At the top of the hill

Colombia, its people, and their animals are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It has been a dream to work alongside some of the best of best in high volume, proficient spay and neuter in this incredible country. We’ve worked grossly hard and played even harder. We’ve laughed until we couldn’t breathe and drank beers after days of sterilizing 400 something animals. We have arrived at every location greeted by hundreds of people and animals. All healthier and happier than the next. We’ve raved over the incredible condition the animals brought to us were in, and left each day feeling confident with the wellbeing of the owned animals in the areas we worked in.

Not today though, today was different. Today was hard.

We arrived at our location for day four of surgery. Right down the winding road just outside of town, was a steep dirt hill lined with people and their animals. All looked normal. That was until we made it to the top of this dirt hill. We parked our jeeps and piled out one by one. As we shimmied our way through the swarm of people, the sound of dogs filled the air. Not the dogs awaiting surgery, but multiple fenced yards filled with animals running around playing with one another. Cats and dogs laid in the grassy lawn as the sun began to rise and heat their mud covered fur. It seemed at first glance to be an oasis like no other. It was even a breath of fresh air to see a familiar scene. We had become so accustomed to owned animals with bows in their hair, that this team of ours had almost forgotten what we had expected to see all along. As I filmed the puppies playing rough house in their little corner of the world, the only corner they knew, my eyes caught glimpse of the puppy alone along the fence. His stance, labored breathing, and mucous covered face screamed distemper. I have come to know this fatal, brutal virus all too well, and it was a slap in the face of what was to come. I made note of the pup and continued to help unload. We scoped out the shelter to see where surgery would take place. We all were more than used to making do with what we had, but this place set new heights to that standard. With arms full of surgical totes, we stopped dead in our tracks. In front of us was a room of dog kennels. The completely white room with clean tile floors made the animals inside the cages stand out even more. We walked the rows of kennels to find one animal worse off than the next. Kennel one had two emaciated terriers that had intermittent seizures. Kennel two held a few 3 month old puppies that had some of the worst mange I had ever seen. The list went on: a paralyzed pit bull, a group of shepherds who were too neurologic to stand, an American bulldog who had been there for seven years.

We put a tarp around the kennels and sterilized the area we would be working in and started our long day of surgery.

Most of my time working in animal rescue is spent suppressing my feelings to get the job done. There is no time to think of yourself if you want to do your best for the animals in front of you. Today was no different. I ignored the lump in my throat and pit in my stomach, and sent my feelings away on the other side of the tarp with the rest of the animals. I would ignore them just about as well as I planned to ignore the sounds of seizing dogs on the other side of the wall.

We turned on our music and went about the day as planned. One animal after the next, we did our job and sterilized 97 more furry friends to ensure they would lead happier and healthier lives.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I promise I have once thought the same thing when hearing about such awful conditions as you sit in your plush corner of the world.

“How could anyone let animals live like that?”

Well, I am here to tell you, that after years of working in different countries and seeing this first hand, these said people who “let” the animals live like that have more heart in their pinky than most do in their entire body.

These people, like the ones at this shelter at the top of the hill, know every animal by name. They know their weird quirks and eating habits. They know what animals get along and what animals will tear each other apart. These people include the kind man who cared for these animals on the other side of the tarp. We all watched in awe as he made his way throughout the day feeding each group of dogs and cleaned their kennels. The animals came barreling over, howling in excitement as he approached each of their gates. It was beautiful to witness, and made it even more painful to remember the state everyone was in.

The issue is, these tiny municipal shelters across the world are the ONLY place for these animals to go. The shelters get $100 a MONTH to feed and care for the animals they are given. One hundred dollars, that is it. Who can spend money on vaccinations when you have mouths to feed? Who can worry about disease control when you are getting animals dumped on you every two seconds and need a place for everyone to go? Who can even begin to try and explain to people who love each and every animal in their care with every ounce in their body that helping ease their pain with humane euthanasia is the best thing for them?

I have become more grey through the years in my career. No, not physically. Although I do have premature stress grays popping up now. Comes with the job, I guess.

No, I have become more grey and less black and white. Every situation is different, and I learn something new with every day I work and every country I visit.

Our team was heartbroken to see the shape the animals were in. It opened our eyes once again to a new corner of the world where good intentions were overpowered by lack of funding and minimal resources. Instead of throwing stones, we gathered our money together and purchased vaccines for the shelter. We helped ease the pain of the ones we could, and educated the staff on proper housing and disease control. We did what we could, and plan to continue helping that shelter on top of the hill.

Every situation I find myself in sheds new light. This one, reiterated why we are doing what we are doing. It’s about educating the people with the hearts of gold, so that they can go forward and do even better for the animals they love. It’s about vaccinating feverishly so that animals don’t have to face a grim future like so many we have seen. It’s about spaying and neutering, every day, so that every animal born is a wanted animal.

We sterilized 611 animals that week, yet buying vaccines for a small shelter seemed significantly more monumental than surgery days combined. It’s all important, and it’s all so seriously needed.

We must do more, not only for the ones in our own backyard, but for the ones in the corners of the world people don’t even know about. For the ones behind tarps at the top of hills.

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