Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Final post

This will be my final post entry. This blog was started so I could share my experiences on a daily basis with friends and loved ones. The trip is over (for now).

The Perros Project originally planned on going down to Peru once every 2 years. We realized quickly while we were down there that we could go every month and still have work to do - so the plan now is to try to get down there every year. I hope to go again in 2011.

It was hard to come back to the US. I found myself suffering from some serious culture shock. I did not get online but to send 2 emails in the first week I was back, I had no real interest in watching any TV, and I did not crave sugar as I did before (unfortunately my sugar addiction is back to normal!). I was shocked and saddened by the excess I saw everywhere, even in my own life. It had been a long time since I had 2 snapshots in my brain, within hours of each other, of the differences between our 1st world country and Peru, the developing country. I stepped on a plane in Lima and got off in Miami, what I consider to be one of the hearts of excess! I have been thinking over the last week about the stark differences between my life and the lives of the Peruvians in Huanchaco. I have also been thinking a lot about the difference between my dog Sky's life and the lives of the dogs we helped. I came home to find Sky and her million dog toys happily waiting at home. She has no concept of the differences, but I could not help but notice.

I guess it becomes our responsibility up here to live our lives in as small a way possible and to try to help those who have much less - even if it is those in our own city who have less or nothing.


I could not have done this trip - emotionally, financially - without all of your help and encouragement. I hope that you enjoyed this blog and feel like you were able to experience the trip through me. I had an amazing experience. Yes, it was emotionally hard, but it was also one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things I have done in a long time.

I am forever grateful to you for your support.

Over and out (until 2011).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gattos Project in Lima??

I won't bore you with tourist shots of Lima, but I will take a moment to blog about the Gattos Project the 4 of us in Lima took on. That's right - cats. We thought we had managed to get away from the animal problem. Turns out the lovely church in Miraflores has a large cat problem. So, we bought cat food and fed the cats - Sunday evening, Monday morning and Monday night before leaving. At one point I thought I was feeding a lot - ten - until I went around the corner and fed THIRTY at once. And they were new cats, not part of the 10 I had just fed. And, there were about 20 more lounging in parts of the church property that was gated off to me. Wow.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday - Animal Rights March!

There was an animal rights march today, put on by Fernando and Erica. Three of us went, wearing our “Los Animals me Importan” t-shirts. We were glad to see a very large crowd at the meeting spot and felt honored to be asked to hold the first banner in the march.

I understand that Fernando might have asked us because it would look good to the media to see a few gringos and gringas involved, but he might also have asked us in gratitude for what we did this past week. Either way, I don’t care – I was honored and enjoyed it. We marched over 2 hours and then ended at Lovalo Papal, which is where Fernando’s clinic is (and where I spent three days spaying / neutering). We crowded on the stairs in the Oval and the media took photos of the huge crowd.

During the march, I spotted some interesting animals! I have never seen these creatures at a march before:

After the march, we hopped a cab to a local flea market to try to finally see the shopping and local Peruvian wares. We stayed there for about 45 minutes before hopping another cab back to the shelter. I hadn’t seen the shelter since I was there on Tuesday and had heard that a lot of progress was made. I was absolutely blown away by what I saw when I walked in. The fences were up, the gates attached, the room finished and the roof competed. It was a different place, and the dogs were not in such a huge frenzy when someone new arrived. I think the gate system helped a lot. And, all the dogs now wear collars with their names.

I spent a little while saying good-bye to the dogs before we got back into a cab and headed back to the hostel to shower, pack and head to the airport.

Off to Lima I go for a day and a half. Won’t be much time there, but enough to see a different part of Peru. I've been told that Lima is not very fun or beautiful. I want to see for myself, and, if it's true, I suspect I won't want to go back. So I decided to see an old city - at least for 36 hours - on my way home. Am excited to relax a bit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 5: last day at the clinic

Today was the last official day of the Perros Project, with many of the volunteers leaving tonight or early tomorrow morning. I'm staying on here through tomorrow night and hope to visit the shelter one final time to see the progress they made while I was at the clinic these past 3 days. I've heard amazing things were accomplished and can't wait to see.

I started off this morning at 8 am by rounding up more dogs to spay / neuter from Huanchaco. Today we went to one women who had 6 dogs in need of the surgery. She works for the municipality and takes in street dogs and cares for them. She had at least 10 dogs hanging around when we picked up the 6 this morning, and she cares deeply for them all.

We loaded them into 2 separate taxis and each cab went to one clinic. I realize, again, that these dogs have spent their whole lives avoiding cars because getting near a car means getting hit and hurt. So the idea of us asking them to hop into a car like dogs in the US do is rather absurd! We had to pick them up and put them in the car; then most of them got a little sick and all of them took a few minutes to get used to the balance issues that go along with riding in a car! They were all champions, though, and many of them just wanted to be touched and pet while in the car.

