On my first morning in Rincón de Guayabitos, a small town on the Pacific coast of Nayarit, Mexico, I was enjoying my coffee on a patio overlooking the beach when I saw them; the reason I had flown from Wisconsin to Puerto Vallarta, then taken a bus two hours north through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains to a place I had never heard of. There on the damp sand, groups of dogs wandered purposefully between oceanfront food stands, empty beach chairs and abandoned restaurants searching for remnants of food from last night’s vacationers.
Some walked confidently up to other early risers, begging for breakfast, while others moved cautiously, low to the ground, trying to go unnoticed as they made their morning rounds. Many stopped to frantically scratch and bite at their dirty coats before continuing on their way. By the time the sun had fully come up and bathed the beach in light, the dogs were mostly gone, seeking shelter from humans and heat and looking for a way to pass another uncertain day.
I was first made aware of Mexico’s stray dog problem when a friend of mine returned from her honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta and told me about the number of dogs she saw roaming and visibly uncared for. This friend also happened to be a fellow veterinary technician and coworker, so we began searching for a way we could use our skills to help the homeless animals that had captured her heart while she was traveling.
While looking for organizations addressing pet overpopulation near Puerto Vallarta, we came upon the Jaltemba Bay Animal Rescue. Located in Los Ayala, Nayarit, Jaltemba Bay Animal Rescue (JBAR) consists of a core network of passionate volunteers who partner with local and international organizations to host twice-yearly free sterilization clinics, in addition to helping with day-to-day needs of underserved animals in the Jaltemba area.
We reached out to Lin Chimes, the founder of JBAR, and she enthusiastically welcomed us to participate in their upcoming four-day free clinic. We made our arrangements, gathered donations of medications and supplies, and went to Mexico to fulfill our dream of making a difference.
At 8 a.m. we left our hotel and walked twenty minutes to the home where the clinic was being held. Pet owners and rescuers had begun lining up at 7:30 a.m., and by the time the volunteer meeting was held, 133 dogs and cats were checked in for the first day of procedures.
All animals were marked with an identification number and matching paperwork, then placed in a crate and taken to the back patio where examinations, surgeries and recovery would take place. Stainless steel surgery and fold-out picnic tables were set up under tarps stretched to provide shade. Volunteers ranged from experienced to novice; veterinary professionals to (extra)ordinary animal lovers, and came from as close as down the block and as far away as Canada.
During the orientation session, volunteers who were assigned to recovery (many of whom had no medical background) received instruction in how to obtain vital signs including temperature, pulse and respiration. Recovery was also the time to remove ticks, clean ears, trim nails and determine if treatment for mange or other superficial conditions was necessary. A large number of animals receiving services at the clinic had loving homes and were beautifully cared for, but some were strays and required extra attention.
As a visiting veterinary technician, my role during the clinic was primarily to circulate and help volunteers with questions, attend to any animals whose recovery was abnormal and be available to consult with veterinarians about any medical concerns. Veterinary technicians who regularly work at free clinics in the area efficiently handled induction, intravenous catheter placement and intubation. The veterinarians performing the sterilization surgeries worked quickly, and before long, the recovery area was filled.
All animals were carefully monitored after surgery, with vitals recorded every five minutes by attentive volunteers. Hyperthermia in the 86 degree Fahrenheit heat was a concern for adult animals, while tiny kittens and puppies often needed to be warmed with hot water bottles. Dogs woke up quickly, and I rushed to confirm which patients were ready for extubation and to have their IV catheters removed.
As surgeries wound down, all veterinary professionals turned their attention to final examinations of patients before discharging them to their owners or foster families. By the end of the first day I was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time—also simultaneously amazed by what we accomplished and excited by how many more animals we could help over the remaining days.
While curbing overpopulation is the clinic’s main goal, many animals also received care which improved their comfort and quality of life. All patients received flea and tick treatment before they left the clinic, and suspected cases of mange received oral medication. Volunteers spent hours removing engorged ticks from dogs who had the parasites lodged between their toes and clustered inside and behind their ears.
The animal I will remember most was a dog brought in by a local woman who had rescued him from a neglectful situation. He was a bichon-type neutered male so matted that he was unable to walk. His rear legs were fused to a mat covering his back and sides, and his jaw was unable to open fully due to his tangled facial hair. Another volunteer and I worked together to slowly free him, shaving away his filthy hair in one piece like a sheep’s fleece. Under the hair, dead fleas and ticks littered his thin body. We finally managed to clean him up, treat him for topical parasites and send him home with his grateful rescuer. Seeing him walk away unencumbered was one of the highlights of my time in Mexico.
I also found it very fulfilling to work with an international team of people focused on a common, compassionate cause. Ten years ago, Canadian veterinarian Dr. Malcolm Macartney was so affected by his experience volunteering at one of JBAR’s sterilization clinics that he formed the Mexi-Can Vet Project, a group of veterinary professionals who, since 2010, have traveled from Canada twice yearly to assist in the Jaltemba clinics and fly adoptable dogs back with them.
In one conversation I had with Dr. Macartney, he summarized the value of participating in veterinary volunteer work, saying, “For me it has been a great joy to be part of something which has made an obvious difference in the lives of so many animals and people of the Mexican communities who, until JBAR existed, had very little means of helping reduce the large overpopulation of dogs and cats in these towns. In addition, it has raised the animal welfare and health education bar and we have seen pet care awareness improve dramatically.”
JBAR also partners with veterinarians and veterinary technicians from Mexico through PEACE Mexico and Pets for Life, an incredible team of dedicated individuals who hold year-round clinics to serve the local communities.
Why It Works
In the four days offered by the clinic 437 animals were sterilized. This brings the total of dogs and cats spayed and neutered by Jaltemba Bay Animal Rescue, since its founding in 2003, to an astonishing 9,241 animals.
Additionally, this clinic led to a number of stray animals finding permanent homes, some locally and some in Canada through the Mexi-Can Vet Project.
Why It Matters
Many lives, both human and animal, were changed in those four days—not the least of which was mine. I have never been prouder to be a veterinary technician than I was during my time there, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a small part of something making such a big impact. +