The Oakwood Hills Honduras Mission
By Dr Bob Bohacek
In 2010 I joined an organization called World Vets which provides voluntary veterinary aid to impoverished areas world wide. Most of the small animal aid is in Central and South America. The first trip I was able to volunteer for was to Roatan in March 2011. For me, it was an eye-opener and I returned in 2012. The island is beautiful and has a cruise ship port and million dollar sea-side homes. But that is a very small portion of the island. The vast majority of it is undeveloped and the native people live in striking poverty. The World Vets clinics take place on the western end of the island where both ex-pats and locals live in relatively close proximity - the ex-pats in gated areas along the shore and the natives in barrios often with no plumbing or sewers. There is one "veterinarian" in that area who was schooled in Guatemala and who is unable to do basic surgeries - i.e. he cannot spay a dog. As "World Vets" we provide surgical and medical services to the locals as well as ex-pats for no charge.
While I found this to be rewarding, I became friends of 2 ex-pats who live simply and are passionate about animals. They taught me about and showed me the rest of the island. There are no paved roads on the eastern 1/2 of the 30 mile long island. Unemployment is rampant. Education is through the 5th grade, but only if parents can afford to send their children. Schools have a dress code of white shirts and blue pants/skirts. Many kids don't go to school simply because their parents cannot afford the clothing. There is no law enforcement or other public services to the unpaved area and certainly no veterinary care. By necessity people keep dogs for security/ protection. Because dogs live outdoors and there is no option for, nor ability to pay for sterilization, dogs breed indiscriminately. Overpopulation results in death due to disease, poisoning, starvation and trauma. I saw 2 dogs that were hacked with machetes while there. Of those that survive the life expectancy is probably 3-5 years based on what I saw. Unfortunately, abuse is common. On the other hand I was struck by the bond and pride that many had with their "pets".
In 2012 my local friends, Sandra and Al, asked if I would be willing to help the eastern side of the island. The population is too spread out to support a larger group like World Vets and those needing help cannot get to the clinics held on the western end. In Oct 2012 Sara and Missy, 2 of my technicians, along with my wife, Linda and I held a 3 day clinic in an eastern village called Diamond Rock. I spayed/neutered 56 dogs (a few were cats) along with several other surgeries and provided medical care. We were able to test 28 dogs and found 14 had heartworm, 9 had ehrlichiosis (tick disease) and 2 had anaplasmosis (tick also). All those were treated as well as others that had ringworm and various tropical skin diseases. All dogs and cats were dewormed and given Heartgard and Frontline (Merial donations). We left behind antibiotics and pain meds for many more. For me, this was my most rewarding experience in over 35 years as a veterinarian. This was an ambitious project made possible with the help of volunteers and monetary, as well as drug and supply, donations.
The results and feedback from our 2012 was so positive that we were asked to return in 2013 with a larger group. Seven of us from Oakwood Hills Animal Hospital traveled to a remote eastern village and again provided care to an even greater number of dogs and cats. The Patranada (village leader) expressed his gratitude and we returned in 2014. In those two years over 130 surgeries were performed and conditions for animals greatly improved.
In this, our fourth year of conducting Honduras missions, we face even greater challenges and opportunities to help. We have been contacted by a concerned animal-friendly group from Copan on mainland Honduras. Their village has a large problem with dog overpopulation and local learned of plans by their municipal government to poison street dogs. Unfortunately this is an all-to-common practice in third world countries to control dog and cat populations and had been done before in this area. We at Oakwood Hills were contacted and asked to help. We were able to obtain a written agreement with the Copan authorities that no poisoning or shooting campaign would occur if we, the OHAH Honduras Mission, would come and provide spay/neuter and medical clinics in 2015 and 2016. Our goal is for 100 surgeries each year.
- The October, 2015 trip was a huge success with 108 surgeries in 3 days.
- 50 female dogs were spayed, 40 male dogs were neutered, 8 female cats were spayed, and 10 male cats were neutered.
- 90 dogs were tested for tick disease and heartworm.
- 27 were positive for Ehrlichiosis, 10 were positive for Anaplasmosis, and one was diagnosed and treated for heartworm disease.
- 11 dogs were found to have Transmissable Venereal Tumor, a highly contagious and terminal cancer. All 11 were sterilized to prevent spreading the disease and treated with a highly effective chemotherapy.
Our fall, 2016 trip is in the planning stages now with 8 individuals planning to journey to help those who need us.
The Honduras Mission is unique in that it is privately funded and the only veterinary medical mission serving this area. If not for donations this would cost $8,000-10,000 and would not be feasible. We are thankful to those who have offered their help. All donations, whether monetary or drugs or medical supplies are used 100% to the benefit of Honduran street dogs and cats who have no other options except disease, starvation, and poisoning.
We are making a positive impact on the animals and people of Honduras. They have expressed their gratitude to us and we express ours to those who help.
Bob Bohacek, DVM