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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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.

spay surgery, patrick mahaney, amazon cares, pregnant dog surgery

Performing a spay procedure with a pool table as surgery platform

spay dog, pregnant, dog surgery, animal population control, amazon cares, patrick mahaney

Peforming an OVH procedure on a pregnant dog

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Images: Dr. Mahaney at work with the Amazon CARES team

Comments  14

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  • Bugs!
    07/31/2012 07:21am

    It's hard to imagine performing surgery with bugs flying around your face, but good for you!

    I'm guessing that these critters didn't have the advantage of vaccinations. Were those provided, too?

  • 07/31/2012 06:10pm

    It was challenging working in the conditions, yet we had a greater purpose to serve and persevered (plus, I always tried adequately coat my body with DEET based insect repellant).
    No, we did not have vaccinations to provide. Animals that end up being part of the adoption service at Amazon CARES are vaccinated.
    I hope that in my subsequent trips (which will be part of a television based media project), we will be able to vaccinate all dogs and cats for Rabies and other communicable/zoonotic diseases.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr PM

  • 08/01/2012 09:17am

    The Peruvian government administers Rabies vaccines to dogs on a sporadic basis. They will not allow Amazon CARES to provide Rabies vaccines, except in our Veterinary Clinic. Interestingly enough, the Peruvian Ministry of Health announced very recently that they believed Peru to be the first Latin American country to be 100% Rabies free.

  • 08/04/2012 02:13pm

    Thank you Molly for making this clarification.
    I wonder how the Peruvian government has determined that their country is Rabies free (???).
    I still feel giving the dogs that are part of the Amazon CARES shelter program Rabies vaccinations is a good idea from the standpoint of human and veterinary public health.
    Dr PM

  • Ethical Considerations
    07/31/2012 09:07am

    I just participated in a similar operation in the Galapagos Islands. Another point to consider is the good you are doing for the wildlife population. Having domestic animals breeding unchecked in close proximity to wildlife poses more problems for already endangered populations. It is possible for some diseases/parasites etc to jump to the endemic wildlife population.

    Also consider - when is the next time these animals are ever going to see a doctor???

    Although tough decisions, I believe you did the right thing. And thanks for giving back to the community! I am sure the people, and their critters, are quite grateful for your contribution!

  • 07/31/2012 06:13pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    What was the rescue organization you were working with in the Galapagos? I'm seeking to connect to a variety of international organizations as part of a "vets abroad" style reality television show for which I am currently in legal contractual negotiations.
    I definitely recognize that we were doing the right thing considering that there is such a problem with overpopulation of cats and dogs in these countries. I appreciate you sharing in my perspective.
    Dr Patrick Mahaney
    www.PatrickMahaney.com

  • 08/01/2012 09:15am

    Many Peruvian vets don't have the skill or desire to perform the surgery described by Dr. Mahaney. Peru is a very Catholic country. This was a tough surgery to observe, as all involved knew the puppies would have viable lives. However, the owners did not want the litter.

  • 08/04/2012 02:16pm

    Thank you Molly for your further perspective.
    Yes, doing the surgery on a very enlarged and pregnant uterus is quite challenging. I was grateful to have done many C-sections (and other abdominal surgeries) during my years of emergency practice to fall back on (along with some controlled yogic breathing to keep me calm).
    My preference would be to NOT have to do the "terminal spay" procedure, but I recognize that we are helping to control the canine population for the greater good of all pets (and people).
    Dr PM

  • 08/01/2012 06:08pm

    The organization is called Darwin Animal Doctors. There is so much to be done in Galapagos. The import of cats and dogs is illegal, but smuggling of companion animals happens. There is no dedicated veterinarian on the islands so the population is left unchecked. The local municipalities seem to have two different mindsets when it comes to dealing with the local pet population. To protect the endemic wildlife, some think a large scale culling of the population of companion animals is necessary. The other camp believes in sterilization and anti parasitic treatments. Vaccines are illegal in the Galapagos. It is thought that the local municipalities will throw bait poisons into yards with dogs to reduce the local population. Its a complicated situation.
    I traveled to South America with only a back pack of clothing for 2 weeks. I had a duffel bag rolled up packed inside this backpack so that I could haul medical supplies from Quito to Galapagos. There are weight restrictions in the flights into the islands and I was trying to use as much of my allotted space to bring the required drugs and supplies for the campaign. If you would like contact information for DAD I can get that to you. There was one woman from the organization putting together a documentary of what is going on with the islands. I can put you in touch with her as well if it would suit your plans. Let me know how I can help and if I can I will.
    Keep doing good, it matters.
    Stephanie :)

  • 08/04/2012 02:22pm

    Thank you for your further reply.
    Yes, please connect me to your contacts at Darwin Animal Doctors.
    I look forward to learning more about their organization and what I can potentially do to help as part of my impending media project.
    You can directly connect to me via www.PatrickMahaney.com
    Thank you,
    PM

  • 08/07/2012 04:34pm

    I am chuckling. Please do not ascribe logic to the Peruvian government, particularly when it comes to medical issues - pet or human.

    For insights, read this delightful account of what it's like to be a US internist practicing medicine in the Peruvian jungle "La Doctora: The Journal of an American Doctor Practicing Medicine on the Amazon River" by Linnea Smith, MD. You can also get email updates from her via the Amazon Medical Project.

    If you understood what it took for Linnea to get radiographs and bloodwork done for one patient she accompanied to a Lima Peru hospital, you would never complain about US health care again :) And day to day, the paperwork and official stamps and process needed changes ... they just kind of make it up as they go along.

    !Buena suerta!

  • 08/08/2012 03:08am

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.
    I look forward to reading La Doctora: The Journal of an American Doctor Practicing Medicine on the Amazon River" by Linnea Smith, MD
    Amazon CARES certainly does their best to provide veterinary services to better the lives of humans and animals in Peru.
    Hopefully, we can continue to make improvements in human and veterinary medical care in countries in need.
    Dr PM

  • 01/06/2013 01:06am

    Hello,
    I loved reading this article especially having just returned from the Dominican Republic and having experienced some of these issues first hand. I want to start an organization that provides clinics that give free nuetering and spay to Island animals and I wanted to know if you had any suggestions as to how to go about that and who I should be in contact with to start fundraising and get the word out about my goals.
    Thanks
    Bayley

  • 01/06/2013 01:18pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Although I do not directly know how to go about setting up an animal rescue, you can email me and I can then connect you with Amazon CARES president Molly Mednikow.

    Please go to my website www.PatrickMahaney.com
    In the upper right-hand corner of the page you will see a series of buttons including the far right button which looks like a little mail envelope. Press that button and you can email me directly.

    More information about Amazon cares or the option to join their efforts can be found on:
    http://amazoncares.org

    Thank you,
    Dr. PM

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