Somewhere in the streets of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, neglected dogs and cats are running around without food, shelter or love. They are unaware that they might not survive to see tomorrow because the government of Quintana Roo, Mexico, must destroy thousands of animals due to overpopulation. In Playa del Carmen alone, 1,000 animals have already been destroyed and the government is planning to destroy 7,500 more.
Colorado State University veterinary student Cristina Gutierrez knows this scene all too well. For the past two years, she and other Colorado State veterinary students and technicians have traveled south of the border to complete a mission: combat animal overpopulation by providing free pet clinics and educating locals of the Yucatan on the importance of preventing unwanted litters and street animals. Gutierrez, along with Colorado State veterinary students Ruth Parkin, Robyn Gajdosik and Ginny Hill, created Veterinarios Internacionales Dedicados a Animales Sanos (International Veterinarians Dedicated to Animal Health) to make it all possible.
"The work is challenging – converting school rooms to surgery suites in hot and humid conditions – but our volunteers and sponsors make great things happen," said Gutierrez, president of VIDAS. "The communities in Mexico know who we are and they welcome us because they know we provide good care and that we are there not only for the animals but also for them."
The group volunteers time to provide free veterinary clinics to sterilize and vaccinate local animals in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. In the past, VIDAS has held clinics in the towns of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal, Chemuyil and Tulum. In July 2003, they treated more than 300 animals during 10 days of clinics. Clinics may be held in any number of places, from a school room in a pueblo to a hotel room to any empty space that is available. On a typical day, supplies are unloaded and the space is set up to accommodate patients, waiting areas, surgery and recovery.
This past summer, VIDAS held a clinic on the resort side of Akumal, where many locals drop off dogs and cats so they will get fed by tourists. Gutierrez and another VIDAS veterinary volunteer went door-to-door in search of more animals, which was an effective way to get more patients. Gutierrez remembers a dog, Estrella, who had an infection of the uterus. The veterinarians performed the risky surgery and took digital pictures of the infected uterus and a normal uterus and used them to show the owner how to care for his pup. The photos and the story also were used to explain the benefits of spaying and neutering.
"It is definitely hard work, but every moment is well worth it. I could look down at the dogs recovering, or out the window at their patient guardians faithfully watching, and know we are helping," said Valerie Mitchell, VIDAS volunteer. "We are doing something beyond what we do daily to help animals beyond our own communities."
Stray animals can carry illness and disease and can be a threat to the local human population. Many residents in these towns are unable to bear the costs of spay and neutering, vaccinations, deworming and heartworm preventions to prevent disease and overpopulation.
VIDAS is slowly improving the animal condition in the Yucatan. This year, the group plans to visit towns including Puerto Morales, Akumal, Chemuyil, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. VIDAS plans to expand their services to other Third World countries such as Argentina and Peru.
"Knowing that we are providing an invaluable service to places that desperately need it is rewarding," said Gutierrez. " My hope is that we continue to grow, continue to reach out and continue to improve the lives of humans and animals alike."
Financial support for the clinics is provided in part by corporate donations including Pfizer Inc., which provides many vaccinations. Assistance also comes from Mexican businesses and locals who assist with food and shelter to volunteers; third-party donations; and proceeds from "sponsor-a-pet," in which participants contribute $25 to cover the cost of surgery, vaccines, antibiotics and parasite control for one animal in Mexico. Sponsors also receive a picture of the animal from VIDAS. All donations are tax deductible through Veterinary Relief International.
If you would like to sponsor or adopt a pet, make a donation or receive more information, visit www.vidas.org.