With a little tweaking, the catchy lyrics to that hit pop song invading our ear space these days, “Glad You Came,” by The Wanted, come close to capturing what it means to be a volunteer at one of CANDi’s spay and neuter clinics in Cancun, Mexico. Once you’re in the middle of a clinic in full swing and for the rest of your life, you’ll be glad you came.
Recently, CANDi announced that it will be conducting its 8th clinic from November 5-9, 2012, with the help of its wonderful local animal rescue partners and travel industry sponsors. Reading the event announcement prompted memories of my first experience as a volunteer at one of these events so I thought what the heck, it’s a Friday, I’ll take a stroll down memory lane.
A Heart Full of Hope and a Suitcase Full of Puppy Pads, Leashes and Collars
On that long plane ride down to my first CANDi clinic in October 2010, I had plenty of time to wonder what the heck I had gotten myself into. Traveling alone to the Yucatan to help sterilize animals was exhilarating yet also a tad bit scary for a middle-aged woman who closes her eyes at the teeniest sign of blood and gore–even in the movies. Gulp. But my commitment to helping the stray dogs in Cancun who had captured my heart a few years earlier made me determined to experience the on-the-ground work this great organization was doing to make a difference.
In preparation, I had filled one suitcase with whatever supplies that I thought might be helpful; puppy pads, bright collars and leashes, plastic rain ponchos, baby wipes, etc. Oh, and of course, my own personal tropical vacation essentials: a few bottles of wine and corkscrew along with sunscreen.
My second suitcase was full of what I thought was the proper attire for a spay and neuter clinic–sneakers, capri’s, tank tops, and baseball caps. By the end of that week, every piece of clothing, pair of shoes, and head gear I had brought was covered in mud, blood, random animal body fluids and solids, and smelled like unwashed street dogs. It was awesome.
No Time to Enjoy the Luxury
We CANDi volunteers were lucky enough to stay in donated rooms at a lovely hotel in the Cancun Hotel Zone. The pool and beach palapas were calling my name but as it turned out, the only free time I had to catch any sun was on the morning of the day that I flew home. Sigh. Sad but I saved a lot of dough on umbrella drinks and cervesas.
On the night before the clinic, after a quick CANDi volunteer meeting, I managed to connect to a few other volunteers staying at the hotel including a vet tech and vet from Canada, Brittany and Christy, who turned out to be hardworking professionals AND super fun young ladies. Also, a husband and wife team, Tammy and Tim, who are amazingly dedicated and kind. These folks set the bar pretty high for the other volunteers I would meet.
12 Hour Days and Barking Dogs
On the first day of the clinic we headed out to the neighborhood of Corales, where local groups including Mejora tu Entorno AC and Animalistas Cancun, had arranged for an old school building to be used for the clinic. It had already been cleaned and swept by the time we got there and it didn’t take long for the surgery and recovery areas to be set up. These volunteers knew what they were doing.
We soon had several local vets join us ready to start snipping away. It was a good thing because there were already dozens of people lined up in the hot sun with their pets waiting for our doors to open.
The rest of the day was a blur of activity. Due to my extreme squeamishness, I was quickly assigned to walking the stray dogs that were rounded up from the neighborhood to be fixed, for their potty breaks along with other random but very important tasks like holding an icepack to a male dog’s private parts to take down the swelling. Good thing he was so sweet and appreciative.
There was one little stray girl who I immediately fell in love with and she became my constant companion for the next few days. She had been picked up by someone in the road near the clinic and after an examination by fun and dedicated Dr. Christy, she was found to be severely anemic and full of worms and parasites. But this little girl, who we named Harmony, had found her way to the right place because she was quickly given the medications she needed to get her strength back. It was amazing to see her improve before my very eyes over the next few days.
