Catching up...

If you've read every blog in this series, you may recall that the primary purpose of the trip to Kenya to work with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) was to vaccinate as many dogs and cats as possible against the ever-present threat of rabies, which is endemic and causes economic devastation as well as loss of life. The focus was primarily the communities around the city of Naivasha, in west-central Kenya, where a 2010 outbreak resulted in the deaths of two children. The vaccination clinics were an overwhelming success. More than 1,200 dogs and cats were vaccinated in nine communities in and around Naivasha.

A week later, we moved our roving teams to southern Kenya, outside the city of Voi, where we held two more vaccination clinics, in which we vaccinated more than 600 dogs and cats, bringing our total to well over the 1,800 we expected to vaccinate in these two communities. With Kenya's dog population estimated at well over 2.5 million, we vaccinated less than 0.07 percent of the population, but as I said in a previous blog, it was a good start.

As we prepared for the first three clinics at the Naivasha District Veterinary Office, we separated into three teams: two stationary and one mobile.

The two stationary teams were:

  • "3 Rabid Girls & a Guy" (Drs. Rebecca Kloubachar, Lisa McCarthy, and AAHA-accredited Julie Kelly, along with vaccine researcher, Will Maslanik)
  • "Team Kayone" (Drs. Linda Dugger and Rhea Dodd, and Rhea's daughter, Denver University student Annalisse Sonnenkamp, and Gillian Pultz, executive director at North Fork Animal Welfare League of the greater New York City area)

The mobile team, "Hell on Wheels," consisted of Drs. Kris Ahlgrim, me, and a former veterinary assistant, Melissa Aycock. We traveled in two Land Cruisers--the "tan van" and the "old green ANAW machine"--and early on, split into groups reflecting our vehicle preference.

Remarkably, there were few mishaps during the clinics. Certainly there were the expected scratches from frightened dogs, which were rarely aggressive. There were also a few iatrogenic injuries to a certain blogger veterinarian, who sometimes poked himself with needles before and/or after giving vaccines. That same veterinarian, who would like to go unnamed, was also not accustomed to using 1.5-inch needles for subcutaneous injections and on occasion gave inter-pili injections instead.

The most serious injury happened on the second day of clinics at "Team Kayone," when, in restraining a dog, Gillian suffered a deep bite to her forearm that punctured an artery, causing a fountain-like eruption of blood and a freaking-out by Linda and Rhea as the injured Gillian looked on and calmly reassured them that everything would be OK. With the bleeding controlled and first-aid measures having been taken, Gillian was rushed to a local clinic for treatment and a prophylactic rabies vaccination.

An incident of greater concern, however, was one in which a dog was presented to team "3 Rabid Girls & a Guy" for vaccination but had classic signs of paralytic rabies. The dog, of course, was not vaccinated, and the incident was reported to the district veterinarian for follow up. We left Naivasha the next morning with a bit of trepidation among the team, especially Julie, who had her rabies titer checked pre-trip. It was acceptable at greater than 0.5 IU/ml, but she was still rightly concerned and decided that she would visit a health clinic for a rabies booster when we arrived in Voi a couple days later.

Julie and I were among five others in our group who preferred the old green ANAW machine, and we became fast friends on the road, in part because of our AAHA connection, and I offered to accompany her to the health clinic. It was not just because we were friends, but also because at one of our pre-trip meetings in Denver we were specifically instructed not to travel alone. And there was also a little incident involving Julie when we were out in the bushland near Kapiti searching for snares--she got lost!

Julie seems to have no fear when it comes to traveling in foreign countries, having been to Kenya and South Africa before. We split up into two separate teams for the de-snaring day, each with an armed Kenya Wildlife Service Ranger to protect us from unfriendly wildlife encounters and even more unfriendly encounters with poachers, who the rangers have carte blanche to "shoot on sight, no questions asked." Somehow, someway, later in the day Julie wandered off away from her group, including the ranger, and it wasn't discovered until we all met at the agreed upon place at the end of the day.

We decided to send one vehicle with the rangers and a couple ANAW staff back to the starting point and leave everyone else at the meet site, in case she found her way out, and believe me, you would have thought the chances of that would be pretty slim if you could have seen the vast, thick, open expanse of Acacia bush at least as tall as a person. I jumped into the Land Cruiser with the rangers and headed back to where we started. I'd already started to panic and driving back to the starting point, looking back at nothing but Acacia bush didn't help.

A few minutes later, we arrived back where we started. The Land Cruiser emptied quickly but calmly, except for one (who shall remain unnamed). Pairing up, we were about to begin our search. Then, about a hundred yards away in the bush, a bobbing blond head appeared among the Acacia. As the bobbing head walked slowly toward us, I saw clearly that the head had this calm, inscrutable smile on its face. The bobbing blond head was Julie. From that moment on, I vowed to stick close to Julie wherever her meanderings took her. Well, mostly.

Now in Voi, Julie and I set out for the health clinic, a three-story walk-up office in a bright orange building. In the outer office, Julie checks in with the receptionist and asks if she can get a rabies booster. The receptionist goes into the doctor's office, and in a minute the pleasant young doctor--2 years out of medical school--comes out. Julie is escorted in. I ask the doctor if I might come in, to which he agrees.

The doctor's office is small. The desk and exam table take up most of the space. His cabinet is filled with books and meds; the walls covered with posters on anatomy and disease prevention. He prepares the rabies vaccine as Julie looks on, slightly uncomfortably. Julie asks to examine the vial. Smiling patiently yet understandingly, he gives her the vaccine. Satisfied, she returns it. Julie rolls up her sleeve as instructed and turns away. I stand out of the way, cameral at the ready. Julie gets the shot. I get photos.

Julie survived and is back at her practice in Denver. We will be back in Kenya again next August. Care to join us?



Aubrey Lavizzo, DVM, is the owner of AAHA-accredited The Center for Animal Wellness in Denver, Colo.

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