(Classroom that we turned into spay/neuter surgery room for clinic. Just outside the windows is where we were running physical examinations on all the animals brought in)
Clinic on Saturday was a lot of fun as it felt great to give back to the community after learning so much over the course of this week. The night before, we visited the inside of a schoolhouse to prepare it to be used for the clinic’s surgeries and with a few taped off chairs outside, we managed to recreate a reception and an examination room. Seeing afterwards how fast the clinic was put up and then taken down showed me how far-reaching the impact of our services ended up going even with limited resources. We were responsible as a group for everything from recording intake, running physical examinations, assisting in spay/neuter surgeries, and watching the animals during post-op.
(Giving dewormer/vitamin injection for physical exam and checking vitals during surgery)
(Assisting in spay of dog and suturing up skin from incision)
It was amazing to see how many owners showed up and were concerned for their animals’ well being as many of the small animals here in Belize tend to roam freely off leash within the communities (We had about 80 or so patients and 20 of them received free spay/neuter surgeries!:). Many of the dogs and cats mistaken for strays actually are more than likely to have homes that they go back to at the end of the day. However, the problem with pet ownership in the country actually arises from this cultural practice where sometimes people do not feel fully responsible for the animal despite encouraging the
dog or cat to come back to their home through giving leftover scraps of food that they have on hand. Through free animal clinics such as the one hosted by CELA, we are able to better raise awareness for the responsibilities surrounding pet ownership thereby increasing the likelihood that animal welfare gets appreciated. It became apparent to me while working at the clinic how long a little bit of knowledge about animal care might go in reassuring owner’s concerns. Although the fast pace of the clinic was overwhelming, it forced me to realize that often times it is not actually about how much you know but more about how much you can do with what little you do know. There were times when I definitely doubted myself while doing physical examinations and suturing still was a challenge; however, as I learned you are responsible for more than just the animal as a veterinarian. I actually ended up talking to this one women who was concerned about her dachshund puppy about to be taken into surgery to be spayed and it was amazing to see the difference I could make in just helping her understand the procedure. Talking to the owners and connecting with them was actually one of the parts that I enjoyed the most at the clinic and only reaffirmed for me that this is the profession that I want to enter into.
On Sunday, we had a free day so we decided as a group to go to snorkeling at a small caye off the coast of the town of Placentia, which lies about three hours east of San Ignacio. One of the many things that I love about Belize is how easy it is to get around as the jungle, mountains, and ocean sit within only minutes of each other. Because we left really early in the morning, we got to see some of the fog lift from the mountainside and it was a really cool feeling being driven through it. Many people actually believe that the hillsides that make up the mountains in Belize are actually Mayan temples waiting to be uncovered—something that continued to change the way I looked at the landscape and made being driven places all the more interesting.
When we arrived at Placentia, we were taken to a local restaurant for breakfast that had probably the best mango juice (Fun Fact: Belize has more than 50 types of mango trees that all look and taste different) and fry jacks I have ever eaten. I forgot to include notes about what I had been eating while abroad but if you ever do go to Belize, you have to try their fry jacks and national dish of rice and beans. Both are rather simple dishes but since all the food in Belize is natural (Yes, even the Coca-Cola is made from pure sugar cane not processed sugar additives 😉 it tastes very wholesome and sweet. The Laughing Bird Caye where we spent the entire day was absolutely breathtaking. Clear blue water, coconut trees, and a gentle sea breeze to cool you off after a swim not to mention that there were hermit crabs all over the small island so we got to play with them too. It was actually kind of funny because I ended up picking up one of the larger hermit crabs in the wrong way and after pinching me, it would not let go. I remember joking with our tour guide afterwards that I would just have to settle for my own little scar on my pinky that would always remind me to come back to Belize. When we did eventually go snorkeling, it was a bit of a challenge for me to learn how to work the headgear and flippers, as it was my first time. They did not really take a lot of time to teach us how to use the gear but I managed it eventually after having a couple salty water experiences of it going up my nose and in my eyes. I cannot tell you though what it was like to have coral reefs and fish swimming all around you and literally at your fingertips. Because the water was so clear due to the limestone (Fun Fact: Belize is made up of about 60% limestone), you could see everything and for me, it ended up being a Finding Nemo experience that I will never forget.
When we came back to the coast of Placentia, we got the opportunity to go to a little gelato shop in town which was a lot of fun being that I am half Italian. I tried the coconut gelato topped with a scoop of Ferrero Rocher (Comes from same hazelnut candies you can get in convenience store for those who don’t know). It was really refreshing treat to have before we had to cram ourselves all back into the van to travel back to the Midas Resort. Along the way back, we ended up stopping off to see what was going on at the Mango Festival but unfortunately most places were already closing up shop since it was the end of the day. It was still fun regardless though as we ran into some of the local dogs in the area. One cool thing about Belize is that it has a ton of festivals that happen throughout the country in different places annually. Before my arrival, Chocolate Festival was going on and I was told that we would just be missing Lobster Festival when we had to go back to the States. My suggestion is that if you ever plan on going to Belize, find out when the festivals are as I heard they are a lot of fun to go to and great way to experience Belizean culture!