(Petside) The picturesque hillside regions in the mountains of Panama are not as idyllic as they seem if you look just beneath the surface.
In the small rural and sometimes isolated towns here, an animal population crisis is unfolding. Exploding numbers of pets and feral cats and dogs have brought about disease, starvation and horrific suffering.
Yet now, these tragedies are being somewhat kept in check thanks to the creation of two extraordinary groups — Spay Panama-Chiriquí and the Fundación Amigos de Animales de Boquete — both of which arose from the efforts of expats and local volunteers working together to meet this crisis head-on.
I first experienced Boquete, Panama, in August 2005, when Dr. Victor Brown, of Naples, Fla., sent me there. He armed me with a huge donation of medical supplies including anesthesia, antibiotics, sutures and disinfectant, to try to quell the animal suffering he’d heard about.
As soon as I arrived I met with a group of women and we worked to locate
veterinarians who could sterilize cats and dogs. This was no small feat in an area where most veterinarians specialize in large animal medicine.
Supplies in Demand
Soon, with Dr. Brown’s supplies in hand we held the first non-profit spay and neuter clinic in the area; that day we sterilized 26 dogs and cats.
Thrilled as our little group was to successfully pull off this venture, we all knew that more work was needed, and the Fundación Amigos de Animales de Boquete (Friends of the Animals of Boquete Foundation) was born.
With the help of local and visiting veterinarians and community outreach programs, additional clinics were held. Each one grew larger until some performed more than 150 operations a day.
Work to be Done
Needless to say, I fell in love with the work and the community and I moved to Boquete and lived there for the next two years.
I wasn’t the only one determined to make a difference. In the nearby hillside town of Volcán, Dorothy Atwater created the Spay Panama-Chiriquí charity in March 2006, which she funds with her own money when donations fall short.
In Volcán the animal crisis is even more precarious — a venereal disease that causes painful and fatal tumors in dogs is running rampant through the pet and feral dog populations.
The streets here are filled with dogs with tumors, starving dogs and dogs dying from untreated wounds.
Through Atwater’s determination, the assistance of committed volunteers and the help of a veterinarian who can only be described as a her — Dr. Andres Tello — Spay Panama-Chiriquí has sterilized more than 1,100 dogs and cats.
Spay Panama-Chiriquí and the Fundación de Animales de Boquete are both also working to assist with animal rescue (Atwater herself cares for 14 rescue dogs) and to educate pet owners about vaccinations, diet, and pet care.
Through my work in Panama I witnessed a thousand little miracles: People from all different backgrounds and nationalities working together to help animals, and often staying all day at the clinics to help.
One small boy walked over two miles to bring his puppy in for a neuter procedure; a woman and her young daughters walked miles over rough mountain and jungle terrain carrying three cats in cardboard boxes so they could be spayed.
While both of these animal organizations have made a huge impact on the pet populations, more work is needed. I was reminded of this fact one night when I saw a dog circling and stumbling in the middle of the road.
She was painfully thin, confused and disoriented and I gently corralled her to the side of the road and called a volunteer to pick her up. Later that night she was diagnosed with advanced distemper and peacefully euthanized.
You can help make a difference in Panama. To learn more about these non-profit groups, or to contribute with a tax-deductible donation, visit the Fundación de Animales de Boquete website and the Spay Panama-Chiriquí website.