Photos from Nicaragua


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Chancho’s second chance

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GRANADA, NICARAGUA _ Chancho, a one-month-old blond and white puppy, arrived on Monday at the World Vets clinic severely dehydrated and disoriented, not able to stand up on his own.

Veterinarians initially gave him a grave prognosis. Chancho had parasites and was weak with tremors. His name, meaning pig in Spanish, was affectionately coined by the veterinarians for his big, round, parasitic belly.

Chancho stayed overnight at the clinic on intravenous (IV) fluids and medication. When the World Vets team returned the next morning, his condition was already starting to look up. By the following day, veterinarians were confident that he would survive.

The puppy that was once debilitated turned playful and energetic, his curly tail constantly wagging left and right. Chancho’s uplifted condition caught the attention of Tori Hall, a first-time World Vets volunteer and veterinary student at Mississippi State University.

Hall didn’t expect to bring an animal back from Nicaragua. But when she saw Chancho’s rapid health improvement, she decided a dog with that much determination to survive needed a special home. From then on, Chancho became the unofficial mascot of the World Vets trip.

“I figured if he got better — since he didn’t have an owner and he was a cute little guy — he deserved a chance, especially since he had to fight pretty hard,” Hall said. “Even if I don’t keep him, because the student lifestyle is not very conducive to a puppy, I think I can find him a really good place that he deserves.”

Field Service Veterinarian Karen Allum said if Hall hadn’t taken Chancho, the World Vets team would have tried to find him a home within the community. If no one was willing to take care of the puppy, he would have been put back on the streets.

“That’s all we can do,” she said. “The little ones could get hurt by other dogs or hit by cars, so I try really hard to find them a home.”

Hall left Granada when the World Vets trip finished at the end of the week, her duffle bag in one hand and Chancho in the other.

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Lassi’s tumor

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Lassi staggered into the clinic. A large bandana was wrapped around her belly that hung low, almost touching the ground.

The German Sheppard winced as veterinarians checked her body, her screams suppressed with a muzzle. As the bandana came off, Lassi’s five-pound tumor was revealed.

Lassi’s tumor had been building over the last year. Ana Goussen, the dog’s owner, said it began as a collection of small tumors. As time wore on, the tumors lumped together, making it difficult for Lassi to move around.

Goussen said she had already been advised by multiple Nicaraguan veterinarians to have Lassi euthanized. Having owned the dog for seven years, Goussen continued taking Lassi to different clinics to see if any would give her a different prognosis.

Two days before being brought into the World Vets clinic, Lassi’s tumor ruptured. The open wound was easily infectable and within a few more days, Lassi would have died.

“When Lassi suffers, I suffer,” Goussen said. “I was going to have her put down even though it would hurt from the bottom of my heart, but if World Vets can try to save her it would be much better.”

A team of surgeons removed Lassi’s tumor in an operation that took about an hour. Because the surgery was so extensive, the team decided to keep the dog overnight to monitor her recovery and control her pain.

By the following morning, Lassi was able to stand up and walk around the clinic, tumor-free and healing well.

Goussen said she knew the dog would survive because she was left in good hands. She said people who have dogs with tumors like Lassi’s should seek help before taking the animal’s life away.

“Nicaragua is a very poor country, so many people don’t have the money to treat dogs like Lassi because the operations are too expensive,” Goussen said. “Thanks to God and to World Vets, I still have my pretty dog. Now I am happy.”

Veterinarian Joe Zulty kept a biopsy sample of Lassi’s tumor to study at his own clinic in Maryland. Once the tumor type has been determined, World Vets leaders will check up on Lassi during the next volunteer service project in Nicaragua.

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Can’t save them all

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Tita groaned in pain. An intravenous (IV) catheter stuck out from her neck, a blood transfusion underway. At that moment, she had about a 10 percent chance of survival.

A two-month-old black and white puppy, Tita arrived at the World Vets Surgical Training Center with severe anemia, intestinal parasites, dehydration and low blood sugar. The worst of her dilemma was parvo — a highly contagious and sometimes fatal viral disease.

