Having grown up with parents who instilled a strong sense of do-gooding in me, I’ve always felt compelled to help better the lives of both pets and people through my veterinary practice. I’ve primarily worked within the safe, controlled, and clean environment of hospital facilities (and my clients’ homes, which is another story), but my internal travel compass motivated me to pursue a "vets abroad" experience.
My first veterinary philanthropic trip found me traveling to Peru with Amazon CARES (Community Animal Rescue Education Safety). Our M*A*S*H style, mobile veterinary service brought a variety of wellness treatments to communities in and around Iquitos, an urban jungle perched on the bank of the Amazon River, and each day brought its own set of unique challenges.
At each site, we were greeted by an eager group of pet owners with their dogs and cats in need of medical services. Additionally, we treated street animals that were captured, sexually altered, and then released back into their familiar territory.
As a non-Spanish speaking veterinarian, my primary responsibilities were to perform ovariohysterectomy (OVH, or spay) and castration (neuter) procedures. Dr. Jessica Vogelsang (Dr. V) and I worked efficiently alongside our team of Peruvian veterinarians to efficiently complete our surgeries and then move onto the next.
The conditions were steamy and sweat soaked, pool tables served as surgery platforms (which created an ergonomic challenge for my back), my head lamp served as a surgical light, and bugs nibbled at my exposed skin. Truly, it was a professional experience unlike those I had previously participated in.
There is extraordinary animal overpopulation and lack of routine medical services in Iquitos and other communities on the Amazon River. As a result, many cats and dogs live much of their lives on the street and become sexually capable of producing offspring with remarkable regularity.
There is an exceeding need for population control in Iquitos and most owners are unable to care for newborn animals. As a result, I had to perform a few OVHs on dogs already bearing well developed fetuses that were potentially capable of sustaining life outside of the womb if given a longer time to mature and be born. The puppies were humanely euthanized immediately after being removed from their mother’s abdomen.
If they had been born on the street, it is unlikely the pups would survive without human assistance. In these poor communities, even when people incorporate dogs or cats into their homes, scavenging is still the primary means by which animals acquire nutrition. Infectious diseases (mange, gastrointestinal parasites, etc.) commonly occur, and the likelihood of trauma (hit by motor rickshaw or car, animal fights, etc.) is high.
Through the amazing work of Amazon CARES, pet owners in Peru receive free or low cost veterinary care. Many dogs and cats are sterilized and receive quality of life improving treatments that otherwise would be inaccessible or financially unattainable.
The ethical dilemma of having to terminate the pregnancies of female dogs greatly stressed our entire volunteer team. During our subsequent days of providing spay and neuter procedures, we were always grateful when the bitch (female dog) we would be sexually altering was not pregnant.
Performing a spay procedure with a pool table as surgery platform
Peforming an OVH procedure on a pregnant dog
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Images: Dr. Mahaney at work with the Amazon CARES team