We set up our tables out in the bush and waited for out first patients. Pretty soon a small party of smiling chaps waltzed out of the thicket circled by packs of 'dingo' like dogs. Left to their own devices in such hard conditions, natural selection tends to result in medium-build, hardy crossbreeds like these. Pampered pedigrees wouldn't last a week out here.
I had no idea how we were going to manage the twenty or so dogs that rocked up in the first wave but the government veterinary assistants got busy with the vaccines, worming and de-fleaing while the vets got stuck into seeing any with any illness or injuries with the PDC staff preparing syringes, translating, recording names and generally keeping it all flowing. By the time we were halfway through this first lot the next wave hit us and it was plain we were going to be busy.
What's amazing is that when you travel through the villages and see all the dogs milling around, you're convinced that they are all strays but virtually all are owned, named and much loved. The veterinary team had plenty of work on as there are very few opportunities for local people to see a small animal vet around here. We saw lots of skin diseases - fleas, mange, ringworm and lice and lots of 'poor do-ers' - skinny, anaemic, ill-looking dogs riddled with ticks and god knows what else. Our diagnostic capabilities were hampered by lack of laboratory support and equipment so we had to treat for what we suspected and hope that the dogs' immune systems could fight the rest if given a chance. Our 'customers' were grateful for any help they got for their much loved pets.
Many of our patients had severe bite wounds that had been attributed to baboons but there are other dangers out there including warthogs, leopards and worse. It's amazing just how well some of these severe gashes were already healing well. One dog had almost lost an eye in an attack that would have had me reaching for the scalpel and suture kit back home but at already a week old the wound was clean and closing nicely on its own.
These clinics are exactly what modern conservation should be all about - helping communities and wildlife together. Canine rabies is a dreadful disease and one that can be prevented and even eliminated if we try hard enough. Vaccination protects the people, their pet dogs and also the wildlife (especially the Painted Dogs) - so everyone's a winner.