SPCA ran its first outreach clinic under the CLAW initiative from 4 to 16 March 2019. Amanda Millar, Co-Chair of SPCA tells the story.
It all started with an inquiry from a veterinarian from the USA about volunteering with SPCA Fiji Islands. Dr Kimberley Khodakhah from New York is that vet. Many an hour was spent Skyping with Dr Kim before she even arrived in Fiji. She was so full of enthusiasm and ideas that one thing quickly led to another and we all knew, even before she arrived, that this was going to be the beginning of something ongoing. Dr Kim came for a short visit late in 2018 and worked with an Australian volunteer veterinarian to desex as many animals as possible in 10 days. At that stage the SPCA (which had been without fulltime vets for some time) had a waiting list of over 750 responsible people wanting to have their animals desexed but could not afford the private veterinary surgery fees.
Dr Kim vowed to return with a team of vets to "knock off that waiting list". She worked closely (albeit remotely) with SPCA's Shaneel Narayan and Fiji National University (FNU) lecturer Dr Jo Olver, in preparing for this project. A program was developed for what we hoped would be 3 – 4 visits per year including veterinarians, vet nurses, vet students and recent veterinary graduates. The program aimed to work with outreach communities on:
• de-flea/tick and internal de-worming
• data collection on animal health as well as communicable diseases
• public education
• enforcement of legislation around animal welfare
• reduction in transference of zoonotic diseases through population control of feral animals, improved health of pets and hygiene education.
This became the CLAW initiative. In March 2019 10 vets from the USA, Netherlands, Canada and the UK came together with vets and vet techs from around Suva (Fiji National University and the Ministry of Health and Agriculture) to take the first step towards making the CLAW initiative a reality. Many of the visiting vets carried with them donated medical and surgical inventory and medications, which meant the clinics were not such a financial drain on SPCA's meagre resources.
Most of the volunteer vets stayed for 10 days and began surgeries the day they touched down in Fiji. They started with a small number number of desexing’s to ensure we had the flow set up and were ready to go for the following day when we had 100 animals booked in. We were operating out of the SPCA clinic facilities. It was crowded and the facility overstretched, but the buzz in the air was palpable. Tables and tents, cages and equipment were borrowed from all over to accommodate the sheer number of surgeries planned. The people of Suva and surrounds responded to the call to foster our shelter animals for the duration of the clinic to free up hospital space. The vets were hosted by wonderful community families that responded to the call for assistance. A team of fabulous people got together to feed the team of nearly 60 for the duration of the clinic.
After the SPCA ‘waiting list’ was eliminated the team took to the streets of Suva and conducted an outreach clinic in Sukhu Park – another 120 animals ‘done’ there. For many of the vets and techs it was their first such experience in an outdoor setting and proved to be good preparation for the planned Beqa Island mission.
The Beqa Island clinic was also two days but with a more targeted approach than the Sukhu Park clinic. The team visited 3 of the 9 villages on Beqa and de-sexed all the village cats and dogs they could muster. The villages had indicated the numbers of animals prior to the visit so the team is confident that the vast majority of dogs at least have been operated on. The team did tests and discovered that 40% of the animals on Beqa Island were positive for heartworm disease. The CLAW team is now planning to treat all dogs and cats with medication in an attempt to, or reduce its prevalence, on the island. Beqa Island will be a pilot for this program.
In the end we fell short of the 100 animals a day and 750 total target but we did spay and neuter every animal that came through the doors; on average 60-70 per day and a total of 500 de-sexings.
The CLAW Program aims to revisit communities 3 times in three years to vaccinate, monitor animal health and de-sex any remaining animals including those from the bush when possible. The CLAW aims to initiate sustainable programs that the participating communities take ownership of. The program needs to develop momentum and we think it is best to target specific community’s foci where the impact of the program can be measured.
Article contributed by Amanda Millar.