San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, is famous for its sea lions, who come in each evening to sleep on the main beach. There are 100's upon 100's of them, all laying around at night, groaning, sneezing and spooning one another. In the daytime, the babies play while the adults look on, while the humans look on at them all, with giant smiles saying "awww." It is a place on the planet where many species come together in peace.
It was not long ago that the scene was quite different. Now there are fences to keep other animals and humans out, and the dog population has moved from the streets to the homes, for the most part. These days there are small packs of fat fluffy poodles keeping guard on their streets. This time, we have even seen evidence of a basset hound, as many dogs are low-riders with deep barks. The blue-eye dogs are popular, at some point someone (illegally of course) brought in Siberian huskies and bred them into the street dog population. I could not imagine living here in a thick winter coat and hat, I am sweating into my laptop as I write this!
We have been working with ABG (previously CIMEI) for 15 years to keep the dog and cat populations under control, using only humane methods. It has been quite the journey and not an easy one for either agency. However, this time, we all feel that we are now in a new phase of animal welfare here.
ABG blew my mind by building a new spay and neuter clinic, the very one we have been dreaming about forever with them.They kept it as a surprise until I was at the front door. I wondered why they would not tell us the clinic address for the clinic flier! Dr. Marilyn Cruz, the Director of ABG, had told everyone to keep it from me. After working in all sorts of buildings over the years and making do, finally the vets have a beautiful space to provide top notch veterinary care to the animals.
You cannot have a fancy clinic without a vet, so ABG hired Dr. Fernando, who recently graduated from vet school in Quito. He is Galapaganian too,which means he can stay here and practice forever. This has been another dream of ours as the mainland vets have to return home after 2 years. We have trained them, things are great for 2 years and then they go home and the cycle is repeated. While that is awesome for the mainland, it has always left the Galapagos without a vet each time, plus, we have had to start the training from scratch again. Now, Dr. Fernando is here permanently! This week, we have trained him in spay and neuter, and he is a whizz! Dr. Raymond and Dr. Amanda have been very impressed with his technique and his wonderfully kind manner.
While there is now a hodge podge of dog breeds here, they are under control and are also vaccinated against Parvo and Distemper, creating a healthier dog population. The cats have made an strong appearance in the last few years and, with help from Alley Cat Allies and the Galapagos Conservancy, we have been able to ship down cat traps and transfer cages. We have trained ABG in cat trapping and they are fantastic at it. This week, they have been out all night with the AB team hiding in bushes while watching traps and talking to the community about what we are all doing and why.
The children have been instrumental in helping us too. They know where the cats are and can quite often just wander over and pick them up in their arms for us and put them in the cages. It is an extraordinary allegiance.
This time we had volunteers from the US, Trinidad, Colombia and mainland Ecuador. We all had the same goal, to treat all beings with kindness and respect, and work hard to sterilize and treat the cats and dogs here. These folks have paid for their own flights, meals and accommodation, and worked super hard to help this community. ALL the species of the Galapagos islands will benefit from this critical work. As we pack up our clinic and get ready to move to Isabela Island, we feel the love and friendship of San Cristobal around us. This has been a tremendous experience for all of us and our family just got a little bit bigger.
15 years ago they said it was impossible. Now there is a spay and neuter clinic on this island AND Santa Cruz island. This program has worked. We never gave up, neither did ABG.