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Dog with tongue out

Winter getaway includes volunteer work for Edmonton vets

By Jamie Hall, edmontonjournal.comJanuary 3, 2012


EDMONTON - Edmonton veterinarian Dave Fowler and his colleagues spend part of their annual winter getaway to Mexico setting up lounge chairs on the beach, the other part setting up ironing boards in an animal shelter.

The lounge chairs, of course, are for basking in the non-stop sun. The ironing boards? They’re used as operating tables at the animal shelter in Cabo San Lucas, which is where Fowler and his team log several 12-hour days spaying and neutering a never-ending parade of homeless cats and dogs.

The annual trek began as a “fluke” after he and his wife Pam adopted a dog from Pawsitive Match, an online rescue organization based in Calgary that was bringing homeless animals, mostly dogs, back to Canada from Mexico. In addition to a multitude of health issues, the dog, a female, had a significant nerve injury to one of her front legs. She also had a bullet lodged in her neck.

“She really wasn’t the most adoptable dog in the world, but because of my position my wife thought we should go look at her,” says Fowler, who is a surgeon at the Guardian Veterinary Centre, a state-of-the-art health facility for animals that opened in Edmonton last summer.

The couple ended up adopting “Margaret” and then got another surprise. She was pregnant. After she weaned what Fowler describes as “the strangest-looking collection of puppies” they had ever seen, he performed surgery to spay her, and to amputate her front leg, which was damaged beyond repair.

Fowler developed a relationship with the people at the humane society in Cabo San Lucas who had facilitated Margaret’s move to Canada. He was impressed with their proactive approach in dealing with the runaway street population of dogs and feral cats there, using outreach and public education.

“It’s a pretty significant problem,” says Fowler. “A lot of it is cultural in terms of how people there relate to dogs and cats, certainly some of it is a certain attitude about spaying and neutering. The end result is that there’s a pretty significant street population of dogs and feral cats.”

When he offered to help in whatever way he could, they took him up on it. That was almost five years ago. Since then, he and one or two local vets, and their spouses, have made the trip every year, bringing with them whatever surgery equipment and medication they can beg, borrow or steal from local suppliers, and returning with an assortment of dogs in need of adoption.

Despite their philanthropic spirit, they’re under no illusions about the impact it has on the population of unwanted animals that roam the streets, a problem that exists in many Caribbean and Central American countries. For the most part, says Fowler, they spay and neuter the animals who have already been adopted by local families, who simply cannot afford to have the procedure done themselves.

“Obviously what we’re doing is a ‘give-back’ kind of thing,” says Fowler, “but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that making a trip there once or twice a year has a huge impact on the feral dog population, because it doesn’t.”

He’s doing his part, though.

In addition to Margaret, he and his wife have a beagle named Bob, who’s the result of an “Edmonton pet store disaster,” and Leila, who was dumped off at the shelter in Cabo San Lucas during one of their spay/neuter trips two years ago.

“The plan was to bring her back to Alberta and spay her before we found her a good home,” says Fowler, then sighs. “But by then it was already too late — she was ours.”

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