A Glimpse of Vet Life in Belize…

Every day Laurie walks her dog Jambo to the beach so he can retrieve coconuts.  He can shred a coconut in minutes, it's amazing.
Every day Laurie walks her dog Jambo to the beach so he can retrieve coconuts. He can shred a coconut in minutes, it's amazing.
This is Charlie.  She belongs to Peter, the owner of Pedro's Inn and Sports Bar.  I got a kick out of how this big fluffy Arctic dog was perfectly at home in the tropics.
This is Charlie. She belongs to Peter, the owner of Pedro's Inn and Sports Bar. I got a kick out of how this big fluffy Arctic dog was perfectly at home in the tropics.
This is one happy dog.  Works with his mom, daily beach walks, everybody knows his name, apparently they call him Dr. J.
This is one happy dog. Works with his mom, daily beach walks, everybody knows his name, apparently they call him Dr. J.
Island Camoflage.
Island Camoflage.

So the other trip I took last month was to Ambergris Caye, Belize.  According to the local lady in customs, the island is pronounced “ambergriskey”.  All one word.  She was eating gummy worms, and smiling at me warmly as she turned me over the the not-so-smiley customs officer who led me and my very not-so-smiley husband,  to the creepy little “back room” at the airport. 

I got through Dallas customs, no problem.  Layover in Miami…cool as a cucumber, no worries.  On the final leg of our endless journey, they handed out customs forms.   My hubby immediately handed them to me, as I have this pathological love of filling out forms (all those little blanks…just waiting for me to fill ’em in…)  I also have a pathological need to not lie.  Life is easier that way. 

So, there is a spot on the form where you have to declare if you are bringing anything into the country that could be bought or sold in Belize (or something like that…honestly my brain is slowly wiping out the whole experience).  It just so happened that I was carrying about a thousand dollars worth of flea/tick medicine and a bunch of donated pet drugs to my friend on Ambergris Caye.   Technically they were “donated” but still “sellable”.  I broke into a cold sweat. 

After much deliberation and abject fear of being thrown into a Belizian prison, then subsequently losing my vet license.  I decided to declare the drugs. 

Apparently, I missed the part on the email where my friend told me NOT to declare the stuff.   Therefore, I should have given the form to the Husband who’s not above the occasional omission of facts.  

Thus, we ended up in the back room, having a panic attack.  Eventually we did get away (sans the majority of the meds).  I had a couple of the local Belikin beers at Jet’s Bar at the airport and slowly stopped shaking.  Good thing I had those beers, because the little puddle jumper plane ride from Belize City to Ambergris Caye was slightly unnerving. 

The reason I was smuggling vet stuff to Belize is that my friend, classmate, and ex-room mate from vet school Laurie lives there.  (I think this is so cool) She is the only vet on the island of Ambergris Caye.  She has lived there since October running the SAGA humane society.

She lives in the vet clinic/shelter.  I knew her facilities were not quite up to par with what she was used to (she practiced in San Jose California for 10 years prior to moving).  I had no idea just how non-par they were til I got there. 

She was very excited because they had just gotten AC in the clinic (it was pretty darn hot out there).   The vast majority of the drugs she uses are donated.  The only testing she can do are PCV’s (packed cell volumes for anemia).  No other blood testing, x-rays, etc.  (Actually, she said that an MD on the island JUST got an x-ray unit there, so she can now schlep the animal over there if necessary, but it takes a lot of time, which she’s short of …) 

She has no gas anesthesia/oxygen machine (surgeries are done with injectible anesthetics only), fluid pump, monitoring equipment, etc.  These are things that I thought were indespensible, but she’s learning to do without, with her wits and her stethoscope. 

Old dogs don’t really happen much on the island.  Tick Fever is rampant (aka Ehrlichia), her dog Jambo has had it twice (she really wishes for a vaccine).  They can’t treat for heartworms there because the dogs just die from the treatment.  She had a dog in recently with strychnine poisoning.  Lost a couple to Bufo Toad toxicity (learned about that one for national boards, then promptly forgot it).  Laurie is tough, and she is happy, I certainly couldn’t do it, I need my tools and my tests and my AC.

There is something alluring about having your “best guess” be as good as it gets, though.  Not having to worry about what test to run, and how much it costs, etc.  The people there are ecstatic just to have a vet at all, even without all the bells and whistles.

So anyhow, if you are ever in Belize, let me know (Laurie always needs stuff, just don’t declare it ;-). And if you have a few extra bucks you  care to donate, they desperately need it… (so forward this article to your buddies).

Here is their website:   http://sagahumanesociety.org/

Can’t wait to go back…

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