One of our volunteers, Ellie a veterinary nurse, is currently volunteering in Goa at our new WVS Hicks International Training Centre in Goa. Ellie has written a blog of her experience volunteering on a WVS project, so over to you Ellie!
I am a locum Vet Nurse currently volunteering on my second WVS sterilisation project taking place in Goa. Now three weeks into the four-week project I am realising how much of a difference we can make in this area given the correct support and manpower!
The stray dog population is overwhelming, especially coming from the UK where it is relatively unheard of. You cannot drive down any street without seeing multiple dogs of varying sizes, colours and ages. Although they are labelled as street dogs and do not have an official owner, the community is very accustomed to having them around and many individuals feed and treat them as if they were almost a pet. This gives many dogs the best of both worlds with a regular meal and maybe some shelter as well as the freedom and mental stimulation that comes with a street life.
Upon arriving, I expected to see many skinny and struggling dogs living on the streets having to fight for food but this was very much not the case. Like I said many of the dogs are fed by individuals or stall owners at markets. As well as this there are many large rubbish piles that plague Goa, as they do not have proper waste disposal systems in place. The streets become full with rubbish, which provides an abundance of food for the dog population; I have yet to see a dog that is truly starving. This then allows the dog population to soar creating more problems with the spread of disease. This is where WVS comes in.
As the majority of the dog population is free roaming, it was always going to be a big task sterilising and vaccinating enough dogs to make a difference, therefore the numbers had to be big. The method used is a combination of hand and net catching the dogs in each area and bringing back to the centre for sterilisation. This involves a complex array of paperwork and a GPS tracker to ensure each dog is collected and released in same location. We can then catch up to 30 dogs a day as well as any dogs brought to the centre by their owners. To the general public the process of catching the dogs can look rather distressing, as most of the dogs that cannot be caught by hand are not used to human contact at all. These dogs will usually make a lot of noise and struggle when caught in the net for the first few moments, but once they realise they have no escape they give up and settle amazingly well.
Once back at the centre these dogs wait in their nets until they can be sedated and surgery can begin. When left alone these dogs, although somewhat confused do not seem overly stressed. I have seen some dogs sleeping in the nets and all are very grateful for their postoperative meal in their kennels.
If anyone were to question putting these dogs through the small stress of being net caught and transported to the centre for a day I would only have to tell them about some of the dogs that we have already seen. Many of the street dogs do not reach old age due to disease and mating related complications, as they have no owner to take responsibility for payment and on going treatment of these conditions. Conditions that would be easily treated in owned dogs can be fatal if unnoticed in street dogs such as dystocia, pyometra and maggot wounds; many of which are related to entire dogs. The few old dogs that I have seen on this project have many old injuries and joint problems but are also pregnant. If not neutered these dogs would likely die whilst carrying or birthing these litters due to the strain put on their older bodies. All this can be avoided if the dogs are neutered as there is no fighting for a mate or complications with pregnancy and the animals would survive for much longer on the street.