The MAWS cottage, where volunteers stay while working at MAWS, has started to feel like my second home. I settle quickly into my routine: Up at 6:15 to go for my morning run (something I NEVER do at home). Scoop frogs out of the dogs’ water bowl (8 the other morning- a record!). Give all the dogs a scratch as I do my stretches, then head out the gate for a half hour of jogging as the sun comes up. The Ring Neck Doves are the first to start singing each morning- usually about 15 minutes before I want to get up- but as I run, the birds start coming to life, filling the air with a wonderful cacophony of lorries, hornbills, plovers, and starlings. My regular running route is partially submerged this year, after heavier than normal rains, but getting my feet soaked as I cross the swamp is refreshing. I get back to the cottage, make my brekkie and coffee, and my colleagues and I all head down the road to the clinic. And so starts my day.
MAWS, the Maun Animal Welfare Society, is a non-profit organization in northern Botswana whose objective is to provide sterilization, vaccination, and basic medical services to communities throughout the Delta, and by doing so control dog and cat overpopulation and the spread of diseases like Rabies and Canine Distemper throughout the environmentally sensitive and ecologically divers Okavango Delta area. MAWS relies entirely on the services of volunteer veterinarians and veterinary nurses to provide these services. Currently the group operates on about 2500 dogs and cats per year- no small feat considering how vast an area their services cover. (The dog in the image to the left was found showing signs of distemper and had to be put down).
Despite my routine, every year is a bit different in that there’s a different group of volunteers with each visit. Thus far I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve gotten along well with my colleagues, both from a work perspective, as well as socially- very important when spending 24 hours a day with a bunch of people you don’t know. At this point in my MAWS career, I’m considered an old-timer with 4 visits under my belt. Mark, one of the other vets, is making his 2nd visit, while Mair and Gaya are both newbies.
I arrived here on March 27th, and the next day I hit the ground running, setting off with the group to Chanoga, a village about 30kms east of Maun, to do an outreach project there. MAWS regularly provides services to villages around the Delta, setting up a temporary clinic carried in the back of the bakke (our trust Toyota truck) and setting up shop for one to several days in a remote area. These projects, I’ve found, can go one of three ways. They can be well attended and insanely busy. They can, despite ample forewarning of MAWS’ arrival on a certain day and time, be met with complete disinterest and few, if any, people attending. Or they can go the way of this project- a slow start with nobody waiting upon our arrival, then a gradual surge over the course of the morning as word gets out that we’re here. Overall it was a successful first day, but we learned that attendance the following day, a Sunday, would likely be minimal. Our planned 2 day project was shortened to one.
Outreach is always a highlight of my trips here, but it’s a lot of hard work packing up the truck, double checking the packing list to ensure nothing was missed (the Rabies vaccine didn’t make it with us on this trip), unpacking and setting up shop quickly, and crossing fingers that people will show up with their dogs and cats. Dogs on leashes made of rope, palm leaves, bailing wire. Cats in bags, cardboard boxes, or swaddled firmly amongst all the people with dogs. Once the mobile clinic is set up we all jump into our designated roles and motor through the procedures du jour in as timely and orderly a manner given the organized chaos that can sometimes arise when a bunch of dogs and occasional cats converge.
Even at a busy project, the interest generally dies down and people wander away, with the exception of the local kids. They will generally hang out for the day, being entertained by our work, and entertaining us in return. Some try to help, many get too close, most just politely watch, and take their dog away when it’s ready to go. At the end of the day, we pack up our truck and head back to town.
Work at the clinic can be just as challenging, although generally without the audience. We request a set number of dogs, and Nation, one of our incredible assistants, will deliver them late in the afternoon so they’re there for us in the morning. Once he’s unloaded the following day’s patients, he picks up that day’s recovered surgical patients and delivers them back to their homes. Having joined him on the occasional house call, how the dogs get to the right home is no small feat. Maun is a sprawling village of random paved and dirt roads, and someone unfamiliar with the area could get lost quite easily. (In the image to the left, Dr Spooner spays a rather pregnant bitch).
Work starts promptly at 8, tending to any hospitalized cases first, then moving on to the spays and neuters. Since there haven’t been any nurses on this trip, the veterinarians have been rotating through the nurse role, tending to all the dogs and cats out throughout their surgery from knocking them out to delivering them back to the recovery kennel. Surgery, I’ve learned, is an easier job by far! We routinely do 20 dogs a day with 2 surgeons working. Plus there are almost always walk-ins needing medical or surgical attention- everything from vomiting and diarrhea to hit-by-car dogs.
And such is my life at MAWS. The working conditions can be challenging, but it reconnects me with why I became a veterinarian in the first place. The pay sucks, but as I’ve said time and again, it gives me great joy, and helps recharge my batteries for another year of work back in Vancouver.