Here is a photo of the 3 that came to my clinic. The blonde dog on the far left with his head looking out the window is Chollo, which I've been told means Gangster in Spanish. He was such a love and rather young. The black & white dog is Negra, but I called her Mama all day and that became the name I knew her by. She bonded very hard with me and I was the only one able to hold and carry her. The look in her eyes at me was love and respect and I felt so honored that she trusted me. The dog on the right, looking at the camera, is Lito. He was stoic and brave and took a little longer to warm up to me, but did after we got to the vet and we were buddies the rest of the day.

Getting them into the vet was quite an ordeal. They had obviously never had a positive walk on a leash, and perhaps had never had anything tight around their necks. Lito and Chollo reacted violently towards the leash, biting it where it was right next to their head and thrashing around scared, trying to get away. They never associated me with the leash and never got violent with me. It was, nonetheless, very sad and emotional for me to have to drag them in their state inside. I had to have it tight and drag them because if they got off the leash, they would have run loose in a busy area of the city, far away from their home. Very scary. Mama did not get violent towards the leash, but instead just would not move. I had to drag her and she threw up from the leash being so tight around her neck. It was horrible and I told her "lo siento" so many times and gave her so many kisses. Once they were inside the vet and in the large, outdoors holding area together, they were back to being loving and sweet. They did not hold any of it against me, and for that I was grateful.

After I got them into their pen, I went to the recovery room to check on yesterday's dogs. I was disgusted with what I found and it was definitely one of the most emotional parts of the trip. The dogs in the small recovery room were all lying in their own shit and urine. They had obviously not been tended to in a very long time. And, to make matters worse, ta Doberman who had come in a few days earlier for emergency surgery at the vet (not related to the Perros Project) was dead in his pen. He'd obviously been dead a very long time and nobody had done anything or even checked on him. The women who work at the vet were there already, but had not even thought to check on the dogs. They were sweeping and chatting. I asked, then asked again, then ordered them to clean up in there. It was terrible and I was there with only one other PP volunteer. Cleanliness and observation standards are obviously very different here than they are at vet clinics I'm used to in the US.

Our vet, Lisa, who is leaving tonight so she had to pack up, arrived around 10:30 and we got started on spaying Mama. I was in charge of prepping her for surgery, which meant giving her injections of sedative and pain meds (which I had to draw up), taking her vital signs, and shaving her abdomen. I realized, when working on this dog I had bonded with, that I had learned a lot the first 2 days at the clinic. I felt very comfortable doing these tasks.

It was a complicated surgery and Lisa asked for assistance - I got to put on sterile gloves and assist! My job was to help with the suture string so it didn't get tangled. I was very excited and took my job seriously.

We spayed Mama and Cholo & Lito got neutered. We waited as long as we could at the vet for them to wake up, but eventually we could wait no longer. So, we carried the three of them out to the truck that was waiting for us. Three of us cradled the dogs, with Lisa having to put my jacket over Mama because she was shivering. We rode in the back of the truck, back to the hostel. We had to take the dogs to the hostel because we realized, while still at the vet, that we did not have an address to take them back to and we couldn’t reach the volunteers at the other clinic. They knew where to go. So we took them back to the hostel and laid them in some grass. They were all still so groggy and barely awake, and they were all shivering – so I went upstairs to my room and got as many of my clothes as possible to put over them. Then a group of us sat with them, stroking them and making sure they stayed warm. Finally, the other volunteers returned and we learned the dogs’ address. Another volunteer tried to pick Mama up and she screamed out, so I was summoned to carry her. She let me pick her up without any complaint. We hopped in a taxi (Mama and Lito still being cradled) and took them home. Their human was waiting for them and we gently laid them down to the other 3 dogs from the other clinic. I was rather emotional when I said good bye to them, especially to Mama. She and I went through a lot that day and I could tell she really trusted me. These dogs have it good compared to most of the dogs we spayed / neutered. They were safe while recovering and had someone who truly cared about their well-being and understood what they need in life. I will miss Mama.

When we got back to the hostel, a few of us went out for a late dinner. It was a nice way to relax and talk about the week with some of the remaining few volunteers still in Huanchaco.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 4

I started off this morning by heading into the deep town of Huanchaco, up where tourists don't go and many residents do not have electricity or running water, to pick up dogs for surgery. Yesterday, two of Perros Project people had gone up there and spoken, aided by a translator, to residents. Some people had agreed to get their dog spayed / neutered so we went back today to pick them up. Of the first 3 we went to, none of them agreed to release their dogs. Of the second 3, 2 did. We ended up with only 2 dogs instead of the 6 we were anticipating. We loaded those 2 dogs (and one human who wanted to accompany his dog) into the cabs we were in and headed to the clinics.

