On a visit to Boquete, Panama, my husband, Eddie, had read about a monthly spay and neuter clinic, Amigos de Animales, that was looking for volunteers. We eagerly signed up and showed up at a run-down school to help set up for the Sunday clinic. This was our crash course on how to event works.
Eddie and I arrived on the last Sunday of the month to begin what would become one of the top ten best days of our lives. After a year has gone by, we (and our children) volunteer every time we are in Boquete during the Amigos de Animales clinics. I might add I plan all my trips around the spay/neuter clinic because that is how rewarding it truly is. Things have come a long way, and we are making a difference in pets lives one clinic at a time, with our own stand-alone facility as of 2017.
(this article was originally published in March 2015, but updated in July 2020)
Amigos de Animales Boquete: A Spay & Neuter Organization
In June 2005, three Panamanian veterinarians and three volunteers held the first spay & neuter clinic, sterilizing 21 animals, mostly all rescued by ex-pats. It was held at a rented elementary school. It took a full day to perform the sterilizations as the vets at that time eviscerated the animals. Scales from grocery stores were used to weigh the small animals to find the correct anesthesia dosage. Larger animals were just guessed at.
Of the three women who organized the clinic, only one has stayed with the Amigos de Animales, Judy Sacco. But one volunteer, Ruby McKenzie, took one look at the chaos and decided she wanted to get very involved; she wanted to coordinate future clinics.
Ruby played to her strengths and organized the clinic, which we know and let the vets figure out the medical side. She and her late husband, Tom, purchased most of the equipment for the clinics through matching funds with a very generous donation from a Boquete resident. In the year 2005, there were only two clinics held which sterilized 73 animals. The second of these had American vets who taught the spay hook method, which is used exclusively today, as this method allows most vets to perform a spay within 10-15 minutes or less.
Starting a Foundation
A foundation was created in December 2006 and all equipment was turned over to them. The year 2006 also increased those sterilization numbers, which reached 536 under the tutelage of Spay Panama. An interesting note is that Panamanians did not consider cats pets when the clinic started, but in 2015, 30 to 50% of the sterilizations are cats.
Our Panamanian neighbors have embraced the spay & neuter idea, and today 90-95% of our clinics are made up of Panamanian pet owners and neighborhood collectors bringing street animals. In January 2015, 180 animals were sterilized, and 40% of that figure was animals brought in by collectors.
Neighborhood Collectors Are Our Friends
The organization has several collectors who go to remote areas, trap animals, bring them into the clinic for surgery, and then release them back where they were initially found. The animals are all tattooed inside the ear with an “S” to show they have been sterilized to avoid future duplicate surgeries. There are also feral cat feeding stations around town maintained by one of the volunteers.
One of the first animal collectors, Diomedes, has brought over 600 animals over the past six years. Ruby points out that the collectors are passionate, compassionate, and committed to how clinics impact all animals’ well-being in our area, the owners, and neighbors.
Price of the Clinic
Amigos de Animales has charged $10 per dog and $5 per cat for sterilization since the clinic first opened. The services’ actual cost is closer to $25 per dog and $15 per cat, in which the difference is made up of fundraisers and generous donations. The vets are guaranteed $10 per dog and $5 per cat, and when one cannot afford the service, the difference is paid to the vet by Amigos de Animales.
The New Facility
January 2015 was the first clinic held in the new facility built especially for the group clinics throughout countless donations and fundraisers. The most significant thing is that the volunteers will not have to be moving equipment to various rented facilities. The building can also be rented for things such as traveling veterinarians, fundraising projects, and others. A few more dollars ($20,000 to be exact) are still needed to finish the facility so if anyone is looking for a tax write-off for a donation of $1,000 or more, the organization does have access to a 501(C)3 form in the United States and they can offer that in exchange. Any donation, money, time, talent, or supplies, are welcome at any time.
My First Clinic
The clinic was in a run-down school. There was a place for the veterinarians operating tables, cleaning instruments, check-in, vaccinations, tattooing, recovery, and waiting area for pet owners. Because the clinic is not held the months of November & December due to holidays, our clinic brought in 263 dogs and cats spayed and neutered, between 6 veterinarians from both Panama and Costa Rica, with about 30 volunteers. The staff was scarce, the property dismal, the hours were long (about 13 to be exact), but the adorable faces that entered the doors, counting on us to share our love with them, was priceless.
For a newbie like myself and terrified of needles, I had to get myself into a mindset that helping control the pet population would be sad, but it would be well worth it. Not only were pets spayed and neutered, but tumors removed, fractures set, and some significant injuries were repaired. The vets are so compassionate, and they do not turn any animal away, regardless of the extent of medical care needed.
A Top Ten Day
The clinic ended up being a life changer for me. I had one of the top ten days of my whole life by saving a puppy that was nearly dead and in the hands of his 12-year-old owner. The workers did not think there was any hope for this animal, but I was determined that the little puppy would not die on this child. I took over, trying to wake the puppy from anesthesia and raise his dropping 92-degree temperature. The puppy was sandwiched between two heating pads, blankets, and here was me, bouncing him around like a crazy person while breathing on him to warm him.
After 45 minutes, the rest of our crew already had the place cleaned up and ready to close down. About to accept defeat, the puppy feebly raised his head, and the people around me, myself included, bawled with satisfaction. The look of happiness from this pup’s young owner and knowing that I helped save a life was bigger than anything I had ever experienced. You have to be a dog lover to understand this kind of joy. It was amazing!
What They Do Besides Spay and Neuter
In addition to sterilizing the cats and dogs, we administer B12 injections for faster healing, Endovet as an anti-parasite medicine, Pendistrep (an antibiotic), and pain medicine to help the animals through the first three or four days. Additionally, our volunteers clean the fleas and ticks off the animals, trim their ears, cut their toenails, and provide a milk substitute for the young kittens and puppies whose moms have just been sterilized. Transportation is a big issue. Our volunteers pick up and take home those owners and animals, who have no other way to get to the clinic.
If you live in the Boquete area, or in an area where your community could benefit from this amazing volunteer service, let me hear from you. We invite you to see our organization and be part of the volunteer experience at any time.
A final word from Ruby McKenzie: “Without the support of our volunteers, donors, and our talented vets, none of this could have ever happened. It has been so wonderful not to have large packs of starving stray dogs roaming the streets of Boquete”.
Facts: As of 2016, we have now sterilized over 8,000 animals. Clinics take place the last Sunday of each month.
Many of this information was shared with me by Ruby McKenzie, founder Fundacion Amigos de Los Animales, Boquete (aadab.org)