A Successful Mission in San Miguel

November 7, 2008

by Eric Davis, DVM

The HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) teams have been going to the villages around San Miguel de Allende, in the plateau of central Mexico, for the last three years, providing education and veterinary care in this underserved area. Although there is growth and tourism in the heart of this picturesque town, small underdeveloped farming communities, such as Jalpa or Peña Blanca, lie just outside of this area.

It is here that our work begins.

An area in need

Man on burro
A local man and his burro make the trip to the HSVMA-RAVS clinic.

Although the tourist and expatriate population provides San Miguel with the economic base for veterinarians to have small but reasonably well-supplied small animal clinics, most of the area residents cannot afford even the most basic services for their animals, upon which their livelihoods depend.

Instead, they make a treacherous hike down the mountains, sometimes for hours, to receive the benefits of the free veterinary care that the HSVMA-RAVS will provide.

They walk past the handmade stone fences, the majestic pipe organ cactuses, the thorn bushes and the little tile-roofed homes—just to come to the clinics.

Old men riding on the rump of a burro, young "vaqueros"—or cowboys—with a string of pack horses and little girls in their Sunday best, two or three donkeys in tow.

They all arrive early and wait patiently.

All in a day's work

Our trip begins with a meeting of local veterinarians, known as "Amigos de Animales", and humane groups in San Miguel. Dr. José Estrada Zamanu, a local veterinarian, who worked with horses at the race track in Mexico City, agrees to accompany the HSVMA-RAVS team and assist with the clinics in the countryside.

Church ruins
We set up our clinic in the ruins of this beautiful old church.

Early the next morning, our group leaves for the little community of Jalpa, where we work in the picturesque ruins of a massive old Spanish church.

Dr. José and two of his small animal colleagues work diligently, triaging the injured dogs and cats and checking in many others for routine exams and care, while our staff readies itself to treat up to 150 horses and burros in the span of one day.

With advanced dentistry equipment and anesthetic techniques for horses not readily available in Mexico, it is up to Dr. Dave Turroff, a veterinarian from California who specializes in dentistry, to instruct the local veterinarians on the proper techniques for basic equine dental care.

Cindy with horses
Cindy McClinn instructs the locals on proper equine care and handling.

Cindy McClinn, our equine specialist, provides anesthetic care and monitoring, allowing the team to do a large number of humane sterilization surgeries.  But more importantly, it is her quiet and effective horse handling skills that prove to be an excellent lesson for everyone at the clinics.

A successful mission

As the week progresses and our work continues in surrounding communities, our initial impression—that the skill and enthusiasm of the local veterinarians will make for a successful, sustainable program—is only amplified. The 'local talent' will allow more frequent clinics, with more animals treated, at a lower cost, at the same high standard of care.

With the surmountable need in the area and the willingness of José and his colleagues to participate, HSVMA-RAVS has already scheduled a series of field clinics in San Miguel before the end of this year and into the next.

Cindy will return to continue teaching anesthesia and humane horse handling.  The HSVMA-RAVS team will provide the proper equipment and supplies. The San Miguel veterinary community will bring their enthusiasm, talent and eagerness to learn. And of course, the good and hardy farmers of central Mexico will supply the burros.

Dr. Eric Davis developed the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program in 1995 and has served as mentor and inspiration to hundreds of young veterinary professionals over the years. He continues his hard work in the field and is currently a consultant for the program.

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