One of the biggest cultural differences between us and the people in our new home country is in the way of regarding and treating animals. Where as we see an animal as a fellow being with needs and feelings (the Bambi-effect), most people around us see animals as useful or not useful. They will feed them only enough to keep them alive and will discard them if they don't earn their keep anymore. Dogs are useful to watch the place and to hunt. A village dog usually doesn't live for more than 4 years, and will be a mangy skeleton for most of his life. If the dog gets sick or, in a desperate attempt to survive, starts stealing chicken eggs he will be tied up in the bush for the jaguar to eat and a new puppy will take his place.
The cheap way to feed a dog is with the cheapest chicken parts you can buy and some leftovers. The general idea in the village, however, is that if you feed chicken to a dog he will start to hunt the chickens. You can also feed the dog chicken feed, it has enough proteine to keep the dog going. But the villagers feel that if you do that, the dog will hunt their chickens because he is smelling the same feed on them. Dog food is expensive, most people are not willing or able to spend that kind of money. So they throw a few corn tortillas to their dog and that is all.
When we moved to the village, we had a few rescued dogs already. They were still puppies then. We fed them puppy chow, dog food, and fresh meat. They grew up to be much bigger, more active and healthier than any other dog in the village, and the villagers noticed that. Throughout the years, more and more people came to us with sick dogs, hoping we could help them. I have dewormed and given flea baths and shots to so many village dogs I can't even count them anymore. We try to educate the people on dog care. And some people have learned and their dogs look strong and healthy. We keep telling the people that we are not veterinarians but we do what we can. In the land of the blind the one-eyed is king.
There are two people in Punta Gorda who studied veterinary medicine, but neither of them are practicing on a regular basis and they are very hard to get a hold of. So if a dog gets sick or wounded you are on your own here. We learned how to give subcutaneous and intramuscular shots, we stock up on ivermectine, iodine, pyrethrine, amoxicilin and anti histamine, we have a whole pharmacy only for the dogs! We have three female dogs on birth control, we give them a shot of Depo Provera, yes indeed the one for women, every half year (Cannot help but think "Bitches on Depo" would make a great name for a metal band...). Our dogs go hunting, sometimes for more than a day, and they get into fights (especially Diesel, the male who is responsible for 80 % of the puppies born in San Miguel) so often they come home wounded. Diesel lost an eye and half an ear but it does't seem to bother him. We know what to do by now and they usually recover quickly. But we lost the battle with sickness once and it left us helpless and very sad to watch our beloved Biko slowly die. We planted a mahogany tree on his grave.
Botwin, our year old pup, got bitten in the head by a snake a week and a half ago. His head was swollen so bad that his eyes were shut. He was crying out in fear. Two Belizeans were there and they did not want us to even go near the poor dog, it would die anyway and the venom could be dangerous to us. We did not know how to help the pup, and tried calling a vet. It was Sunday morning, and a friend from Cayo was calling the vets she knew but no one picked up the phone. We finally got through to a voice mail and dr. Floyd Bennett from Belize City called back within 10 minutes. On his advice, we gave the pup a very strong dose of anti histamine, and repeated it an hour later. After that we hit him hard with steroids (Prednisone) and repeated that for the following days. By Thursday, Botwin was so much improved that we finally could say that he lived through it. Close call! Needless to say, we stock up on Prednisone as well now. He lives, we learn.
Other things we encountered: skunk spray!! The worst smell you can imagine and the dogs will smell of it for three months! Remedy: bathe them with tomatoe juice. Wear old clothes... And porcupine quills, those stupid dogs will come home and all of them have quills in their nose and mouth and tongue. You would think that if they attack a porcupine and they see one of them is covered in quills, the others will back off, but no! All of them! Cut the tip of the quills and remove them, with a plier if so needed, one by one. Don't let a piece stay in there, it will go into the body and wreak havoc there. Takes a few hours. The dog will bleed a lot but recover in a few days. Apparently, the quills have antiseptic properties so they don't usually cause infections.
Poisoning: feed crushed charcoal, make sure they get their liquids, add O.R.S. (electrolytes), remove the source. We don't use chemicals but there are natural substances that can be very toxic to dogs. The latest one we discovered is avocado pear, which is in season now. Dogs like the oil in it and will eat the peel and chew on the seed, but it will cause them to stop eating. They will want to eat but it makes them vomit immediately. If not treated, they can starve to death. Keep avocado pear out of reach of your dogs (and cats and horses and all other animals)! Just yesterday someone from the village asked for our help, her puppy had those symptoms. I hope she took our advice seriously, the pup wasn't too far gone.
How did we find out about all of this? From friends, from experience and from a book called 'home remedies for cats and dogs'. The book deals with all kind of problems, most of them irrelevant because they are caused by boredom and unnatural living circumstances (i.e. alternatives to declawing your cat...wtf??) or because they refer to something you can get at 'your local pet shop'. Ha! Try to explain to the villagers what a pet shop is, start with explaining with what a pet is (an animal that lives in your house and that you feed and take care of because you like its company... and in a pet shop you can buy toys and candy and tools and beds and cages and clothes for it...), they will never understand! I think there is a pet shop in the capital, but no where around here. But that book also lists medication for humans that can be used for pets, with the dose it has to be used in. It's worth its weight in gold for that list alone.
It seems like a whole lot of trouble to go through just to keep your dogs healthy, but it is worth it. Our dogs make us smile everyday, they are happy and beautiful and funny and sweet. And they are useful, as doorbell and security and pestcontrol, they will kill possums and alert us to snakes. I would never want to live without them!