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Veterinary Students Tackle Pet Overpopulation Problem in Mexico
Any American tourist who has visited Mexico has seen the dogs of Mexico - lanky, thin, mutts and mixes of all shapes, sizes and colors. In Mexico City alone, at any given time, an astounding 3 million stray dogs roam the barrios and boulevards. The health risks to humans of all these strays, and to the animals themselves, are drawing national and international attention to the problem of Mexico's dogs.
Rabies outbreaks are common in Mexico, in part due to the large stray dog population. According to the Pan American Health Association, from 1997-2000, 51 human deaths from rabies were reported in Mexico. Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, 40,000 people die annually from rabies infections and 10 million are treated. These deaths and illnesses from rabies occur primarily in developing countries where rabies control is sporadic and vaccination programs inconsistent.
The canine sacrifice also is great. Even with 18,000 dogs put to death each month at municipal pounds just in Mexico City, the number of homeless and starving dogs continues to rise. In rural Mexico, the problem is just as severe, though reliable statistics are unavailable. The problem has called for rash and severe measures from the government - the hunting and killing of dogs to protect human life.
A group of Professional Veterinary Medical students at Colorado State University is hoping to find a better way - not only for dogs, but for people, too.
"The mission of our group is to end the needless suffering of dogs and cats throughout the world by preventing unwanted litters and providing basic veterinary care," said Cristina Gutierrez, a junior student and founding member of Veterinarios Internacionales Dedicados a Animales Sanos (VIDAS), or International Veterinarians Dedicated to Animal Health. "We are accomplishing this through free services including health exams, vaccinations, spay and neuter clinics and, most importantly, education. We are focusing on developing countries because the need is so great. They simply don't have the resources or humane organizations that we have in this country to even begin to improve the situation."
Gutierrez became involved with international relief groups when she worked at the Boulder Valley Humane Society and volunteered for the Yucatan Animal Rescue Foundation, which provided free veterinary clinics in Mexico. When that organization dissolved, Gutierrez and her co-founders were determined to continue the work and rounded up volunteers, organizers, sponsors and donors. VIDAS was the result of all their hard work. This summer, the group sponsored its first two clinics in Mexico with 13 volunteers, including three surgeons, and provided spaying and neutering to 300 animals, as well as medical care for parasites and other health conditions, and vaccinations. More importantly, said Gutierrez, the group educated the children of the communities that hosted the clinics.
"We really feel that the only way we can find a long-term solution to this problem is education," said Gutierrez. "To that end, we are developing school programs and reaching out to the children who bring their pets to our clinics. We provide them with educational materials in Spanish and help them to understand why having their pet spayed or neutered is a good thing. In turn, they can teach their parents and help to turn around destructive beliefs that unintentionally condemn millions of animals to a life of misery and suffering."
VIDAS, which works in collaboration with Veterinary Relief International, is looking for volunteers (both students and veterinary surgeons), and sponsors and donors to help in its programs. Volunteers, especially Spanish-speaking, are needed for the clinics and education programs in Mexico and other developing countries. Sponsors and donors are needed for donations of money and supplies. VIDAS works with local people in Mexico, including American ex-patriots, who provide room and food to volunteers, get local advertising for the clinics, and help with clinic logistics. VIDAS also offers a pet "adoption" program where donors can sponsor an animal for $25, and will receive a photo of their "pet."
"This program takes so much work, but it's worth it," said Gutierrez. "When you go down to Mexico and you see the condition of these animals, it's just heartbreaking. But we know that there is something that we can do to make a difference and that is what VIDAS is all about."
Other PVM students who volunteered with VIDAS in Mexico this summer were junior students Ruth Parkin, Celeste Park, Meghann Berglund, Erika Hartle-Schutte, and Robyn Gadorsik; and senior students Melissa Vollaire and Ginny Gill. Parkin, Gadorsik, and Gill also are co-founders with Gutierrez of VIDAS.
VIDAS currently is planning two additional trips to Mexico in May 2004
and in the fall of 2004, and would like to sponsor additional clinics
in other countries in Central and South America