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.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 3: the clinic

Today I went to the Ahren Clinic. Fernando and his wife, Paulina, are veterinarians who own and operate this clinic. It's located on a very busy round-about called "Ovolo Papal" which means "Papal Oval" or Papal round-about for those of us who think in those terms.

We got there around 9am and were immediately inundated with new clients and caring for the dogs were spayed / neutered the day before. Caring for them means making sure their incision sites hadn't opened overnight and that they were in ok-health. Things seemed to be going ok and the dogs from yesterday were going home with their humans - and then a beautiful little black and white doggie came in. She was spayed on Tuesday and went home yesterday. Her humans, who care for her deeply, brought her back in because her wound was open and she had been messing with it.

To set the stage, I will tell you that I sat in on a major surgery for my dog when I was 17 and then sat through some intense surgical situations with my cat and dog last year when they were both fighting cancer. Never did I feel queasy or sick, and am in fact hoping to go to vet school at some point later on in life. Today, however, I "lost my shit" and had to remove myself from the surgery table and sit down to regain composure. I literally felt ill and dizzy. In hindsight, I realize it was because of the conditions and that those conditions were overwhelming for my body that was still recovering from the long traveling on Monday / Tuesday.

So, this little black & white doggie came in. She needed immediate assistance. We had to give her a drug that starts with a K (but I forget the rest of the name) to try to numb her so the vet could put in many more stitches. That drug, when going in, stings terribly and she started crying and crying and crying. She did not try to bite, but instead just cried out in immense pain. Her procedure today was done while she was held by Alex. Here's a picture of her and Alex, while super-vet Lisa works on her.

After we finished with that darling doggie and sent her home with her humans with oral pain meds, we turned to beautiful little Lula. We joke and call her "Trash can dog" because she literally was found in a trash can, left for dead, with 3 of her paws broken. She's about 6 months old, maybe less, and is ABSOLUTELY PRECIOUS. She got spayed today. Here's a photo of her surgery.

Surgeries at the clinics here (there are 2 clinics going simultaneously) are very different from in the States. You can see in the picture above a little. We were working in a small and very dirty (i.e. flies flying around) room with commotion going on around us constantly (dogs barking, dogs walking in and out of the surgery room, people coming in and out, and less equipment than the vets would have liked). To make it worse, the vets did not have the right amount of pain medication and anesthetic to properly put the dog under. This means that they would actually show signs of waking up or sensitivity during the surgery. It was one of the scariest things I've experienced in a long time. While super-vet Lisa was working on the dogs, I was stationed at the dog's head, watching for any sign of movement. One of the dogs started blinking and then actually lifted her head up to see what was going on. We immediately stopped and gave her more meds. She went back under. Another dog started whining intensely. Again, we stopped and get her more meds. As I learned, however, we didn't want to have to give them more meds. Why? Because it would mean them being under longer and being under longer meant being under on a cold slab of concrete (aka the recovery floor) longer which meant recovery was impeded because the dog was cold. So, we tried to power through as quickly as possible so the dog could wake up and start to regulate his or her own body temperature. Excuse my french, but holy shit. I had to force myself to not blog for hours because I was not in an appropriate head space to write. I was very mad at the world - mad at humanity for what we have created and what we have to try to undo or fix. And mad that we didn't have perfect conditions to try to make it easier on these brave dogs.

This brings me to another point. These dogs, unlike the dogs who (I know realize) are rather neurotic in developed counties, rarely show any signs of aggression. They get along with other dogs, cats, chickens, humans, you name it. They roam the streets and do not really fight. Instead, they are perfectly integrated. And, at the clinic, they did not resort to anger or aggression when they were scared. They simply vocalized what they were feeling and let us do our job. It is incredible. They are stoic when they wake up from their surgeries, and recover so quickly. They are inspirational.

When it was all said and done, 2 clinics (one US and one Peruvian vet at each clinic) spayed / neutered 17 dogs & cats.

We finished work today and took a bus ride to a local ruin. We all needed to clear our heads after these 3 days of physically and emotionally hard work. The ruins, called Chan Chan, were unique. They've been around since 850 AD and are a collection of palaces for the royalty of the time. Each king would build his own palace and surround himself with his own peasants, concubines, and guards. When he died, his peasants, concubines and guards would die (involuntarily) and be buried near him. I learned that this idea (his people being killed when he died) would ensure that his people would not kill him in order to try to take over. As I write this, I realize I'm not sure who killed everyone if everyone was being killed - perhaps the king who was taking over? I guess that leaves open room for that king having an incentive to kill them all. I guess no system is perfect! Here's a picture of Chan Chan. The walls used to be 3 meters (about 9 feet) tall. They are no longer, unfortunately.