In hindsight, there are things I would change if we were doing it this way again. First of all, I would show up the morning of surgery and take dogs immediately when the human agrees. As it turns out, giving people 24 hours to think about it and talk to others wasn't a great idea the first time. And I would make sure and have an excellent translator with us - I have not been impressed with our translator at all. She is rather timid and not good at translating our questions (ex: we asked in English whether the Peruvian vet thinks a certain additional surgery on a street dog is a good idea and she asked him whether he himself wanted to do it.) Also, it makes sense that people did not want to give up their dogs - we're strangers, taking their dogs away in taxis. Most people do not have cars and their dogs most certainly have never been in a car / taxi. Many people expressed concern that their dog would not be home to guard their house. Finally, someone expressed concern that we were possibly vet students come to take dogs to the university to experiment on.

We got to the clinic and I immediately realized I was much more comfortable there than the day before. Plus, there was a PP volunteer there who hadn't been there before, and it became my role to teach her what to do. So, I rolled up my shirtsleeves and just got to it. We had 6 dogs waiting (2 from the town and then some who came in with their humans who heard about our clinic) and we knew there might be more coming. We got straight to it. Super-vet Lisa neutered a street dog we have called Chili and the Peruvian vet, who is awesome, Fernando, got to spaying the Pit Bull we collected from the town. Her human came with us. At first, he asked whether he could sit through the surgery with her and we told him no. In hindsight, that was a mistake. He sincerely cared for her and wanted to be a part of it all to make sure she was ok. He sat patiently out in the waiting area until I noticed and called him in. He watched for about 5 minutes before he got a little queasy and went back to sit down. I kept in touch him with him through very broken Spanish and hand signals. After she, Tiffy, was done and in the recovery room, I brought him back to sit with her for a little bit. He was thrilled to see her. He then collected the chain he had brought her in with. I could not handle the thought of this beautiful, friendly, loving Pittie going home on a chain so I offered to buy him a new collar and leash from the selection at the vet's office. He graciously accepted and chose a black and white collar and a blue / red / yellow woven leash. When Tiffy woke up, we brought him back to greet her and she immediately started wagging her tail. He was very gentle with her and guided her out to the waiting area and into a cab. He was given pain meds to take home with him (through a PP volunteer who is fluent in Spanish) and instructions on how to care for her. His name is Mario. Tiffy is muzzled because, despite being great with humans and good with the street dogs she lives near, she was not friendly to the strange dogs in the clinic!

While Tiffy was being born, the National Police brought in another Pit Bull. This one, we named Mama, was found on the side of the road giving birth to dead green babies. She was obviously in distress so the police brought her straight to us and Fernando, the Peruvian vet, did surgery on her after examining her. He determined there were more babies inside still and did a spay that involved removing them (they were dead already). She bled a lot because she has a blood born disease, spread by ticks, that prevents the street dogs from clotting properly. She survived the surgery and was allowed to stay at the clinic overnight so that she didn't have to go straight back onto the street, just hours after giving birth and then having a hysterectomy. I did not find out that she was permitted to stay overnight until we were at dinner last night. It was the final dinner the whole group will have together as many people are leaving tonight and tomorrow, so we were all making statements about our day. I started crying when I talked about Mama and how, while we were eating and drinking merrily, she was trying to survive on the street. Someone gave me the beautiful news that she had at least one night of quiet and safe time before she'll be returned to the street. Here is Mama.

All in all, we spayed / neutered 7 dogs and one cat yesterday before leaving. We left 2 dogs (1 spay, 1 neuter) for Fernando to finish after we had to leave. The reason we had to leave was pretty exciting - the Mayor of Trujillo wanted to recognize our efforts. We went to a beautiful, old building (dressed in dirty clothes from the day!) for a ceremony in Spanish that ended in us being presented personalized, individual certificates from the Municipality and each being given a coat of arms flag. It was so special.

It was a PP volunteer's 45th birthday yesterday so we all went out for our final group dinner.

Our ride back to the hostel was in the back of a truck!

And, finally, here is Lula. She is the reason the Perros Project exists. Courtney & Matt found her, very very very sick, on the side of the road. They forged relationships while in Huanchaco and got her medical attention and found her a permanent home! Unfortunately, over the last year, her aggressive cancer has come back. It's not operable, so she probably will not be around much longer. But she is a beautiful soul who shines light everywhere she goes.

Some more photos from the clinic yesterday

Cuddling and comforting a dog who was hit by a car a few days ago and got care and was neutered.

Super-vet Lisa comforting a dog

Beautiful boy waiting for his surgery.

Waiting for her surgery!

Looking back on Day 3

I woke up this morning, day 4, much more tired than I've been on other days. Yes, partly that has to do with the fact that I was up until 1am (uploading pictures and blogging), and I'm up at 6:30, but I blame being tired and being awake so late on how emotional yesterday was. I was simply unable to unwind last night, which is unusual for me.

