I had the most amazing experience last weekend. I volunteered for the Amigos de Animales spay and neuter clinic here in Boquete. All my childhood dreams of being a veterinarian came true!

I’ve been wanting to participate for years, but I never made the commitment. Then I got to know my wonderful neighbor Dr. Faris, and discovered that she is a retired vet and holistic health consultant for pets (She’s also my dog’s acupuncturist. She is a godsend!). She helps run the show and I begged to tag along and help.

Amigos de Animales has performed this service to the community on the last Sunday of every month for years. From what I’ve heard, they have sterilized more than 13,000 animals and counting.

What first impressed me was the sheer size and scope of the operation. The organization has acquired a building with plenty of floor space and a large kitchen to feed hungry volunteers. Thanks to the generosity of its donors, their building has been refurbished and is an impressive facility, especially for Panama.

The logistical challenge is to register each pet, safely perform surgery, and then reunite the animal with their owner after they recover from anesthesia. It seems impossible when hundreds of people and their pets are waiting outside, but Amigos de Animales has the system down to a science. Yes, it’s mad chaos, but beneath the craziness is an efficient assembly line.

I confess, I thought I might get queasy when I saw all the operating tables lined up. They perform surgery in the open. But things move quickly once the surgeons start working, and there is no time to think about anything except the wellbeing of the animals.

The center of the room is filled with tables where, after surgery, the cats and smaller dogs are whisked into a waiting arms of volunteers. It’s the volunteers job to monitor the animals as they recover from anesthesia. This involves watching their heart rate and respiration, recording their temperature every fifteen minutes, and vigorously massaging and patting them to wake them up. Once they pass out the danger zone, they are cleared to go home.

I was assigned to the floor with the larger dogs. It was scary at first because the drugs make their respiration so shallow that it’s hard to see if they’re breathing. Anesthesia is always dangerous and anything can go wrong. Some dogs need drugs to reverse the effects, so it’s crucial to watch closely for any signs of trouble.

My first patient

Dr. Faris was on standby as the critical care unit. If something didn’t seem right, we had to notify her so she could intervene. To think of anything happening to the dog I was in charge of! I had to make sure I woke this dog up for both the dog and the owner’s sake.

Dr. Faris on the job

Once the dogs pass the “completely knocked-out stage” (I’m using my civilian terms here), they move into the “crazy-eyed groggy stage”. I was told that the drugs can make them hallucinate and indeed, it looked like they were seeing something that we weren’t seeing. We continue to slap them (lightly), wriggle them, and clap in their ears. I was told by the veterans that you can’t stroke them and massage them nicely, or they will never wake up. Some of these animals are feral, and have never experienced a human’s touch. They have no urge to move as long as your petting them, but letting sleeping dogs lie is dangerous in this case.

Patient #2

Soon after this, we try to sit them up to improve airflow and to make sure they continue to recover. These dogs are completely helpless. They have a stranger shaking them and sticking thermometers in their backend. To be in charge of such a critical and intimate task with another creature was a strange experience. Imagine what human doctors feel like when they are entrusted with an unconscious person’s body.

The last little one

I had the opportunity talk with some of the anxious owners and help translate English to Spanish. I saw their tears of worry and heard about their pet’s life – including some of their misbehaviors. After my patients woke up, I had the urge to follow the dogs home and make sure they were okay. I can’t wait to go back next month and help again.

It was gross, it was scary, but it was an honor. I remember when I first moved to Panama being so disturbed by the condition of the animals walking the streets. What Amigos de Animales has done in a country like Panama is extraordinary. I’m amazed to see how everyone can orchestrate and work together to make something of this scale happen. I used to donate to the Humane Society, but now I will donate my money and my time to help animals in my home town of Boquete.

You can help too!

Help Amigos de Animales


Connect with Amigos de Animales