In the zone

by Luke, in Costa Rica
4th January, 2010

I should explain that the McKee Foundation was set up by Christine Crawford – a very charismatic and determined lady who has driven forward the idea of controlling the street dogs of Costa Rica. The Foundation has a no shelter philosophy and whilst I can’t quite agree with this, having visited so many great shelters that do amazing work and met so many incredible people that run them, I do believe in having a strong focus of community outreach and trying to encourage community responsibility for street animals. There is no denying that the Foundation has made a massive impact here and I am sure will continue to do so. Christine really has done wonders.

The thing that allows community outreach to be so effective in Costa Rica is having a great team running the programmes here. They have a strong emphasis on education, marketing and public relations as well as ensuring very fast surgeons are on the spay neuter team and to that end, the technique Christine and Dr Rivas have developed is focused on spaying bitches in less that 10minutes whilst the ‘owners’ wait. It is a very economic procedure – short cuts have to be taken for cost reasons – it isn’t very sterile for example – but the speed and non invasiveness of the procedure is undeniably impressive. The incision is typically 1cm in length, sterile cable ties are used for tying off the vessels and only one stitch is used in the muscle and one stitch in the skin. Before the skeptics kick off – Dr Rivas has been doing this for ten years and the follow ups on the communities where he and his crack team of vets have visited have shown a complication rate of 1 in 1000. I am sure that 1 in 1000 complications (post op infections for example) is the same sort of rate for private UK practice and Dr Riveras does indeed take about 5 minutes in a straight forward bitch.

I have never been a massive fan of worrying hugely about speed as long as the bitch is good and the surgery is safe, but faster surgery does mean quicker recovery and less risk of infection. All the bitches get pain relief and antibiotic and I was definitely impressed. You need a spay hook for the technique and it is midline, but if it goes well – it is brilliant. As with all fast spay techniques, if you drop a ligature (or cable tie!) you’re in trouble and the anaesthetic protocol of zoletil, acp, ketamine and atropine gives you about 15minutes at the outside – but we got through about 15 surgeries in about 2 hours – and it was an eye opener as they do all the prep, saving, premed etc themselves. There are some good tips I picked up and it is fascinating to learn these different techniques.

Great news is that I passed the exam – had my training, did a couple of spays using the McKee technique and I’m now able to work as a vet with the charities out here. End of the day we polished off a quick 250km drive to our next destination on the Pacific coast to help a charity called Kids Saving the Rainforest… gets a bit hotter down south so whilst people may be braving the freezing weather in the UK spare a thought for the film crew, working hard at 30 degrees heat in tropical lush rainforest by the unspoilt beaches of the pacific. It’s tough.

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