To commemorate International Homeless Animals Day (8/18/12), I’m taking the opportunity to address the issue from my veterinary perspective. Not only do we have an immense overpopulation of pets in the United States, but less developed countries such as Peru are equally, if not more, affected by this problem.
I partook in my first veterinary philanthropic trip in April 2011, when I traveled to Peru with Amazon CARES. It was quite the eye opening experience, from both a personal and professional point of view. The work requirements were challenging, yet rewarding. And there were ethical quandaries to grapple with, one of which I recently shared in Spaying Pregnant Dogs in Third World Countries.
Amazon CARES strives to improve the lives of both animals and people residing in and around the jungle city of Iquitos, Peru. This old world community is perched on the Amazon River and has many beautiful sights, yet there is also much need for improvement in the basic conditions its human and four legged population endure every day. Trash piles up in the street and many neighborhoods lack running water, sewage disposal, or electricity.
In Iquitos there are innumerable animals (mostly dogs) living on the streets. These dogs scavenge, fight with each other, get hit by motorbikes (the most common means of transport), and create public health problems (fecal material, animal bites, etc.). As a result, Amazon CARES works to capture, treat, and release these canines to benefit the overall population.
There is remarkable contrast between the lives of Peruvian street dogs and those for whom I typically provide care in my holistic veterinary practice. The undernourished and disease ridden physical condition of most of these canines far exceeds anything I see in the homes of my Los Angeles clients’ homes. These street dogs often appeared emaciated, infested with parasites (mange, fleas, and ticks), and display pendulous mammary glands and testicles as a result of their lack of homes, caretakers, and medical treatment.
Many of my canine patients had generalized or patchy areas of missing hair (alopecia), exhibited severe redness of the skin (erythema), and had oozing and crusty sores (erosive lesions) all over their bodies. Mange induced chronic inflammation is the most likely primary culprit, as the parasites chew through skin; they also more commonly affect sexually intact dogs.
Mange also increases the likelihood of bacterial and yeast infections. As a result, the poor skin condition of these dogs is often due to a combination of infection, decreased immune system function, dietary insufficiency, exposure to environmental irritants (allergens, heat, sun, etc.), and others.
Led by Bruno Antoine, the Peruvian Amazon CARES crew spends multiple evenings capturing street dogs with large nets for the volunteer veterinarians to surgically and medically treat. Once assembled in caged groups, the dogs’ personalities became apparent. Some were docile and friendly, while others were aggressive and presented a handling challenge.
Our team readily set about the task of examining, medicating, performing spay or neuter surgeries on, and recovering our patients. After being sexually altered and treated for internal and external parasites, a noticeable improvement occurs in their immune system’s functioning. Being incapable of further contributing to the canine population, our patients were released back onto the street from which they were found, with the opportunity to lead healthier lives.
Coming home was quite the culture shock considering all of the modern amenities and plentiful nutrient options we have in the United States that are not as readily available in Peru. The people with whom I interacted in Iquitos and in the remote communities along the Amazon River predominantly exuded an enviable sense of satisfaction with their simple worldly belongings and utilitarian existences.
As Americans, why are we not more grateful for the day-to-day luxuries we have instead of being exceedingly fixated on non-essential material possessions? I know that as a result of my Amazon CARES experience, I am more grateful for the creature comforts to which my dog, my patients, and I have access.
A typical street dog on the streets of Iquitos, Peru
Clinic work; Dr. Mahaney on right
Waiting their turn for medical treatment
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Street dog in Peru / all images by Dr. Patrick Mahaney