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Catch Me if You Can

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Catch Me if You Can

The first day of vaccinating started bright and early before the sun was even up. In the dark, Dawn and I each donned a crisp new yellow Mission Rabies polo shirt and packed our day-packs with plenty of water and snacks to keep up our energy throughout the day.

There are 11 international volunteers on this drive and we have been divided into pairs and assigned to teams named after animals. I have been assigned to the Leopard Team along with Arnie. Our team leader, Frank, is a local, as are the 5 young men (affectionately referred to as “the boys”) that net the free-roaming dogs for us. Dawn is partnered with Lynel, a criticalist from Massachusetts, and they are Team Camel. The four remaining teams are the Elephants, Cobras, Buffaloes, and Pythons. I can tell already that there will be some friendly competition between the different groups. Who vaccinated the most dogs today? Who walked the most miles before lunch?

The teams all assembled around 5:45 am to pack their supplies for the morning session. Arnie and I filled our cooler with ice-packs, syringes, needles, and enough vaccine for 100 dogs and climbed into the truck with our driver and Frank. “The boys” rode in the back with their enormous green nets.

We drove to nearby Calangute Beach and got to work. I knew there would be plenty of dogs – the day before the drive started, we spent a few hours walking along the shore of the Arabian Sea. During the tourist season, the beaches of Goa are lined with temporary open-air restaurants and bars. These “beach shacks,” assembled from bamboo poles, plastic sheeting, and dried palm leaves, not only offer a taste of the nightlife, but are also home to numerous dogs! For every beach shack it seemed there were 2-5 dogs, some owned by the shack’s proprietor, others free-roaming, all ready to get their ears scratched.

Claudia and Alyssa with free-roaming dogs on the beach, an unfinished seasonal beach shack in the background.
Claudia and Alyssa with free-roaming dogs on the beach, an unfinished seasonal beach shack in the background.

Claudia and Alyssa with free-roaming dogs on the beach, an unfinished seasonal beach shack in the background.

But today, the dogs were more restrained. They had seen the men with the nets before and were uncertain. Netting stray dogs on the beach is no easy task! The dogs are fast and intuitive, but “the boys” are seasoned and talented. They move in unison to slowly fan out and surround the dog, while talking to it to keep it calm. One will get the dog’s attention and hold it while another quietly approaches from behind. They tighten the circle until they can smoothly scoop the dog into the net. Then they deftly twist the net to secure the dog so that it can be vaccinated and painted (marked with temporary dye on the head so that the teams can identify which dogs have been vaccinated already).

Once the dogs have been vaccinated and painted, they are gently released. Their information is then recorded in the Mission Rabies app. Mission Rabies collects a significant amount of data on every dog including their exact location, sex, neuter status, and health condition. Amusingly, after the dogs are released, they will run—but not too far—and some even come back to follow along as we walk the shoreline. It’s as if they know they are done and they are saying, “Look at me! Wasn’t I a good boy today?”

We spent a total of 8.5 hours out vaccinating dogs. When I checked my pedometer at the end of the day it read 14.2 miles and about 34,000 steps! In total, Leopard Team caught, vaccinated, and recorded information on 60 dogs the first day. Altogether the 6 teams vaccinated a whopping 749 dogs in and around Calungute. It was an amazingly successful start to this mass vaccination campaign and I’m grateful to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings! —Alyssa Watson

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Alyssa Watson, DVM, graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003. Dr. Watson is currently an associate veterinarian at Northwest Animal Hospital in Las Vegas. In addition to clinical practice, Dr. Watson is a medical editor for Clinician's Brief. Dr. Watson’s professional interests include canine and feline dermatology, reproduction, and soft tissue surgery. When not at the hospital, she is apt to be enjoying the outdoors with her husband and their two young sons.

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