Hundreds of dogs and cats call the island of San Cristóbal home, alongside the blue-footed boobies and sea lion pups iconic to the Galapágos archipelago.

But until Dr. Tom Parker arrived in early November, there was no year-round veterinary clinic for pet owners in the community, which lies nearly 800 miles from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. Parker, director of medicine at the Española Humane animal shelter, helped launch a new clinic this month in San Cristóbal through the international aid organization World Vets.

He led a team of six veterinarians, three veterinary technicians and several assistants in spaying and neutering about 250 pets in a three-day span.

The effort comes months after the local government in San Cristóbal approved an ordinance banning the sale of pets on the island and requiring domestic animals to be sterilized and leashed outside the home, according to a June report by the news site SOS Galapágos. The rules were intended to protect the island’s rare wildlife.

Parker, who returned from the trip over the weekend, said Monday each sterilization surgery took the veterinary team 15 to 30 minutes, a little longer than the usual process at Española Humane.

That was in part because he wasn’t able to bring along all the usual equipment.

“It’s challenging. It gets you to think on your feet,” he said. “You don’t have the access to bloodwork, X-rays, the diagnostic things you would normally rely on.”

He said 343 cats and dogs on the island received some type of veterinary care during the clinic’s opening, and 750 more are on a wait list for services at the facility, which is part of World Vet’s new Conservation Medicine Program in the Galápagos Islands.

A full-time veterinarian is set to arrive at the clinic in January, and volunteers will likely staff it in short intervals until then.

Parker was joined by Española Humane communications director Mattie Allen, who helped provide post-operative care for cats and dogs.

Allen noted similarities between San Cristóbal and Española. Much like the island, she said, pet owners in Northern New Mexico face economic and geographical barriers to accessing veterinary care.

“I thought it was really memorable just to see how our program in Española can be extrapolated to islands on the equator, hundreds of miles off the coast of South America,” she said.

Washington-based World Vets sends veterinarians to different parts of the world to help spay and neuter animals, provide care to equine and marine animals and render aid to animals during natural disasters.

Parker, who worked as a veterinarian in Pojoaque for two decades before joining the staff at Española Humane, has volunteered with World Vets for years as a field service veterinarian in different countries. He said the clinic on San Cristóbal Island was the organization’s first “return to action” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We did a good numbers of surgeries,” he said. “[We] had good cooperation with the local people.”

The trip was a success, he said, adding, “It felt very good to get out there again.”

The kickoff of the Conservation Medicine Program, which will also serve wildlife, highlights an effort by the Ecuadorian and local governments to control domestic pet populations.

Parker said feral cats hunt rare birds and lizards — including the archipelago’s elusive marine iguanas.

Some diseases, including distemper, can be spread between dogs and the Galápagos sea lions, Allen added.

“You can imagine that if there were a distemper outbreak in the dogs on the island, it would spread so quickly through to the sea lion population,” she said. “So I think World Vets is not only helping pets and their people but also the wildlife populations.”

Allen and Parker are back to work at Española Humane but may return to the island to provide further assistance.

“[Parker’s] leadership on this project was a key part of its success,” World Vets founder Dr. Cathy King wrote in an email. “Mattie played a crucial role in post operative patient care and was an equally important part of the team.”

(1) comment

Harvey Morgan II

Dr. Parker rules!

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