A group of expat volunteers, fast becoming known as Spay The Strays, organized yet another free Spay and Neuter campaign in San Carols last Sunday. This event, done with the help of Spay Panama vets and vet techs is the 5th event put on in Panama's Pacific communities since February 2008, bringing the total number of animals sterilized in the area to 928.
From 7:30 in the morning on Sunday to 5pm, people arrived with animals to be sterilized. News of the spay and neuter campaign spread through the community through flyers, word of mouth, emails and playacommunity.com.
Panama has a high population of dogs and cats. When there are not enough people to care for them, their number increase rapidly. The result creates a stray animal population which brings with it problems of starvation and animal suffering due to sickness.
Some expats feel that Panamanians have become desensitized to the sight of unwanted animals and don't care about the situation. Others feel that under educated and hungry humans take priority over animals. Still others feel that Panama does not put the same level of priority on their animals that other countries do. Regardless of the arguments, what is clear is that rapid births and low resources make the unwanted animal situation a mountain to climb. What is also evident, from the number of Panamanians brining in mixed breed pets to the spay campaigns, is that Panama does care about its animals.
Many expats moving to Panama from first world countries are not accustomed to seeing unwanted domestic animals. The volume and condition of strays seen in communities can leave people heartbroken and asking the question: How can I help?
Mary Rhodes, a retired US Armed Forces officer, living in Alton del Maria not only asked the question, but set out on a mission to be part of the answer. Mary formed Spay The Strays to help with the control of animals in Panama's Pacific communities. Spay The Strays raises funds and aligns with organizations such as Spay Panama and the McKee Foundation to put on events such as the Spay and Neuter campaign that took place in San Carlos last Sunday, with the help of Spay Panama .
Founded in 2002 by Patricia Chan, Spay Panama sets out to meet the problem of Panama's animal over-population head on. The organization, developed on Chan's intense love of animals and personal resources has performed more than 20,000 sterilizations over the last 8 years. Running a tight ship, Pat's team sterilizes animals at a walk-in facility in Panama City and is able to take the show on the road into communities where their work is badly needed. Her vision and methods have drawn the attention of a number of overseas organizations, including World Vets who organized 4 US based volunteers to assist Spay Panama at Sunday's campaign. The campaign also caught the eye of a Quebec based travel documentary television series that happened to be filming a show to be entitled, 30 Days in Panama. The French speaking crew filmed on-the-spot interviews with vets and techs for airing on Quebec television.
At this Sunday's campaign 6 vets preformed non-stop open air surgeries for 10 hours at the Casa Communal in San Carlos. The core Spay Panama team of on-staff veterinarians and vet techs were joined by 2 US volunteer vets and 3 US volunteer techs who had found their way to Panama, to gain the experience of working on a mass spay campaign. Before arriving at Sunday's Spay the Strays organized campaign, the Spay Panama group spent all day Saturday sterilizing 155 animals at a locally organized campaign, also in San Carlos.
When the group arrived Saturday night, to set up camp at the Casa Communal for Sunday's Spay the Strays event, there were 14 animals waiting to meet them. Ignoring tiredness, an enthusiastic crew set up tables, plugged in portable lights, set up oxygen equipment and proceed to sterilize the 14 waiting animals, before rolling out sleeping bags to spend the night on the floor of the Casa Communal to be ready for Sunday morning.
Like other events organized by Spay the Strays, this Sunday's event drew many expat volunteers to assist the effort. Organized into shifts and jobs by STS coordinator Sheila Scott, volunteers carried animals on and off operating tables, sterilized equipment, administered flea treatments and cleaned ears. Cars were offered up to transport owners and pets to and from the facility. A hosting family made showers available to Spay Panama staff while others took care of meals.
A campaign such as this one, which allows for an open ended donation, makes it possible for low income families to sterilize their pets. Regular veterinarian clinics charge $80 - $120 for a single sterilization. For a spay and neuter organization, that much could cover the expenses to sterilize 8 - 10 animals. It is no wonder some vets take issue with spay campaigns, feeling they go in direct competition with their own clinics. However Pat Chan, from Spay Panama says, "We take care of the animals that would not see the inside of a veterinarian clinic. We only do spay and neuters and do not perform any other veterinarian services".
As for those folk who wait for a spay and neuter campaign to sterilize their animals, one expat woman sums it up, "I would rather donate the price I would pay at a clinic and have my animal spayed here. The veterinarians at these tables see more spays and neuters in one month than a regular vet would see in a year".
While no one is turned away for not having the money to pay, a donation jar on the check-in table encourages owners to take responsibility for their pet's sterilization. If you can afford it, one is encouraged to pay more, especially since $10 accounts for the sterilization of 1 cat, while $20 covers a dog.
Another reason for bringing an animal to a spay campaign is that a mass sterilization team is equipped to perform a spay or neuter operation on very young animals, while most veterinarians will not sterilize before 6 months of age.
A spay and release technique allows for an animal to be returned to the streets soon after sterilization. Pat Chan from Spay Panama says, "We spay them when we can, the opportunity may not come again". In fact student vets and observing vets travel to Panama to learn the technique from Spay Panama .
Whether it is the low cost, the spay technique, the enthusiasm or the vision. One thing we do know, Spay the Strays has joined the battle to control the over-population of dogs and cats in the Panama's Pacific Communities. Through organizing spay and neuter campaigns, they are making a difference in the stray population. When you consider that, left unchecked, a female dog and her off spring can be the source of 67,000 animals in 6 years, while a female cat and her off spring can produce 420,000 animals over 7 years - the 168 animals sterilized at Sunday's campaign is no small feat. Congratulations on another great campaign!
Your donations are needed to keep this important work going. Contact Mary Rhodes at 6752-5815 or email at
For pictures of Sunday's Spay Campaign, Click here