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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 of all shapes, sizes and colors. In Mexico City alone, an astounding three million stray dogs roam the barrios and boulevards. 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 volunteers are members of Veterinarios Internacionales Dedicados a Animales Sanos (VIDAS), or International Veterinarians Dedicated to Animal Health. VIDAS goes into small communities often under very difficult conditions to provide basic veterinary care where there is none available.
"The mission of our group is to end the needless suffering of dogs and cats throughout the developing world by preventing unwanted litters and providing basic veterinary care,” said Cristina Gutierrez, a junior student and founding member of VIDAS. “We are accomplishing this through free services including health exams, vaccinations, spay and neuter clinics and, most importantly, education. We are focusing n 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. Last 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 currently is planning two additional trips to Mexico in May 2004 and in the fall of 2004, and would also like to expand its services to other Central and South American countries. Support for VIDAS’ work is needed in terms of equipment, sponsors, volunteers, and donations. VIDAS also offers an “adoption” program where donors can sponsor medical services for an animal and will then receive a photo of “their” animal at the clinic. For additional information on VIDAS, you can visit the VIDAS website, complete with photos, organization information, and donor forms, at www.vidas.org.
VIDAS volunteers are: