Peace Corps and SPAF Team Up in Sarteneja, Belize

In San Pedro Animal Foundation News, San Pedro Animal Hospital News // No Comments

I stepped off the boat onto the dock in Sarteneja, a charming, small fishing village in Northern Belize.  Manissa, the Peace Corps volunteer living there, lifted my suitcase onto the handle bars of her bicycle.  I half expected to see her cycle down the street with it balanced there, but no, her cycling talents are more similar to mine.  We walked the bike with my suitcase  all the way to her house, the equivalent of a few blocks away.  Manissa carried the cat carrier that held the mama kitty I had spayed for her the day before.

     Manissa had approached me a week or so prior in my animal hospital in San Pedro.  She was looking for a way to bring veterinary care to her small remote village, which has never even had the option of a vet.  I was impressed with her grasp of the village’s situation, and her goals of finding what she called “long term local solutions” for the animals in her village.  To see Manissa and the animals of Sarteneja go to her facebook page
     After dropping off my suitcase in the simple but charming two bedroom house where she lives, we headed out on foot to visit the homes where Manissa had identified pets in need of veterinary treatment.  Her dog, Sam, pictured above, followed us along with a friend, Spike.  Sam adopted Manissa a few months ago.  He had a nasty cough.  Manissa did some research on her own and treated him with a combination of ivermectin and mebendazole.  The cough resolved and Sam now trots happily around and looks as healthy as any American dog.  Spike, however, is not so lucky.  He is coughing constantly as he runs, sometimes producing a pink foam.  He wears a necklace made of corn husk and lime, a village remedy.  Neither dog has been neutered and Sam appears to be “becoming a man”.  He and his friend posture and perform viscious dominance displays, which are basically just pretend fights dogs use to try to establish dominance over one another. 
     We wind our way through the village, Manissa introducing me as “la veterinaria” and speaking impressive Spanish for a gringa, which I am instantly envious of.  We are accompanied by Elizabeth, Manissa’s thirteen year-old friend and Spanish teacher, who idly swings a hairbrush in one hand as she walks and occasionally corrects Manissa or supplies a missing phrase.  The families are all sweet and friendly.  They have a quiet politeness about them and seem genuinely open to what we are proposing.  Our goal is to get them familiar with me and introduce the idea of spays, neuters and simple medical care for their pets. 
     At the end of the evening the sun is going down, and the humid air is beginning to cool enough to be pleasant with a light breeze.  The light carries the soft pastel glow of sunset.   The streets are quiet with no cars, just a few bicycles and people on foot.  It reminds me of the first time I saw San Pedro, 12 years ago.   We reach a yard swarming with mosquitoes.  Elizabeth, Manissa, and the family stand and chat with little concern as I watch the attacking mosquitoes with horror.  Elizabeth reaches over occasionally and swats my leg or arm for me.  Each time I tell her thank you, and she giggles.  While I am preoccupied by the mosquitoes, I notice that Elizabeth had carried the hairbrush around all evening for a reason.  She walked over to the family dog and began to brush him.  He wiggled with enjoyment and the family laughed at their newly groomed pet.
     The goals we have for Sarteneja are challenging ones.  We hope to find a way to offer regular, consistent veterinary care from resident private vets, such as myself, rather than intermittent visiting volunteer vets who work for free.  To do this the villagers will need to learn the value of healthy, spayed and neutered pets, and agree to take some financial responsibility in caring for them.  This is preferable to teaching the people of developing countries that if you wait long enough, a foreign vet will come and take care of your pets for you for free.  Education will be as much a goal as the spay/neuter surgeries and medical treatments.  After all, pets need much more than just veterinary care.  They need shade, water, adequate amounts of food, a humane method of confinement so that they are not allowed to roam, safe handling by children and adults, exercize, and of course, love.  The rewards of owning a pet are great, but they come with a responsibility that we all need to be reminded of at times.  Whether it is making time for them in our busy American lifestyles, or learning basic pet care needs in Belize, pet ownership comes with certain obligations.
     The Peace Corps and the San Pedro Animal Foundation are accepting donations of money and/or supplies for this project.  A list of needed supplies will be continually updated on this blog as well as on the San Pedro Animal Hospital Facebook page.  More details will be coming soon regarding how and where donations will be accepted.  Donated supplies and money will be used towards covering the costs of veterinary care for the village.  San Pedro Animal Hospital will be providing services at 30% off our regular prices.  The remainder of the costs will need to be covered by donations and the villagers themselves.
    If you have any questions or would like to help, please contact veterinarian Dr. Laurie Droke at or Peace Corps Volunteer Manissa Pedroza at

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