As I looked across the large gymnasium where we had set up our temporary MASH style hospital I saw the line up of people with their pets constantly increasing. We were in for a busy day. As part of the Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT) we were here to provide our fourth annual Animal Health Care Clinic. It was our final annual visit to provide veterinary services to low-income First Nations families in the community of Burns Lake, British Columbia.
As I looked at the line of people and pets I saw a lot of large dogs, then, I noticed an older lady with her very tiny little white dog in her arms. She held him very closely and was waiting patiently. I went over to talk to her and was introduced to “Peanut”, a 7 year old tiny mixed breed dog. We soon discovered that “Peanut” had a condition called cryptorchidism (where his one testicle had not descended). I explained to her that his condition put him at a greatly increased risk for developing testicular infection, torsion and cancer. It was very important for his overall health that he be neutered but she was very nervous about the surgery.
After reassuring her we would do all we could to ensure his safety, she looked at me with trusting eyes and very carefully handed him over to me. I left her with her daughter to wait for the surgery to be completed. As soon as he was moved into our recovery area I set up a chair for her to be able to sit and snuggle him in a blanket. She was very happy to have her little friend back in her arms and she and her whole family stayed with him for the rest of the afternoon until he was ready to go home. We knew that, because of having the surgery, not only would his risk of other complications due to his condition be resolved but he would also not be able to contribute to the overpopulation issues but he would not be passing on the highly heritable condition he had been carrying.
The next day, I saw the same woman standing in line again, with her daughter but without her little dog. I immediately went over to ask if he was all right. Her face opened up into a big smile, she said he was doing really well and she had come to thank us. The night before, once they had returned home, her daughter had explained to her that the entire team of people that were there were volunteering their time, had paid their own way to the community, and did fundraising to be able to provide the services. She told me that she and her family had sat around the dinner table and decided that they would all contribute what they could and they brought in a donation to thank us for what we had done.
After four years of annual events, we have been able to vaccinate, deworm and sterilize over 600 animals. There are measurable benefits to the reduction in unsterilized animals. Impoundments in the village of Burns Lake continue to be about one-third of previous levels saving the local taxpayers about $8000 per year in direct costs. Animals in need of re-homing, that often were surrendered to the local rescue group, Turtle Gardens, have decreased by 50% from previous levels.
It is great to know we are making a large scale, long term difference, however, being able to help people like the lady with her beloved little dog makes it very personal. There are so many communities full of people that have pets that they love and want to take care of but they just don’t have the means or the access to the services that are needed. To be able to provide that service, free of charge, to the animals and people in need is exactly what CAAT is there for. With the incredible generosity of our Aeroplan donors, we have been able to reduce our travel costs and make our work in Burns Lake (for the past four years) a reality. Thank you for your contributions, they have made a difference to hundreds of dogs and cats and have reduced the population growth over the next several years by the thousands. Thank you so much for your continued support and for helping dogs like “Peanut” live a happy, healthy life.