Being at the shelter is pure love. The dogs are happy, for the most part healthy*, and in a pack they need. Many of them crave attention, which is apparent as soon a we try to walk through the entrance. We get to do manual labor, which just feels good, and from which we see immediate differences. And we leave without creating any pain in any dog.

The clinic is an entirely different experience. It's true that I had to get used to being at the shelter, but it took only a matter of an hour or 2 before I was entrenched in the lifestyle there and eager to go back. The shelter will take much more time, and I'm certain I will not manage to feel at home there on this short visit.

The dogs there are not in the pack that they have grown up needing, be it their "pack" on the street (of dogs who roam the same area and humans who live there) or their pack at the shelter. They have been brought to the shelter by their human or by Erica (who collects strays and brings them to us) and have been left there, all alone. They are confined to a pen and then handled by us, strangers to them. And then we hurt them - for the greater good, but it's still pain. And then we leave at night, leaving them at the clinic to start their recovery alone and with very little amenities or creature comforts. Do they need creature comforts and are they used to them? No, but I am, so the visuals are powerful to my brain and my heart.

I cannot help by wonder whether (1) we are any better off with our dog population in the US and (2) how we manage our dog population is more humane. Allow me to explain.

(1) We have a LOT of dogs in the US in shelters. Some of those shelters - I have seen some - are no better than the shelter down here. Yes, the dogs are in individual pens, but they are therefore isolated from their pack, they get less attention than if they were able to be in a pack, and they don't get to take a run to the beach every day! And, given that they are locked up in pens away from the public view, we (a) do not think we have a dog problem, and (b) tourists coming to visit do not see the "dog problem" and try to solve it. The only reason Courtney & Matt founded the Perros Project is that they met Lola and then saw all the other dogs and realized there was a need down here. Had they all been neatly locked away - as we do in the US - they might not have even thought to come back, a group of volunteers in tow.

A side note to (1): yes, there is concern here that dogs are not as healthy as we'd like, and that they are at risk of being hit by a car or (I guess, but have not heard of it) poisoned. But they live rather free lives. And they are not at risk of being euthanized. The euthanasia rate in the US is something nobody should be proud of or ok with. The ability to walk down the street and buy a puppy is something we should outlaw, given the high euthanasia rate for living, breathing, sentient creatures we call "man's best friend."

(2) We manage our dog population the best we know how: erase the problem from the public view and then spend money on adoption campaigns so the public sees only the nice parts of it and hopefully comes to find their furry companion. But we lock the dogs up in concrete pens, sometimes with little to no stimulation (depending on where in the country you are). We take them on brief walks, hopefully once a day. We don't allow them to interact with each other, even in a supervised manner - in fact, it's one of the main rules most shelters have. And then, when they have been there too long or cause too much problem, we decide when it's time to cart them off to a small room to end their life (sometimes in a humane way, and sometimes in a way that makes a little news but is quickly forgotten about).

The point of this blog is to explain what I am feeling. Before I came down here, I thought "poor dogs" and "I need to help them." I still feel that way. There is nothing perfect about this situation, and I was pissed off at humanity yesterday. We cause so many problems to other species and then do not properly fix it. We put a little money towards problems, but only enough to clean the problem up from public view, not enough to really and truly fix the problem (BP is coming to mind, and what "cleaning up" will actually mean, but that's an entirely different assault on the world). But, I am no longer feeling so sorry for these dogs versus dogs at home. I know street dogs here, especially the more rural dogs, suffer and rarely know when their next meal will be or from where it will come. I'd love to scoop them all up and bring them home. I know they'll find homes, especially when I "advertise" them with their stories attached.** I saw how quickly Katrina dogs got adopted, over "normal" dogs at the same shelters. We want to do the right thing and when given the option and a good story, we generally do. But I cannot bring them all home. I can only do my part here for the next few days.

The moral of the story? If you care about the plight of homeless dogs, I see it as: don't buy puppies, adopt, and volunteer at the local shelter so those living there have more of what they need.

* My standards of "healthy" have already changed. Some of the dogs at the shelter have mange, some have injuries, and most are skinnier than American dogs are. But I call them healthy because that is what they are.

** Some stories I'd "advertise" include (1) Trash can dog (we spayed her first yesterday). She was literally found in a trash can, left for dead, with 3 of her 4 paws broken. She's a beautiful 6 month old soul. I love her. (2) The dog at the shelter whose abdomen was cut open, as if she'd been experimented on at the local university's vet school (I've heard of this happening - but don't fault them for rounding up stray dogs - vet schools in the US do the same, except "rounding up" means buying dogs and cats from shelters or buying other creatures from vendors). She was left for dead on the street. (3) Each and every dog at the shelter born with some congenital defect that makes him or her 3 legged or humpbacked. They'd all find home where they could rest easily and have plenty of food.