Tita’s owner Hazel Roman brought her to the clinic at 9 a.m. in tears. Roman said the puppy had been in her care for two weeks and she was already attached. Tita was part of the family.

“My poor dog”, Roman said. “I don’t want her to suffer anymore.”

With good intentions, Roman said she gave Tita an over-the-counter deworming medicine. The unknown medicine, however, gave the dog an adverse reaction, causing her already depleting condition to spiral downward.

Roman left the World Vets clinic with high hopes.

“Thank you,” she said to the team of veterinarians. “All I want is for my dog to come back home with me.”

Veterinarian Dr. Robert Trevino injected Tita with saline fluids to counter her dehydration. He gave her a new deworming medicine to rid her of the intestinal parasites. He fed her honey to bring up her blood sugar. As a last effort, Trevino drew blood from a healthy dog and transferred it to Tita.

Things started looking up for the emaciated puppy. Trevino re-estimated a 50 percent chance of survival.

Tita was alert for the next three hours, eating, drinking water and lifting her head every once in a while. But her breathing stayed slow and soon the life began to leave her eyes once again.

Tita did not make it through the end of the day. By the time she began showing advanced symptoms of parvo, there was nothing else Trevino could do.

The team collectively decided that it was best for her to be humanely euthanized.

Seeing the look on Trevino’s face, tears began rolling down Roman’s cheeks. She asked to see Tita one last time before the puppy was put down.

“This was the first time I ever had a dog,” she said between sobs. “When I adopt an animal I make it part of my family. I feel like it is my fault (she died) for not knowing what to do.”

Dogs like Tita are difficult to save. By the time they are brought in for veterinary care, many have conditions too severe to treat with the limited resources World Vets is provided.

“Even if Tita had been admitted to a high end clinic in the U.S., she wouldn’t have made it,” said field service veterinarian Karen Allum. “Puppies presented in that debilitated of a state have a very grave prognosis.”

Veterinarian Tom Parker said all doctors learn to deal with losing patients. Though it eventually gets easier to handle, compassion is a human emotion that cannot and should not be rid of, he said.

“It’s part of the job,” Parker said. “You have to look at the big picture and be compassionate but realistic.”

Allum said it is fairly rare for dogs to be euthanized on World Vets trips. Only about 2 percent of the dogs treated by World Vets are put down, she said.


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Dangerously debilitated

GRANADA, NICARAGUA _Quivering all over, a dirty, one-month-old puppy with a large pot-belly whimpered as a veterinarian injected it with saline fluids. Dangerously debilitated, there was a chance it would not survive through the night.

The puppy, nicknamed Chancho, was brought in by man who found it wandering along the street. By that time, Chancho was severely dehydrated and disoriented, not able to stand up on his own.

After giving him a checkup and listening to his heartbeat with a stethoscope, veterinarian Dr. Robert Trevino determined that he had parasites and possibly parvo, a highly contagious viral disease.

Chancho was the second patient seen by World Vets volunteers on Monday at the International Training Center in Granada. In five hours, the 12-person team completed 16 spays/neuters and 16 consultations.

Monday served as practice for the team of volunteers before the scheduled free clinic. Though World Vets members usually work three days on service projects, the team opted to give up a day of sightseeing in order to fit in more surgeries.Though World Vets service projects typically consist solely of spays and neuters, the clinic’s location in a high-density neighborhood made it easy to open up the program to other services.

“The team members just seem to gel every time,” said field service veterinarian Karen Allum. “They are here for all the right reasons.”

Corinne Anders, a licensed veterinary technician, worked prepping and inducing the animals before their surgeries. She said the hardest part about leaving the U.S. to volunteer with World Vets is seeing animals that are mistreated and neglected. Still, Anders said she chooses to volunteer because education is the only way to better the animals’ lives.

“It’s hard for me to see that some animals here aren’t as appreciated as in Western culture,” she said. “In the U.S., if I see an animal running the street that is in trouble or not well cared for, I can contact animal control. With World Vets, we have the opportunity not only to cut down on the population … but also to educate people.”

