Attitude Adjustments

It’s been an oddly disquieting 24 hours. You know how they always say a modest life in an industrialized country is a life of untold wealth and riches in the third world? It’s true.

I mean, it’s something you know on an intellectual level, but to experience it, and to live within it for even that short period of time, really cements the impression. Indoor plumbing? Luxury. Hot running water? Absolute decadence. A house with more than one toilet and multiple bathtubs? Palatial, really, by the standards of the villages we visited.

Tamanco was fairly developed compared to a couple of the other places we saw. Besides the presence of a clinic staffed by a doctor on a daily basis, most of the people there had shoes.

The children wore clean clothing, and none of them showed the telltale round bellies of kwashiorkor. Not in this town, at least, though that was not the case throughout the week.

A quick 360 degree spin at the dock shows you the town in its entirety. The white building at 0:12 is the medical clinic where we performed the surgeries with such a pretty view of the green fields.

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But looks aren’t always everything.

This was also the town where we had to beg a person to let us treat a dog he had kicked out of the house weeks prior. It was his dog at first, but then it wasn’t his dog anymore, and no you can’t treat it, well, I guess you can if you must though I don’t know why you would. We neutered the dog, removed his maggots and botfly larvae, gave him dewormers, and hoped for the best- that maybe someone else in the village would take pity on him and give him food.

Considering the casual way the children here kicked at the dogs if they crossed their paths, it’s hard to say whether or not I felt optimistic on that count. I watched children shove each other to the ground in order to grab an extra banana one of the volunteers had offered to them.

It was so frustrating to see the casual disregard so many (though by no means all, or even most) people had for the pets. Until that changes, none of the other medical procedures we perform will make a lasting change. OK, those strange people with cameras showed up and did something that left my dog with a bloody slash down her belly. Now what am I going to eat tonight?

It would be so easy to stop at the first sentence of that last paragraph. After all, it was so frustrating. On the other hand, when you see how hard these people need to work and reach just to survive, I can’t fathom judging them by the same standards we have back home. How can you fault someone for their dog having parasites when the people do as well?

I am sure they sit in judgment as well. I wonder what these people would think of Brody, with his 5 different collars and electric water fountain. They drink and bathe in the river. There is no delivery of grain-free dog foods out here. There is no delivery of anything, unless you go out in a canoe and get it yourself.

Faced with that barrier, one built of language, culture, and poverty, it was hard to say exactly what the long term goals are of an animal care organization in these situations. While we were performing surgery, the Amazon Cares director Bruno was with the children, delivering a talk about animal health and welfare. That is key. That is where change starts.

At the end of the day, all I could really do was put my head down and do what I came to do, which was treat the animals to the best of my ability. If nothing else, the seed was planted in the hearts of the people so keenly watching the proceedings: someone cared enough to come all the way here, just to treat these animals. Perhaps they do have some worth.

As they learn from me about what might be important, so too did I learn from them about what is not. GymBucks, for example, or the school Jogathon deadline. I am afforded the luxury of worrying about staying on trend for fall because I don’t have to worry about whether my kids have dysentery.

I learned more than I would have imagined.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Daily Life, Musings Tagged: ,
  • Lisa W

    Awesome post.

  • Spays, bot fly larvae, and maggots, oh my!
    I don’t remember las (or los) vaca (s?) lying down at all. I must be about to rain.
    Goodbye to the village of Tamanco.
    Great post Dr V

  • Cathey

    Truly awesome post – makes a person think about what is important, what is not, and what you can do about it all. Thanks for sharing, Dr. V!

  • Thanks for sharing about your trip, it helps put my life in greater perspective. I hope you post more pictures and stories over the coming months.

  • Tamara

    Beautiful post! Yes, you planted a seed. That’s all anyone can do…take the one step you can take, and hope for the best.

  • Thank you for sharing! I hope we can all learn vicariously through you. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to see what you’ve seen. It’s a good thing you’ve done, both for the lives you touched there (human and animal) and for yourself!!

  • Dr. Sarah

    I don’t know whether it’s the same in terms of culture there, but we tended to find the people in TJ who cared the most were the children. Yes, there were some who were brutal and didn’t care about animals or each other because they were just fighting to survive, but by far the ones who populated our clinics the most were the children. I always felt encouraged by that because it meant there was hope for education and improving things in the future.

  • Molly Mednikow

    I am so thrilled to read your post. You express yourself so eloquently. Humane education is key to all the work we do. Thank you for being a part of this important work.

  • Donna Bodkin

    I have been closely watching your trip to Iquitos. I will be traveling there for the June spay and neuter trip with a group of my coworkers (and family). Having traveled to Iquitos twice before (on vacations), I understand your frustrations regarding the treatment of the animals there, but I feel that you are so correct in your perspective of not judging these people too harshly. I hope that they are able to learn something from us about the care of their pets, but I also hope that every person that volunteers leaves reflecting on their own life just as you are doing. Traveling to Iquitos and making friends there has changed my life and that of my entire family. Suddenly a big house on the lake doesn’t seem as important as spending time with my family, enjoying life and helping others. We are no longer chasing the American dream. We work hard, but now take the time to enjoy life even if that means we won’t live in the big house with the lake view and drive a new car every year. We are so excited to be returning to Iquitos and I hope that those traveling with us will be forever changed by the experience.

  • Hi Y’all,

    Great post. So many people forget what is important and forget to smell the roses and enjoy the journey of this glorious world God gave us.

    Unfortunately there are too many people in this country who treat animals no better. They believe that animals have no soul, dogs are never allowed in the house and while they are fed, never receive vet care. While the people of whom I speak are not wealthy, they are not wondering where they will find the next meal.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog and his Momma

  • Really fantastic post.