Ellie Shelburne, a brilliant vet from the US, joined the Mission Rabies campaign in Goa, 2017. We benefitted hugely from her experience and enthusiasm for our work and can’t wait to welcome her back onto another project soon! Here is her blog!
First the image is just India. Zoom in to see the coastal state of Goa. Zoom in again to a patchwork of coloured, carefully numbered areas. One more time on the app and we can see the winding streets we are assigned to cover for the day’s work.
It is 6:30 am, still cool, and we walk these streets, and beyond, into areas not on any map but full of makeshift homes and dogs - plenty of dogs. The app tracks our movements. We accompany eight local young men armed with nets, methodically circling until, at just the right moment, one swings. It does not always work but more often than not, the high-pitched yelps tell me it is now my turn to grab a syringe and vaccinate the trapped dog as soon as possible. This minimizes the stress for the dog whilst maximizing our time. A paint mark on the forehead is in place and the released dog quickly runs off. But we have already moved on. Door to door, street to street, we walk everywhere, resting midday to avoid the heat but out again at 3:00 pm until the sun sets to reach as many dogs as possible.
Having finished with our area, another team will retrace our tracks, hopefully catching strays and owned dogs which eluded us the first time. In a day or two, men on mopeds will speed around, counting paint marks, tabulating the statistics, assuring we make our 70% goal. This is key, for 70% is the magic number, the amount needed to create herd immunity and have a real chance of eliminating rabies in dogs. Over 99% of human rabies in the area are the result of dog bites, many of them children. Once acquired, the disease is inevitably fatal, so the goal seems all the more critical to achieve.
Helping dogs, saving human lives! It is a worthy effort and it feels good to play a small part in it. It’s been wonderful meeting other veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and animal lovers from India, Italy, Germany, England, and Egypt, and we have formed lasting connections. We have also truly seen this small part of India as no tourist ever will. We walk through train yards, weddings, sports arenas, fish markets, and homes, from mansions to mud-floored shacks with roofs made of palm fronds. It is hard to capture how much richer this experience has made our lives, but when we part, with hugs and twinkles in our eyes, we know we have found a secret that is meant to be shared.
Mission Rabies could become an addiction and I can’t wait for the next mission!