WILLMAR - When the patient arrived with his caretaker at the outdoor clinic in rural Honduras, a team of volunteer veterinarians was waiting.
Careful hands removed him from his pet carrier. His caretaker cradled him while anesthesia was injected into his leg. Minutes later, the patient was fast asleep and lying on the operating table, undergoing surgery while the rest of the veterinary team watched.
After all, it isn’t every day you get to see a fivepound capuchin monkey being neutered.
“That was something I’d never seen before. Most of us just look at monkeys behind bars,” said Dr. Jane Nygaard, a New London-area veterinarian who was part of the recent field service project sponsored by World Vets in late March.
The week on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off the east coast of Honduras, gave American veterinarians a chance to volunteer their skills while providing free care to the island’s pet dog and cat population.
For most Americans, high-quality veterinary care is readily available, Nygaard said. “It’s something we take for granted here. We have a great standard of living for both ourselves and our pets.”
Not so in a developing nation such as Honduras, especially on an island with limited access to many of the most basic services for pets.
World Vets, founded in 2008 by Dr. Cathy King and based in Fargo, N.D., brings veterinary care, veterinary training and disaster relief to needy places around the globe. The nonprofit organization has programs in 36 countries on six continents, working in partnership with animal advocacy groups, foreign governments, U.S. and foreign military groups and veterinary professionals abroad.
Most of the organization’s work is with dogs and cats but it also has an equine program for horses and donkeys.
Roatan has a resident veterinarian who works with the World Vets volunteer teams that come twice a year, but there are still many unmet needs. And for many of the islanders, veterinary care is simply unaffordable, Nygaard said. “They have to take care of themselves first and then their pets.”
Working at tables set up in an informal out-of-doors clinic and using donated equipment and supplies, volunteers spent their days seeing one pet after another. They performed spay and neuter surgeries, treated for parasites and administered vaccinations and heartworm preventives.
“They all needed something,” Nygaard said. “We had young dogs, old dogs, pregnant dogs, dogs with infections.”
Owners lined up at the clinic early each day, waiting for their pet to be seen, she said. “A lot of them had to take taxis or walk to get to our site. They were there for five or six hours, some of them.”
Altogether, the team took care of 130 dogs and 30 cats. Then there was the monkey, who belonged to a group of wild capuchin monkeys living in a zoological park on the island.
Friendly enough to approach tourists, the monkeys can still be territorial and aggressive, which is why the park staff decided to have one of them neutered while the World Vets team was there.
“He came through it just fine. He was very well-behaved,” Nygaard said.
Nygaard, a board member of the Humane Society of Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties, volunteered last year at the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota with Rural Area Veterinary Services, a program of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association to bring veterinary care to remote and underserved areas of the U.S.
Programs that help in underserved areas can have a big impact, Nygaard said.
Without spaying and neutering, overpopulation can result, she said. “The more there are, the less healthy they’ll all be. There’s only so many resources to go around.”
And when animals aren’t healthy, it can also spill over to people, she said. “Human health is really tied into animal health. Physicians and veterinarians should collaborate more. We don’t have the same diseases, but we share the same environment.”
Like many of the World Vets volunteers, she’s thinking about going back.
“You just help out wherever you can,” she said. “It makes you feel good and it matters to that one animal.”