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Dagmar's Malawi Blog

Mon 15th Jun 2015

Dagmar spent 3 months sterilising dogs, preventing rabies and saving lives in Blantyre, Malawi. Here the final part of her Malawi blog.

During the whole month of May we vaccinated dogs all over Blantyre City. Teams of international and local vets, nurses, paravets, data collectors and animals handlers worked together everyday. We got up at 4.30am, walking from house to house all day, only coming back home after sunset.

Even though everybody was tired, we were happy in the knowledge that the work we were doing was important and really meant something. In just 20 days we managed to vaccinate 35208 dogs. Because of this the rabies virus cannot spread as fast. And we can safely say that in 3 years rabies will completely eliminated in Blantyre. No mean feat.

During our vaccination drives we also came across many sick and injured dogs. We were also able to help quite a few by asking them to come to the BSPCA kennels for treatment.

Many dogs in Blantyre have TVTs (transmissible venereal tumours). These tumours are transmitted when mating and cause terrible ulcerating growths on the dog’s genitals. These can grow very big, causing great discomfort to the animals.

After dogs are sterilised they do not spread it anymore. We treated these dogs with vincristine, a very effective chemotherapy drug, which reduces and even in some case, results in the complete remission of the growths.

Some dogs we found to have very large tumours, which we were able to remove, others suffered from severe skin condition and were treated with mange treatment and antibiotics. A few dogs we were able to save even though the owners wished them to be euthanized. Others were in such a bad condition that putting them to sleep was the kindest thing to do.

In the beginning of June our volunteer teams ran a sterilisation campaign in Blantyre ensuring a healthier dog population. Our team, which was truly international, consisted of amazing vet nurse Hansje (Dutch, born in Zimbabwe, but who had a strong Australian accent after living there for years) and vets James (Kenyan-Malawian-South African-British), Jenny (UK), Sylvain (French, living in Zambia), Shashi (India) and me (German). Tarryn (South African) from the BSPCA was invaluable to the mission, and was with us all the way.  From organising the necessary supplies, managing the drug table, to coordinating the teams, she made sure that everything was ran smoothly. On top of that the BSPCA staff Defense, Nicole, Emmanuel and William and paravet Howbeit were great assets to our team, especially in terms spreading the word and communicating with the owners as most people didn’t speak any English.

We collected contact details of dog owners who were interested in having their dogs sterilised. A few days before the start of the campaign, Defense from the BSPCA called everyone, and told them where and when their closest field clinic would be. The majority of the dogs were brought by children and the busiest times were usually in the afternoon after school.

We worked either under gazebos or in school classrooms. At the Kachere slum settlement, we set up our field clinic just outside the settlement on the outskirts of the football field. The local children found this very exciting and watched us work all day until it got dark.

After a few days everybody knew exactly what to do and setting up the clinic every morning took less time as each day went by. Usually we had 3 vets operating all day while the rest of the team registered the dogs, put them under general anesthetic, looked after them while they woke up, treated any wounds, marked them with a tattoo as neutered, collected the data of every dog on a mobile app and made importantly sure that the owners knew what to expect after the surgery. Lots of dogs had just given birth previously, were in heat, pregnant or had pyometras, which made our surgeries often very challenging!

Our team sterilised between 30 and 60 dogs every day, depending on how many people turned up and at the end of the two weeks we managed to sterilise 288 dogs! On top of these we also performed other surgeries. We amputated the hind leg of a dog whose leg was broken 2 months ago. Since it broke he was not able to put any weight on it. And because of all the pain, he hadn’t eaten properly and was brought to us in a very poor condition indeed. We took this poor dog to the SPCA shelter and performed the surgery there. After just two days he became a much happier dog, his appetite increased, and he started to trust us more.

We also treated an injured eyes as well as mange, worms and infected ear lesions.

Working under field conditions was very challenging. We didn’t turn away a single dog. We worked long days, often only finishing after the sun went down. But knowing that these dogs had the right veterinary support, that was not available before, kept us going. Dogs now have a chance of a healthier and longer life.

By showing compassion and treating the dogs we treat with respect, as well as explaining general aspects of responsible ownership will also change the general attitude towards dogs in the long run.

Thanks to everybody involved (and especially thanks to Tarryn, May and the rest of the BSPCA team!) my stay in Malawi was absolutely amazing.