The paths leading out of the center of Todos Santos, Guatemala drift upwards into the beautiful surrounding mountains, with clouds caught on their slopes. At 8,000 feet above sea level, I am constantly catching my breath as I make my way up steep inclines, my heart beating faster with every increase of effort.
Dogs sit lazily on the side of the road, watching men and women in traditional clothing walk by carrying firewood or returning home from a long day’s work. Children run effortlessly in front of me, switching from the Mayan language of Mam to Spanish in an attempt to communicate with me.
Animals Foraging for Scraps, and Without Veterinary Care
I have spent over a week in Todos Santos, and the experience of helping its animals and people has opened my heart to this beautiful community. I became a veterinarian almost 3 years ago and have been seeking an experience like this for as long as I can remember. I was able to travel considerably in my early to mid-20s, and I invariably felt such frustration watching stray dogs and cats foraging for food scraps and having no access to veterinary care.
It bothered me how helpless I was in providing them with any sort of assistance. Images of animals from my travels remained with me throughout veterinary school and I sought ways to get involved in both my local community and the international community.
A Trip to Make a Difference
A few months ago, I heard of Dr. Scarlett Magda through a mutual friend. I was astonished at her accomplishments and her vision for Veterinarians International. I wanted to get involved instantly and contribute in any way I could. When Scarlett asked if I wanted to come to Guatemala in just a few short months, I was thrilled.
As my week in Todos Santos came to a close, the entire team was feeling the exhaustion from all the challenges that go into performing countless surgeries and administering a myriad of vaccines. What is more powerful than exhaustion, however, is seeing the grateful smiles of the people who walked hours to get their cats and dogs veterinary care. For many people of Todos Santos, this may be the only time their pet will ever receive veterinary attention.
As Veterinarians International, in partnership with the GAAP, continues to return every year, more dogs and cats can get the help they need. It melts my heart to see dogs wearing collars and leashes that they received in previous years, looking at vaccination records that show an owner has committed to getting their pet vaccinated every year, and hearing from owners that they will make sure their pet gets on the spay/neuter list next year.
Looking Forward to the Future
Once I return to my life in Southern California, I plan on becoming more proficient in Spanish so I can connect more fully with the people of Todos Santos next year and learn their stories. I am already looking forward to working with such a fantastic team again, getting to know the curious children better, and contributing in all ways possible using my veterinary skills. I am excited to see Veterinarians International continue to grow and help more communities in need.