Our vaccination drive in Goa last year vaccinated approximately 11,000 dogs in just four weeks. Emily Prejac, a Nurse Supervisor for Diagnostics at Davies Veterinary Specialists, joined the Mission Rabies team and used her skills to help vaccinate the dogs of Goa. This is her story!
I have always wanted to do some volunteer work for charity and combine that with my love of animals and veterinary profession, so when the opportunity cane up again through Davies for two members of staff to join a vaccination drive with Mission Rabies in Goa, I knew I had to apply. I discussed it with my colleague Laura and we set about writing our proposal for why we should be selected. Luckily, Laura and I were chosen, and we soon got together to form our plan of action for the fundraising!
Davies is heavily involved with Mission Rabies, with one of the clinicians, Ian Battersby, being a Trustee and Specialist Medicine Consultant for the charity. He gave us lots of support and advice throughout the build up to the trip.
Our fundraising got off to a good start in December 2016 and continued through to the weeks leading up to the trip. We did lots of cake sales and competitions at work, held a raffle at our annual party which was hugely successful and I also took part in the London marathon in April adorning a bright yellow Mission Rabies vest! In total we raised over £2000, but I don’t feel the fundraising has to stop there just because we have now been on the project. It is a charity I will continue to support!
When we first arrived in Goa, tired and disoriented from the flight and time difference, my first thoughts were that of the intense heat and noise on leaving the airport. It was very hot and sunny, which is great for me! But it was also very busy and noisy. We were soon shown to our taxi and experienced our first authentic Indian journey! The noise of car horns and what seemed to be erratic driving was alarming at first, but we soon got used to their way of using the roads! The amount of stray animals was clear from the start, dogs roaming around and even lying asleep at the side of the road, cattle free roaming along the roadside and also pigs wandering around. The hotel was very welcoming, and after an exploration of the area and a full briefing from the extremely friendly Mission Rabies team, we were ready to get stuck in to the vaccination drive.
We met in the hotel car park at 6.30am every morning, where the trucks and boys would come at meet us and have a cup of sweet chai before heading out around 7am. We were given a phone with the Mission Rabies app on it and informed of our area of the map to cover before heading off. On the first day we were divided into teams. I was in Team Elephants with another volunteer called Chloe with Gowri from Mission Rabies as our team leader. We also had a driver and six dog catchers, who are referred to as ‘the boys’. Chloe and I were sitting at the front of the truck and responsible for directing the drive to our specific area, which at times could be difficult as some roads don’t exist on the maps!
As I was a nurse, I mainly gave the vaccinations whilst Chloe controlled the app. We then had to cover the whole area of our map and this involved catching any stray dogs that we found. The skills of the dog catchers are amazing; there are six of them using nets and they strategically place themselves ready to catch the dogs before they run away. Watching them at work is great, however some dogs are just too clever and too fast for the nets! We also visited all the houses in the area and if their dogs were not vaccinated we would vaccinate them and give them information and a vaccination card. Many of the residents remembered Mission Rabies coming around the previous year, whereas others needed more explanation before allowing us to vaccinate, and some were continuing to vaccinate at their own clinic which is great.
There were a mix of languages spoken, including Hindi, English and Konkani (the local Goan language), so having the boys and driver help us with communication was essential at times. We would stop for breakfast at a local restaurant where I got to sample a range of local delicacies and I soon got used to having spicy food for breakfast! The day finished at 6pm as it started to get dark at that time. We would try and get our map done in a day, but if it was a large area we would go back and finish it the following day. The app used a tracker and filled a red line for all the areas covered. We also had to enter details of every dog vaccinated into the app and paint a red line on the top of the dog’s head. This enabled them to be counted when the surveyor went out to check an area after it had been done. If the surveyor was happy that a suitable level of dogs from the area had been vaccinated, then the area would be completed, otherwise the area would need to be covered again.
The days were long and hot and involved a lot of waking. It was also hard not to become frustrated when you kept seeing so many strays but just could not catch them all. It really is an endless job, but even with the ones that get away, it is hugely successful and an amazing project to be a part of.
I witnessed a lot of things, stray dogs not in the best health, families living in real poverty, poor sanitation. It really does make you realise how lucky we are. The clinic we used, which was a local charity clinic that WVS uses, was also an eye opener. Coming from a fully equipped referral hospital and seeing how the patients were being cared for and where surgery was taking place was difficult to see. But you realise that it’s great that this clinic exists because it is a lifeline for these stray dogs. It’s all they have so it is far better than nothing and they are doing the best they can for these dogs with the limited equipment and funds that they have. Whilst we were there, the clinic staff were working to neuter the dogs, as well as treating the sick or injured ones.
A happy moment came when we released a dog from the clinic once it was recovered. The dog looked so happy to be ‘home’ and the other dogs came and greeted her and it was wonderful to see.
During the two weeks that we were there, over 5,000 dogs were vaccinated. There were volunteers there the previous two weeks also, so during the four weeks around 11,000 dogs were vaccinated! These are amazing numbers, and really shows the important work being done by Mission Rabies.
I really do feel like I have been part of something amazing, even just the small contribution I made in the two weeks of being there. It was great to see first-hand the incredible work they are doing and the effect it is having. I am so pleased I had the opportunity to take part and also use my skills as a nurse to help in this way. I would definitely like to do it again and would urge anyone considering it to go for it - you won’t regret it.
If you'd like to take part in one of our mega vaccination drives, take a look at our opportunities here!