And, for shits and giggles, here's a picture of a Peruvian hairless dog. He lives at Chan Chan.

After Chan Chan, I needed a little Steph time to clear my head completely, so I took a quick walk on the beach. It helped and I am ready to power through these final 4 days. Tomorrow, the shelter folks will be stretching the fence, attaching the gates, laying more bricks & building a roof. The clinic people will be spaying / neutering. I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I will start at 8:15 by going to pick up the dogs for surgery and transporting them. I might stay at the clinic or I might head to the shelter. That remains to be seen! Check back. As always, pictures are all on Facebook.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 2

We started off today with the breakfast that is included with our hostel room. I'm in a lovely triple room with 2 other women, and my single bed is up against the window. The breakfast includes eggs (which I am choosing not to eat because it seems chickens in Peru are treated almost as badly as chickens in the US), bread, strawberry jam and freshly squeezed juice. Today (picture below), the juice seemed to be papaya or some other delicious tropical fruit. Yesterday it was fresh squeezed OJ.

After breakfast, a few of us headed back to the shelter. The task today: to complete building a wall that will end up being a secured storage area for the shelter. Before we got started, however, it was time to "walk" the dogs - all of them. Each day, sometimes more than once, the dogs get a "walk" to the beach. That means the shelter door is opened and all the dogs go charging out, at full speed, and take off racing to the beach. No leashes, no collars, just them and their energy. They sniff and run and bark their way down (disturbing the neighbors, no doubt) all the way to the beach which is about a 1/4 mile down. Once there, they play in the water and sniff. We were told to direct them with whistles and hand clapping - and it worked! Then, when we decided it was time to bring all 40+ dogs back, we clapped and whistled and started heading back . . . and they followed (or lead). Once back inside the shelter, they all lay down and fell asleep. Amazing experience.

I can't help but compare this experience to working at a shelter in the US. In Oregon, at OHS, I had to take a 4+ hour training on how to walk dogs. Then and only then, I can walk one dog at a time, on a leash, in a designated area. And I can't let dogs interact, and certainly can't walk those deemed "aggressive." Very different from today. I also cannot help but think that these dogs - despite being homeless dogs with flees and other risks, are perhaps happier than the homeless dogs in the US. They run and play and live in a pack. They breath fresh air and run. They sleep together and get fed. I know that this is the exception to homeless dogs in South America, and I am certainly not saying that South American homeless dogs have it easy. What I can't help but think is that human intervention to clean up the homeless dog problem results in more suffering to the dogs.

Back to the wall building: They (the shelter) have been robbed twice in the past few weeks, and had important stuff like their propane tank stolen. We're hoping to prevent that from happening again. Building a wall meant learning how to build a wall. We got a lesson from a master teacher, Jesus, who showed us how to mix the mortar to the perfect consistency, lay the bricks, fill in between them, etc. It took about an hour of teaching and showing and correcting before he set us free and went on to help other volunteers get necessary supplies from the town of Trujillo.

We worked all day on the wall - can't believe how long it took to lay the bricks and we're not even close to done. But it was worth it and a great skill to learn how to do and practice immediately. Around 5pm, the sun came out and the beach was beautiful as we walked to get a real meal. All in all a truly wonderful day.

I think tomorrow I'll go to one of the 2 spay / neuter clinics that are happening in Trujillo. So far, they've spayed and neutered about 15 dogs and a number of cats. These are all neighborhood dogs and cats who live with humans (they are not at the shelter) and are brought in by their humans who are interested in a free fix. I have learned that a spay in Trujillo costs somewhere around $100 US. This is outrageously high, given there are many people in this city who do not have electricity. It is no surprise to me that there is such a high street dog / cat population.

All my photos are on Facebook.


Lunch every day

The dogs at the shelter eat one meal a day, but they eat in style. Daniel, the man who works at the shelter every day, cooks their meal in a giant pot. It's a mixture of rice and vegetables, with some kind of additive that gives them protein they need. The dogs are surprisingly patient and do not bother him while he cooks. They do not even bother him while he pours it into the giant pot to cool (perhaps the heat is why they're not interested at first) and then he decides when it's time to eat and they follow his direction. It's quite an amazing routine / ritual that takes so much dedication.

