Thursday, April 12, 2012

Helping Animals in Third World Countries

An Unforgettable Trip to Nicaragua   

Suturing post surgery with the supervision of Dr. Carvajal
Hello! My name is Jaimie Spitz, and I'm a fourth year animal science major at California Polytechnic State University. With the help of CANIDAE Natural Pet Food Company, I was rewarded a sponsorship that granted me the opportunity to work with the Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures (VIDA) and travel to Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in Central America. I participated in a volunteer program that established a temporary veterinary clinic, assisting over 200 malnourished animals in a two week span.

VIDA is a nonprofit organization that sends groups of students to third world countries in Central America. The participants are comprised of mainly pre-vet, med, and dental students who are given the rare opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience while aiding the disadvantaged communities of people and the overpopulation of stray animals that inhabit the area. The majority of these people are living in poverty, making less than $2 a day, and don't have the necessary knowledge or resources to care for their pets or children, let alone themselves.

Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
With the kind help of CANIDAE, I was able to join a team of 40 pre-vet, med, and dental students from the University of Madison, Wisconsin. Our mission was to learn and help as many animals and people as possible in the duration of our two week program. With a group of 7 pre-veterinary students, a translator and a lead veterinarian, our team set up a makeshift veterinary clinic in a local elementary school on the beautiful Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. Our supplies were limited by donations, so we had to work with what we had. The clinic consisted of three intake tables covered with large plastic bags, a pharmaceutical table, a surgery prep corner, a surgery table centered in the location with the most access to direct sunlight, and a recovery area identified by laid out newspaper and used towels.

During our small animal clinic days, the student groups were able to remain with their patient throughout the stations of the clinic. We began by performing thorough physical exams on dogs, noting all abnormalities. For those intended for spay or neuter surgery, we were able to calculate dosages and administer the pre medications and anesthetics necessary for sedation during surgery. During surgery, students actively participated by performing incisions, ligatures, removing reproductive organs and unnecessary tissue, and eventually suturing (stitching) the epidermal layers.

VIDA veterinary team taking a rest
After the intense responsibilities of surgery, we then waited with our patient in the recovery area, checking vital signs, administering dewormers and rabies vaccinations, and prescribing take home medications. When the animal had recovered enough to stand, we were able to discharge them to their respective owners. For our one large animal clinic day, we vaccinated over 50 horses, mules, goats and pigs, even if that meant wrestling the squealing pigs in order to get access to the administration site. It sure made for a strenuous day.

Being able to actively partake in every aspect of a vet clinic is a unique opportunity that I would not be able to find anywhere in the United States. We were given real life opportunities to perform the duties of a veterinarian and be responsible for a patient’s life. It was truly an amazing feeling to leave the program knowing that we helped save animals lives, improved the welfare of those that were malnourished and ill, and prevented unwanted lives that would otherwise not be cared for.

The whole experience left me with overwhelming feelings of empowerment and happiness derived from helping those in need, communicating with the locals in their native tongue, and being able to accomplish advanced veterinary tasks at this stage. These accomplishments were the motivations that kept me excited about the next days’ clinic work after a long, grueling day in our humid work space and even more so about my future in the veterinary medical field.

I want to thank CANIDAE so very much for offering me this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit such a beautiful country and offer my time, knowledge and compassion towards enhancing the welfare of so many underprivileged people and neglected animals. There are millions of stray and abandoned animals all over the world, and several organizations through which you can volunteer/donate. I encourage everyone to look outside of their own borders and to help the communities that need it most.


  1. That does sound like a really wonderful experience. What a great thing to be able to do. I bet you learned a lot not only about taking care of the animals but all about how things work in a different country. Well done.

  2. I reckon that was an amazing experience. One you will never forget!

  3. What a great project you're involved in and what a great experience you'd got!


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