk-tuks. Trays of food were set up in the back and poco a poco the doctors served themselves a delicious lunch of chicken, tortillas and a sweet thinned oatmeal drink. After that, a few stood outside waiting for the next furry patient to arrive.
Soon enough, an owner lugged what looked like an Aikita-Setter into reception. Two vets squatted down to talk to the dog, then opened the crate and kindly lassoed the frightened beast’s snout with a leash. Once pried out the big dog became utterly docile and was easily led into the impromptu O.R. without any sign of resistance.
The professionalism of the young vets under the supervision of Dr. de Leon Regil was evidenced by their prodigious numbers. They treated almost 250 animals in three days.
Because I am focused on the lake, my animal activist friends often judge me to be less than “fuzzy” about street animals. Perhaps, it is because I see the average dog as a producer of 274 pounds of non-compost-able waste (NOTE 1) each year and because that is flushed directly into the lake through street drains it is becomes a public health problem (NOTE 2).
Using this formulation, in one month, Mayan Families saved the lake from 68,500 pounds of waste annually.
1. Dog waste contains pathogens and parasites that can hurt water quality.
2. This could be mitigated by enacting “pooper scooper” laws. But, then, such sanitation regulations would also need to cover the chickens, pigs and goats that share the same system.