Our Evolution on Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador
Luckily the seas are relatively calm as we travel from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz to Isabela with our entire medical team and our equipment. In previous years, the pacific swells have caused the little boats to be tossed around and the AB team has been rather green, to say the least. These boat rides have become a rite of passage into AB. This time, no broken bones, or full sick bags!
As we come into the harbor of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, I get an overwhelming feeling of excitement and love causing me to tear up. This is where AB began, this is my second home. If I hadn’t adopted ‘Isabela’, my soul dog who has passed on, I may have moved here back then, this place is in my heart. I even snuck in Isabela’s ashes to spread them here (That is our secret)
We dock and greet everyone. What is so beautiful is that people say ‘Hey Emma, you are back, where is the clinic this time?’ like we have only been gone for a few weeks. I have lost count of how many times I have been here, it really doesn’t matter, what matters is that the community here have embraced the program and now the relationship between dogs and people is 100% different than back in 2004.
While the clinic is getting set up with our partners ABG, who protect the bio-security and bio-diversity of the islands and IOI, who help place international volunteers here, I head off to do my rounds and say hello to the people and their dogs.
Lara, the first dog we ever fixed in May of 2004, lived to 14 years of age and Sara, her Mum, told me that she is still so proud that her dog was the first. I pop over to the radio station to see Stalin, who was one of our first volunteers, when he was 16 years of age. He is now married with 2 children and is the Director of Radio Isabela and a Fireman. He continues to relay information about how to take care of your pets and why; he has made it his mission to share this information. Sara Luz, who is the Director of IOI, used to be the local school teacher. She and I, along with Diana, the Director of CIMEI, the former ABG, organized the first humane education program here. She invites me to tell the story to her new international volunteers. I have never told the story in front of her before. As I start, she jumps in with adlibs of her own, and we end up giving an excited history in both languages, of the humane animal management program here. Please also note, this was all done by women, Sara, Diana and myself, while the leaders of many international and local NGO’s said it was impossible.
One story that I did not know that Sara shared was hilarious. AB had given out free collars and leashes, dog food and dog biscuits as incentives to get their dogs fixed. Well, the kids wore the collars as fashion items and the fishermen tied up their boats with the leashes, which we addressed with much hilarity and provided fun dog community training classes. Sara told us that she had come home one day and her son had been at an AB dog training class. She found him covering the dog biscuits in jam and eating them all. It said ‘biscuit’, so he thought he could eat them! Through tears of laughter, she told us that ‘AB’s ship’ (actually our friends’ ships at the Sea Shepherd and Galapagos National Park) had arrived with all these supplies and the community was super excited, as no one had helped them directly before. Many of these items were new and unfamiliar, you couldn’t buy dog supplies anywhere on these islands, so it is not surprising that some things were not used for their intended purpose. There were definite cultural clashes that happened between us all at the start, but we always faced them with humor and laughed them off and these stories quickly became anecdotes shared through the local community.
Now in 2018, I look out of the backpacker’s window, The Jungle is now owned by Checho, who is also a boat captain who would always transfer us and our entire clinics from island to island, I see people on the beach, with their dogs on leashes, exercising. The delicate marine iguana colony that goes between the rocks by Beto’s bar and the Iguana Crossing to the ponds, has been saved. Around 100 of them scramble around the rocks, giving us their classic prehistoric smile.
This program simply and undeniably worked. Together, all of us have worked so hard for the last 14 years to achieve this. We may be separated by a 600 mile flight, followed by a 2 hour, sometimes longer, boat ride from the coast of Ecuador, but we are also on one of the most prestigious, biologically important archipelagos on the planet.
If we were able to achieve this here and prove that community-based sterilization programs work, then we could prove that it can be achieved anywhere on the planet. We did it, together, as a global community. We moved resources around the planet with our friends’ help. We invited the community to get involved and lead the program. They did, and they became the advocates for it, ensuring that the authorities kept it going to then finally took it over. ABG is doing a tremendous job at providing free spay, neuter and now also vaccination services to these islands. AB will return each year to provide ‘top-up’ services and bring in medications.
What do they need now? Well, evolution does not stop post Darwin. Now we are seeing pedigree dogs being smuggled in and being bred with the island dogs. In addition, ticks have become even stronger worldwide and the Galapagos is no exception. As a result, we are seeing more tick-borne diseases than ever before. You guessed it, the people need flea and tick preventatives for their dogs. We did sample blood testing this time on the dogs and found that 50% have tick borne diseases. This means that when we perform surgery, the dogs blood does not clot quickly, as the tick-borne disease has thinned the blood. Earlier this year, we sent down a drug called Doxycycline, which reverses this problem in the short term. However, tick borne diseases are totally preventable with parasite treatments. So this is where you come in, can you help us, help these communities combat these preventable diseases? We are seeking donations of any of the following:
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Evolution of Isabela
Our Evolution on Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador