The Story of Ecuador: How two New Orleanians helped to spay/neuter 715 pets in 5 days

Guest post from Shana Hayward, Louisiana SPCA Community Clinic Medical Manager.

“Dr. Jayme Lauderdale and I spent a week in Ambato, Ecuador volunteering free high volume spay/neuter in different communities throughout the area. We partnered up with Dr. Diego Barrera who has spent years in Ambato rallying municipal support for free spay/neuter services and promoting responsible pet ownership. Dr. Diego was the primary shelter veterinarian at the local municipal shelter and recently opened his own clinic SNAP (Spay/Neuter Ambato Program). Over the last few years Dr. Diego has developed relationships with Ecuadorian and North American Vets to collaborate efforts with the Municipality in Ambato to organize pop-up spay/neuter clinics throughout the community bringing services directly to the people. We were invited by Dr. Karter from Arizona who has been going to Ambato for the last few years to assist Dr. Diego with these clinics. Dr. Karter is Dr. Lauderdale’s high volume mentor from several years ago and probably the fasted surgeon I have ever seen. Also joining us was Shelby for Soul Dog Rescue, which is an organization out of Colorado who organizes high volume pop-up clinics on Native American Reservations throughout Colorado and New Mexico. Shelby brought Dr. Parker a vet from Denver who works with Soul Dog. Also, joining us was Dr. Christian, who is an Ecuadorian Veterinarian who is currently living in the U.S. and working on finishing his U.S. medical licensing. Dr. Christian also works with Soul Dog on their reservation work and Dr. Diego on the Ecuadorian end. On our last day we also had assistance from Dr. Alejandro who is an Ecuadorian surgeon who works with our host Dr. Diego.

We did five clinic days in five different areas in Ambato. Each surgery day people lined up with their pets and waited in line to receive surgery and vaccines and waited for their pets to recover from surgery before returning to their homes. The area is inundated with dogs, who are cruising the streets freely everywhere. The goal was to preform between 100-150 surgeries per day with 3 to 4 surgeons and a separate veterinarian checking in the animals and drawing up drug dosages for anesthetic induction before sending them in to the pre-surgery prep area. We had three experienced high volume technicians prepping, one tech monitoring during surgery, 4 recovery technicians and a number of other helpers bringing animals in and out of our “surgical” area, communicating with clients and cleaning surgical instruments and endotracheal tubes. The conditions changed daily from a community center to a polling office to a government office to finally a room under a stage at a carnival.

In the unknown conditions of Hurricane Harvey, Dr. Lauderdale and I decided to ditch our flights from New Orleans to Atlanta and rented a car and drove the 6 1/2 hour to Atlanta to catch our 4 pm flight from Atlanta to Quito. We arrived in Quito around 11 pm, met up with the other veterinarians and volunteers at the airport after making it through customs. We packed up our ridiculous amount of luggage and gear onto the tops of vans and the backs of trucks and made the three hour drive to Ambato. Needless to say, we were pretty pooped after the trek and fell into bed at our safari themed hotel at 3:30 am.

Day 1: After a long travel day and a few hours sleep we spent the day just settling in. We went to an indigenous market and bought Alpaca blankets and hammocks, ate local grub at an open air market and bought fruits and snacks for the week ahead. We rescued a puppy, visited Diego’s clinic, went by the animal shelter and learned that the local human hospital allows Dr. Diego to shoot x-rays for 5 dollars on his animal patients. We were then treated to Coffee and Waffles (Pronounced Waff-Lays) by Miss Ambato (the local pet loving beauty queen) and City Counsel members as a thank you for coming to Ambato to volunteer our time to support their mission.

Day 2: We were in an area called Pilahuin, which is an indigenous community on the far edge of Ambato (about an hour from the city center). We set up in a community center building while people walked with their dogs in wheelbarrows and cats in burlap sacks to line up around the building and wait for their turn to receive surgery. The local women sat outside peeling garlic and spun down wool to make yarn while their pets went through the surgical process. Local children climbed up on chairs to peak through the windows to watch us inside. A local lunch spot made us soup and juice, some bowls equipped with a chicken foot. Around 7 or 8 pm we wrapped up our surgical day and had completed somewhere in the neighborhood of 115 surgeries, mostly female dogs.

Day 3: Second pop-up clinic, we went to an area called Juan Benigno Vela and set up shop at a polling office. We were in an upstairs room while people lined up down the stairs through the hall, out the door and down the road. The nun at the nearby church stood outside just watching the pet chaos with amusement. Everywhere we went we had “Peepers”. People who would find any way to watch us through the window. On this day different people would take turns climbing an electrical pole to watch us through the second story window. By the end of the day we had done about 150 surgeries, again, mostly dog spays.

Day 4: Santa Rosa: We set up at the District Counsel office. When we arrived at 8 am, the line was the longest yet. It wrapped through a courtyard, out of the building and around the block. The small building we were in was completely surrounded in windows, so preforming surgery was a little bit like doing so in a fish tank. Families watched us all day as we tirelessly schlepped away and completed a little over 150 surgeries, again, almost entirely female dogs. This was the first day that we spotted our first bully breed dogs. Two cute little pit bull puppies. Fun fact: Poodles are the most common dog in Ecuador, followed by Shepard mixes and Shar Pei’s!

Day 5: We took a break to Banos! Which is a beautiful town on the edge of the Amazon situated between mountains and a massive Volcano. We went zip lining (against my will) over massive waterfalls, went to the swing over the edge of the earth, got a massage and soaked in hot springs. It was a much needed break as were all pretty beat up and sore from surgery.

Day 6: After our break we set up in an area called Unamuncho. We were in another government building with views of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Chimborazo, the three massive snow capped volcanoes of the region. The building came equipped with a friendly pig and a happy burro. The toilets flushed and the surgical packs could be cleaned in doors with reliable running water. Needless to say, it was a great spot. Again the line spread all the way down the street. This was a large room so owners waited indoors watching us preform surgery and participated in recovering their own pets, sitting in chairs and rocking their dogs awake wrapped in alpaca blankets. Again we preformed a little over 150 surgeries, and no surprises that they were mostly female dogs!

Day 7: On our last day we went to Atahualpa. We walked through the gates into a large open arena type space that was a carnival. There was a carousel and other small carnival rides pushed to the side to make space for the people and pets lining up. There was a colorful stage with a small room underneath the stage that would be our surgical suite for the day. We were all scheduled to fly out this evening so Dr. Alejandro joined us as a fourth surgeon to assist us in getting the surgery load finished early so that we could catch our flights home. It was a small crowded, dark room but we plowed through and finished the 150 pets in time to run back to the hotel, shower, eat a quick meal and jump on the van to make the three hour drive to Quito to fly over night back to the U.S.

Needless to say, is was a successful adventure. Our group preformed 715 surgeries in 5 clinic days. It was what I like to call a spay/neuter boot camp-cation. We were resourceful, uncomfortable and most of the time using our creative problem solving skills at maximum capacity. I loved the people, the animals and the experience overall! It was heartwarming and the local people were so thankful for our services as most of their pets had had litter upon litter before having this opportunity.