At the end of this past September, Glenn and Bethany Yovino took some vacation time to travel to Ibarra, Ecuador, a picturesque city that lies at the foot of the Imbabura Volcano in the northern part of the country. It was a reunion of sorts, since the reason the Yovinos decided to make this excursion was that Glenn’s lab partner in veterinary school, Joe Zulty, and his veterinary school roommate Ann Ryer, along with their spouses, were also going to be on the trip—Glenn, who owns and operates Harbor Road Veterinary Hospital located on Route 131 on the South Thomaston side of the St. George peninsula, hadn’t seen either classmate in many years. But while the prospect of experiencing the life and sights in another part of the world was exciting, this was to be, as Zulty put it, “a vacation with a purpose.” Zulty, in fact, was the leader of the trip, which was sponsored by World Vets, an organization that provides veterinary aid in developing countries and veterinary disaster relief worldwide.
“We were there to spay or neuter as many dogs and cats as we could during the week we would be there,” Glenn says. “Ninety percent of the animals were dogs and we spayed or neutered 160 animals. We worked 12-hour days.”
Altogether, the expedition included six vets, two licensed vet technicians, a pre-vet student and five other volunteers, which included Bethany and Glenn’s vet-school friends’ spouses. The group also had local help orchestrated by Protection Animal Ecuador.
“Ibarra has a population of about 150,000, but there are only one or two vets in the entire city,” Glenn explains. “The standard of living is not that high, and the cost of spaying or neutering a dog or cat is the same as here, so no one does it. The people just don’t have the money or mindset to spay early. But they love their pets.”
Bethany, whose role was to help with the animals’ post-operative recovery, points out that Ibarra’s pet owners seemed eager to avail themselves of the opportunity to come to the spay/neuter clinic. “The first morning we were amazed to find long lines of people waiting with their pets,” she recalls, noting that it was the same every day. “Everyone was so enthusiastic we felt like rock stars!”
And there were other surprises. For one thing, the building which housed the clinic was long and narrow with a floor below the surrounding grade. The result was that people outside could look through the windows and see the surgeries being performed below.
“I’m not keen on people watching me while I operate, especially not the pet owner,” Glenn laughs. “But I learned to ignore it.”
Another unexpected situation was that, although the group was well supplied with instruments and drugs, most of these were not tools or medications the vets were used to using. In addition, the method of sterilizing instruments seemed out of date, though no post-op infections were reported afterward. Difficult to get used to at first, too, Glenn says, was that each vet on the team was different. “Our approaches were all different because each of us does a different sort of veterinary work—one worked with lab animals, another was an emergency room vet and the rest of us worked in small animal private practice, but we were all different.”
Glenn admits that spaying or neutering 160 animals makes just a small dent in the problem of small animal overpopulation in the city. “Ibarra has a huge stray dog population. But the city was using mass poisoning campaigns to control that population, something World Vets opposes. So World Vets cut a deal with the city to stop the poisonings and in return World Vets would come several times a year to provide the free spay and neuter clinics.”
By offering the free clinics, one of World Vets’ aims is to work at changing the way people think about how best to avoid overpopulation. “Today few shelters in Maine, for example, send a dog or cat that is not spayed or neutered home with a new owner—but that was not the case 20 years ago,” Glenn points out, noting that it used to be common practice to simply ask those adopting an animal to promise to get the procedure done. “Shelters have finally seen the importance of not leaving it to chance.” The hope, he says, is that in time attitudes will also change in places like Ibarra.
Asked if the Yovino’s time in Ecuador seemed a worthwhile way to spend some vacation time, both Glenn and Bethany respond affirmatively. “We came back jazzed,” says Glenn with a big grin. “The days were long, but it felt really good,” Bethany agrees.
Reflecting further, Glenn adds, “We wanted to do something positive, do it well and be appreciated. The people were very gracious.” —JW