Claudio Mayorga, a veterinary student at Universidad de Ciencias Comerciales in Granada, said becoming involved with World Vets gave him the push he needed to pursue veterinary medicine as a career.

Mayorga said he has learned a lot about conducting basic surgeries by training under World Vets associates at the Surgical Training Center.

“In Nicaragua there is a big need for veterinarians,” he said. “The culture here is not into spaying and neutering animals, but with the help of World Vets we are now starting to do that.”

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A fancy clinic

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After a quick group decision, the World Vets volunteers decided to stray from their usual schedule of having the first two days off for exploring and begin working right away.

The 12-person group spent Sunday afternoon prepping the new Surgical Training Center, which opened in December for Nicaraguan veterinary students, for the next four days of surgery. Volunteers helped unpack three large duffle bags of supplies and store them away.

The clinic, located in Barrio Islita, is the latest major project of World Vets. For nine months of the year, the clinic will serve as a training center for Latin American veterinarians and students as it has been since November. From May to August, American, European and Canadian students will receive hands-on veterinary medicine training.

Apart from the usual spays and neuters, this week’s service project trip serves as the first time World Vets leaders get to figure out exactly how the summer training program will run.

Karen Allum, a supervisory veterinarian for the summer program, said the new clinic is better-equipped than she expected. She said she has been on many World Vets trips in which the facility didn’t even have running water. Sunday was Allum’s first time visiting the Surgical Training Center.

“This is incredible,” she said. “Everything is so fancy here.”

After prepping the clinic for the following surgery days, the group established some ground rules. They decided that Monday would be a half-day during which four to five surgeries could be completed.

“It’ll be good to get our feet wet a little bit,” said veterinarian Jessica Rodriguez of the group’s decision to add an extra half-day of surgeries. “Because we are working with people we don’t know, it’s good to work out the kinks.”

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Chained and abused: issues affecting Nicaraguan dogs

A thin, brown dog cowered between a bench and a palm tree. It stood on three legs; the fourth, hanging limp, was slashed open at the paw and swollen.

The dog was tied to the tree with a thick metal chain. Every so often, it bent down to lick the wound, still bleeding and raw.

“Sometimes dog owners take out their frustrations on the animals,” said Roberto Aleman, an 18-year-old student and occasional taxi driver. “Nicaraguans can be cruel.”

Behind the dog was an open-air restaurant and bar. The owner sat inside, sipping a beer and enjoying the view of Lake Tiscapa.

Aleman explained that while being hit by cars is a big problem for many street dogs, most owned dogs in Nicaragua serve as guards. When they don’t do their job properly, they can be abused as punishment or left to fend for themselves.

“(Some people have) no idea about training dogs other than (to) smack them if they aren’t doing it right,” said World Vets field service veterinarian Karen Allum. “I think they are unaware that animals feel pain the same way we do.”

Allum said the top three issues surrounding dogs in Nicarauga are trauma, infectious disease and poisoning. She said street dogs and free-roaming owned dogs face often face trauma when hit by cars.

“It’s not uncommon to see a dog with a broken leg dangling,” she said.

Many dogs in Nicaragua carry Ehrlichiosis, a tick-born disease that infects the white blood cells. Dogs suffering from Ehrlichiosis can develop bleeding disorders, and discharge from the nose and eyes. Those severely affected can die.

Another major problem facing dogs in Nicaragua is poisoning. Allum said the way many people or local governments choose to deal with the growing population of street dogs is to kill them with poison.

She said before World Vets agrees go on a service project, the local government is required to stop doing mass poisonings.

“Many people put out rat poison, wrap it in meat and bait it to try and kill the dogs,” Allum said. “Sometimes they don’t die immediately.”

Yet while some dogs suffer in Nicaragua, Allum said others are really cared for and looked after.

“You’ll see people who adore their animals here,” she said. “They may not keep them inside, but they will do everything they financially and physically can for their animals.”

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