After much preparation, both organisational and practical, the sterilisation camp got started according to plan on Sunday, April 1. After a few hiccups we started out at 7.30 am, looking forward, but not without some anxiety, to our new experiences in the surrounding villages. Suresh from Edaiyanchavadi drove us in the new Integrated Animal Care van. The members of the team were Dr. Kumar, Lorraine , Merry, and Njal.
Rita and Ratna did excellent overall organizing work, including sending their long-time worker Shankar to help during the whole first week in Mattur, Nesal,Apirampattu
and Kazhumperumpakkam. He had arranged the places for us to work and made appointments for some of the dogs in these places. He and Suresh were of invaluable assistance in catching and bringing the dogs to the operation theatre, usually the porch of some small public building. In Sanjeevinagar the team was hosted by Mohanam Cultural Centre, in Kottakarai by Harvest and in Edaiyanchavadi by Thamarai Cultural Centre.
The owners, or in case of strays, a person responsible, were expected to help, which didn't always happen. Catching the dogs was often very difficult. Shankar, Suresh and Njal went to identify female dogs, spoke with the owners and caught the dogs by hand – they did not use the notorious ‘dog catcher' since it is quite brutal and almost strangles the animal – and Dr. Kumar gave the first anaesthetic injection. But often the dogs escaped and had to be found again, captured, and injected a second time. Once Shankar got bitten which was a signal for the team members to go to the Health Centre and get rabies vaccinations, just in case. The temporarily ‘sleeping' dogs were then transported in the van or, if they were nearby, were carried to the operation table.
The pre-arranged quota for sterilization was five dogs per day, which meant we were busy without a break for five to seven hours, not counting the often long travel time. While Dr. Kumar operated, Lorraine , who is a trained nurse, assisted, and Njal and I kept the register and tried to keep onlookers quiet and not too close to the operating table. There were always a number of villagers watching with great interest, even young children. After the operation, the dog had to be laid down on a mat, since it was still unconscious, and Njal or I put a collar on it with an ‘IAC-AV' sticker, which pleased the owner. If there was a skin condition, I gave necessary treatment with poongam oil, removed ticks, or applied antibiotic powder on small wounds. Dr. Kumar gave an antibiotic injection and, if necessary, other medicines.
On the first day of the camp mostly male dogs were brought to us – easy work, but not quite the main point. It turns out that people often take a male dog for a pet and chase the females away so as not to be bothered with puppies, even in Auroville.
Some touching incidents occurred during the first couple of weeks. On the first day, while one of the operations was going on, an old lady bent with age came up to us and wanted treatment for a broken hand that a cow had stepped on. We had neither the time, skill nor the medicines to treat a human patient, but Njal and I did the best we could. Njal made a small splint from sticks and we bound the hand to it with a clean rag. The lady was so grateful. Another pleasant incident was the headman of Alankuppam village coming up to thank us for the work. On the other hand, in another village an old man was angry with our work, and shouted that we should instead kill all the dogs.
When in the afternoon, tired and hungry and with aching joints, I flopped down on my bed, my overwhelming feeling was one of gratitude: to the dedicated medical team colleagues, to all the villagers who support us in action and in thought, and above all, to the divine, who gives us the physical and emotional strength to hopefully make at least a small impact on the concept of animal care in these rural areas and in Auroville.