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Saving Lives in Panama

by Emma Koeniger, SPCAI Staff

Our team arrived at the Spay Panama clinic in Panama City, Panama on a humid, overcast Saturday morning. Down a little side street and between two houses, we walked into a small covered patio with roughly 20 chairs all occupied by locals waiting for their pets to go into surgery or waiting for them to come out. We went inside the clinic and met up with Spay Panama founder and director, Pat Chan, who showed us around their amazing operation.

There are two front rooms and kitchen, all with pull out sofas that visiting vet students and volunteers (and Harry the dog) can sleep on. You walk through a glass sliding door and you are in the middle of the Spay Panama medical rooms. Cats and dogs who were already sedated were being shaved down and prepped for surgery, once ready they were moved into the operating room where the 4-6 surgeons would perform an innovative veterinary technique called “the quick spay.” After that the animals were brought back out to the prep room, given a long lasting antibiotic, pain, and vitamin injection. It was truly a sight to behold. By the afternoon the crowd outside had dissipated because they do spay/neuter in the morning and save the afternoons for special exams and surgeries. We talked with the vet students visiting from Guelph and other parts of Canada, and met some wonderful patients and volunteers!

We were up bright and early Sunday morning, as our team joined the Spay Panama veterinarians, technicians and volunteers on the Spay Panama bus to travel to the spay and neuter pop-up clinic in Burunga. When we pulled up to the location at 7:30am there were scores of people on either side of the road, many had been waiting since 6:00 am, all with puppies, dogs, cats and kittens. Some of the dogs had harnesses and collars, a large amount had collars and leashes made out of chain or rope. After a quick set up the first patients started being seen.

From start to finish this is how an animal went through the entire process:
1) Check in. Pet is tagged and weighed.
2) Sedation and brought over to the surgical prep station.
3) Shaved for surgery, given a pain and antibiotic injection.
4) Surgery (spay or neuter as well as any emergency needs)
5) Recovery, ears cleaned, nails trimmed, and vaccinations given
6) Animal wakes up, the owner is called, they come pick-up their animal
7) They receive a collar and leash from an SPCA International

While this seems like a lot of steps it only took about 45min total and routine surgeries only take 5-6 minutes of that time!

It was clear to see how grateful the locals were to have Spay Panama there and to be receiving a free collar and leash for their pet. By 7:00pm 562 cats and dogs had been spayed or neutered, all of this was accomplished with only 9 veterinarians and 35 volunteers.

Burunga is an impoverished area. The locals earn roughly $15 a day, which makes it hard to support their families let alone their beloved pets. Yet, they know the importance of the work Spay Panama does, and will make sure they are in line to have their pet taken care of when the Spay Panama bus pulls up. Pat Chan does not turn anyone away when they cannot pay, but she does put them to work, cleaning surgical instruments or moving animals from station to station. Their work is important and the health of the pets is important, and Pat wants them to value both.

It is truly a sight to behold when the Spay Panama pop-up clinic is in full swing – if you blink you might miss something. Thanks to our amazing supporters we are able to provide Spay Panama with grants through our Shelter Support Fund program to sponsor these events and through our Veterinary Supply Aid program we are able to send medical supplies for these events and their clinic. SPCA International and Spay Panama have been partners in this work for over 7 years and we are always blown away by their incredible operation and all they are able to accomplish for the animals and people of Panama.