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Case Study: My day with a veterinary M*A*S*H Unit

While visiting Mexico last year, I was introduced to Kelly Karger (pictured above), the co-founder of S.A.M.M. (Save A Mexican Mutt) — a rescue/adoption organization that services San Miguel de Allende, a small town in central Mexico. Kelly and her husband Jim have dedicated 10 years of work to building S.A.M.M. into an international organization. While some dogs are adopted locally, most are eventually placed in homes in the US and Canada. (The logistics of this are daunting, but they do it!) In addition to their ongoing rescue and rehab work, S.A.M.M. sets up an temporary operating room once a week (choosing a different part of San Miguel each time), in order to bring spay and neutering services directly to the community. The following is an account of my volunteer day at the clinic; I admit it’s a long post, but what I experienced there was truly touching, and I think worth knowing about.

Although San Miguel is known primarily as a photogenic tourist town, like most of Mexico, it’s also very poor, and it’s quite hard to convince local people of the importance of spaying and neutering their animals. S.A.M.M. asks people to pay a minimal amount — anywhere from $1.50 an animal to $15 (if they’re considered “well off”), and then the rest is funded by the non-profit. The clinic is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, and the veterinarians are paid per animal(!) — amazingly, that day’s dedicated vet did 25 animals in one day.


The building they used that particular week was an empty house that a local woman let them have for the day. It was quite rough — basically a series of tiny cement rooms; each room was lit by a single light bulb suspended from wire.

The recovery room for dogs. All SAMM staff are volunteers.

The recovery room for dogs, with some of SAMM’s volunteer staff. All animals are sent home with detailed instructions for after-care.

The waiting room was set up in the front room of the house. We passed through it directly to the central courtyard/patio, which served as the recovery area for the dogs (pictured above). It was unseasonably cold, and they were wrapped in blankets; some were resting in the crates they had been brought in. I did some work with three dogs who seemed to be doing pretty well, but as there were other volunteers working with them, my friend Joey eventually called me through a doorway that had a sheet tacked up over it. I saw about 8 or 9 cats on the floor, wrapped in blankets on top of mats, with a small electric heater to try and make it warmer. The minute I saw them laying there like little papooses, I plunked down beside them without even looking around; it was only after I had been working with them for about 15 minutes that Joey motioned for me to look up, and I realized that I was actually in the operating room, sitting just a couple of feet from a surgery in progress!

Volunteer veterinarianThe small operating room was very rudimentary — it consisted of three tables — one for surgery, one to hold supplies and one for whatever animal was waiting “on deck” to be operated on next. The small patch of available floor in the corner where I was sitting was where the cats had been placed after their surgery. I used my energetic healing techniques, specifically with a “flushing” treatment to clear their systems of inflammation and anesthesia, and I also communicated with them regarding the reason for the surgery — that they were loved and that the medical staff was taking care of them so that there wouldn’t be so many sick or starving animals. I told them that they would be fine afterwards, and that their only job was just to rest and get better. Two brothers were rather traumatized and I spent extra time with them, but for the most part, the kitties seemed like they were doing fairly well. We also petted them and stroked their ears and massaged their necks to try and get them to slowly wake up from anesthesia so that they could be taken home. Some were older but most were in various stages of kittenhood — as young as four months, I believe.

I estimated it only took around 25 minutes to do each procedure; the doc didn’t once take a break— just a sip of Coca Cola in between operations! It was so efficient that no sooner was one animal off of the table than 10 seconds later, the next one was swiftly and efficiently moved into place from the “on deck” spot. How they got to “on deck” was interesting; the dogs were fairly easy to put to sleep but the cats first had to be bundled into a plastic mesh grocery bag to keep them contained in order to administer the injection. Once asleep, the animals were placed on the waiting table and then immediately shaved by an assistant. The shaved fur was vacuumed off the animal’s stomach with an actual “Dustbuster”! The animal was then placed on the O.R. table on it’s back and then all four legs were tied with rope that was attached to each of the table legs. Basic but effective.

There were several things that were memorable. One was that these two teeny scrawny kitten brothers who looked like Creamsicles were sleeping side by side, sharing a blanket, and when I lifted the cover, one had his arm around the other one as they slept — they were “spooning”! Joey spoke in Spanish to the woman who brought them in and she said that they sleep together like that all of the time. It was very tender and sweet.

Another thing that really touched me was the last patient of the day — a large dog. He had been wandering the streets and the S.A.M.M. receptionist had been feeding him. He had a couple of injuries — one side of his face was very badly swollen, there was also a scrape on it, and he had cuts across the top of his feet as if tight wire or chain had been tied over them — it had created deep grooves in his paws. The staff speculated he might have gotten hit by a car but when I checked in with him, he showed me an image of someone hitting him in the face with a pipe. His teeth were intact and his jaw worked, and I detected that he had a bad “bone bruise” right at the hinge of his jaw, but I did not feel there was a fracture. I watched the entire neutering process, which took longer because he was a bigger dog, and they also took care of his paw wounds. Then the vet placed him on his side, first palpating his swollen face and then making an incision in it to drain the abscess. Then he calmly just stuck his finger into the cheek and started scooping out the infection. Eventually, the blood flow looked more normal and they then cleaned the wound with antibiotic and put a drain in for the overnight. How lucky that dog was to have made it to this O.R. where he could have his other medical needs taken care of in addition to the neutering. He surely would have slowly died from that infected, uncomfortable wound if they had not rescued him.

My experience working with this dog also reminded me once again of how animal communication can help fit together the puzzle pieces of a story, because animals can convey to me how it really was they came to be injured. This is really useful for medical reasons, but I often have clients who have adopted strays and they are understandably curious to just know their pet’s “history”…I really appreciate being able to help shed some light on this for them. They might have been speculating for years, but after they find out the “real” story, so much more about their animal’s behaviors then make sense.

After a long day, it was very touching to see the last of the families take their animals home, and the faces of the waiting kids light up when their pets were finally put back into their arms. The woman with the spooning brother cats told us she currently had about 15 stray animals that she was taking care of . The last of her animals to be fixed were several adorable, velvety charcoal-colored Pug puppies. She had so many animals spayed and neutered that day that she had to have her son bring them home in stages. It was heartening to conclude the day with a woman like her after knowing how that other dog had been abused.

I’ve always said that one of the hardest things for me about traveling is seeing how animals in other countries suffer. Of course we have many animals here that need help, but please consider donating to a foreign rescue organization too — a little money goes a long way to help an animal in a place like Mexico.

Young girl with her puppy at S.A.M.M. clinic would welcome your donations! And check out their Facebook page for many more photos:

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on a cat rescue organization I also discovered in San Miguel…


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