They do, however, bother EVERYONE else eating or trying to eat!

(by the way, this guy's name really truly is Jesus, so in this picture, Jesus is feeding fish to his followers)

Some photos!

Here are some pictures from the shelter. Our first day there!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 1 down - lots done and lots more to do!

I'll include our travels from Portland to Huanchaco in Day 1. The trip down was almost uneventful, but all worked out well so I almost don't want to dwell on the minor events. Instead, I'll tell you the most fascinating part of the flight (and the saddest) and that was being able to see the fires burning on the Gulf of Mexico - fire burning oil on water. From where we were, they didn't really look like fires, but instead looked more like the flares people put down on the road after a car accident. The pilot alerted us to what they were. It was grim.

But, this blog is not dedicated to the travels down. Instead, it's dedicated to the Perros Project, and today was my first day down there. I plan on trying to blog in the mornings about the day before, but because you all know I just got down here, I feel that I want to do some tonight. I'm tired, having slept only about 4 hours in the last 40-odd hours, and that sleep was on an overnight flight. We got to the hostel this morning around 8am and left for the shelter at 9am. We were greeted at the shelter by about 45 dogs, all of whom were so so so excited to see us. Yesterday, the Perros Project had dug a few holes for fences posts. Today, we dug 9 or 10 more, then dug trenches along the future fence line, then picked up about 250 bricks from the town of Trujillo and delivered them to the shelter (imagine a line of 13 people handing bricks down the line to move them - it was cool and efficient). We then set the fence posts and put concrete in the holes. We even put our initials in the concrete, knowing the concrete will be covered up by dirt.

We worked straight from 9am until the sun set and darkness moved in at 6:30pm. Our only real break (I do not include driving in the back of a pickup truck to pick up bricks as a break!) was to eat our jelly sandwich over lunch.

It is AMAZING being down here. Watching us work together on a project and accomplish so much. I am already in love with 3 dogs and would love to bring them to the US and find them the homes they deserve - I might (Geoff got a text to this effect, but I have yet to hear back from him on that topic!). The dogs are not aggressive and are friendly and eager to grab any second of affection they can get.

I'll write more in the morning, but now I need to get some real food and a good night's sleep! Please stay tuned. This is an adventure of a lifetime.

I'm having trouble figuring out how to add photos to this - so if you're my Facebook friend, check them out there!!! I'll figure it out after I get some food and sleep.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Off to Peru in 24 hours!

Off to Peru tomorrow! Portland --> Dallas --> Miami --> Lima --> Trujillo by plane, then Trujillo --> Huanchaco by ground transportation. How exciting! It'll take about 17 hours to get there, I think, although I'm a little confused about how far ahead of Portland time Peru is...

Will try to update this blog as soon and as often as I can!

For now, though, Happy Solstice!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who is the Moose and why is the Moose in Peru?!

My husband, Geoff, has called me "Moose" or referred to me as "the Moose" for as long as I can remember. We have no idea where the nickname came from or why he chose it, but it has certainly stuck!

Why is the moose in Peru? It's called the Perros Project and it's the brainchild of Courtney and Matt. They traveled to South America last summer and were overcome by the needs of the dogs in the small town of Huanchaco, Peru. Determined to return to change the lives of those dogs, they founded a non-profit and have been working tirelessly to get back, a group of volunteers in tow.

This blog is for you: the ones who have donated to my efforts and supported me emotionally. I could not be going down there without you. Thank you. I just set this blog up and probably won't be back on it for a while as I don't leave for a month - but wanted to test it out. My plan is to update it at least once a day while I'm in Peru, though!

For more information or to donate to the non-profit, please visit www.perrosproject.org.

Bought my ticket, ready to go!

I finally bought my ticket. It turned out to be good to wait as long as I did, though. We had thought we could get really cheap tickets from Lima to Trujillo, but that was incorrect. Turns out LAN (Peruvian airline) decided back last summer to adjust rates and charge according to where someone lives. So, we tourists pay more than the Peruvians (which I actually agree with). Waiting so long to buy my ticket means that I bought the whole way from Portland --> Trujillo rather than getting myself stuck in Lima and having to buy an extra round-trip that cost more.

Leave on 6/21. Will be in Huanchaco by the morning of 6/22 and will get straight to work at the spay / neuter clinic and building the shelter.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed financially and emotionally in making this happen. I cannot wait to help those dogs.