After day one at the clinic, my own dogs (aka feets) were barking up a storm and it was all I could do when we got back to the hotel to take a shower, make it down to dinner, slug back a glass of wine, and crawl between the clean sheets. But as tired as my body was, my head was racing with the images of the day remembering all the stray cats and dogs that were brought in by local rescue groups like Rescate Malix, Tierra de Animales, Animalistas Cancun, Coco’s Cat Rescue, and Jaguar’s Cats. They were in such bad shape—skinny, loaded with fleas, ears crammed full of hideous little brown ticks, horrible venereal diseases and tumors, and suffering from terrible skin conditions like mange. Of the hundreds of animal diseases or parasites that exist in this world, it seemed that every cat or dog that walked in or was carried through our clinic doors was suffering from one or more of these conditions. Somehow we fixed ‘em so they couldn’t have any more unwanted kittens or puppies, cleaned ‘em up, and found homes for most of the ones that needed them.
So as satisfying as the hard work had been, my heart was even more broken by the reality and extent of the suffering. I sobbed myself to sleep that night. A pattern that continued each and every night during the rest of that week.
Every Animal Matters
We were sterilizing between 125-150 animals each day that week. The vets worked nonstop, sometimes on their feet for over 12 hours, only taking breaks at mealtimes or to use the bathroom. Cat after cat and dog after dog came across their tables and every one of these animals was treated with kindness and care.
There was one incident during my first clinic experience that I will never forget and it happened when I was assigned to watch the breathing and vitals on a female dog, Little Red Dog I called her, whose surgery had been a little more complicated because she had a tumor in her uterus. It was nerve-wracking for me because of my squeamish tendencies and it soon became even more stressful when she started bleeding heavily from her incision, soaking the bandage with her blood. Dr. Christy wrapped the bandage tighter and told me to keep watching her and keeping her warm.
Over the next hour or so, Little Red Dog began to wake up from the anesthesia and she was obviously in pain. Soon she started to vomit and the vomit was black. This was no good (internal bleeding or something bad) and meant she might not recover. In the short time that I had spent with Little Red Dog, I had became attached to her so I was crushed by her prognosis and asked what we could do for her. Laura Raikes, the smart and beautiful founder of Coco’s Cat Rescue in Playa del Carmen and my hero that day, took one look at my face (crunched up and about to cry) and came up with the idea of doing a blood transfusion. She went on to make it happen and sat there administering the blood transfusion to this dog for over 2 hours with the help of Dr. Christy and the other vets. During all of this drama, Little Red Dog’s owner stayed with his beloved pet until she was okay enough to go home with him.
The next day he stopped at the clinic to bring back the kennel he used to transport Little Red Dog home and let us know that she was doing fine. Don’t tell anyone but I ran outside of the building and cried.
But it’s moments like these that made it all worthwhile. The mess, the pain, the personalities, the self-doubts, and all the other crap that comes along with doing important and meaningful work. Saving each and every animal is worth it.
Your Turn to Tell Your Own Stories
There are so many more stories that I could share (and probably will someday) about my first CANDi spay and neuter clinic and the incredible people and animals I met. But I’m ending here because I want to encourage you all to go and have your own experiences so you can tell your own stories. There are volunteer opportunities everywhere to match your passion–whatever it is.
Even though getting out of your comfort zone isn’t easy, it makes you and the world a better place. I cried a lot of tears, my heart was broken over and over, and I swore I wouldn’t do it again, but guess what? I went to the CANDi clinic again last year and I’m going again this year. Seeing the suffering of these animals and the commitment of the local and international volunteers who work to save them reminds me of what how desperate the need is. Especially when I’m writing proposals to travel corporations explaining why they should help CANDi continue these clinics. So participating in the clinics helps me say what needs to be said with truth, integrity, and personal knowledge.
So go have an adventure or two. You might even find a new calling or reinvent yourself while you’re doing it. One thing is certain. Your universe will never be the same.
Thanks for reading!
Ms. Humane Advisor
P.S. Please share your comments to encourage others to volunteer if you have had a similar adventure(s) that changed your life and touched your heart!
P.P.S. And support the CANDi November 2012 Sterilization Clinic with a donation in any amount. Just $20 will pay for the spay or neuter of one stray cat or dog and help us end the suffering. Here’s where to donate: http://www.candiinternational.org/get-involved/ways-to-give