Vet students living “a dog’s life”

Members of the VWB/VSF research team visit with some of the free-roaming dogs in the city of Puerto Natales, Chile. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pellegrino. Photo: David Carasso.

Have you ever wondered what “living a dog’s life” is really like?

Well, this summer three students from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine are learning first hand what living a dog’s life entails for free-roaming dogs in Puerto Natales, Chile.

As volunteers with Veterinarians Without Borders/Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VWB/VSF), Andrea Pellegrino, Graham Ellingsen and Rebecca Jackson are participating in a research project focused on improving the welfare of free-roaming dogs.

“In Chile, just like many other developing countries, dog overpopulation is a problem that increases the transmission of many zoonotic diseases and currently lacks acceptable sustainable solutions,” explains Pellegrino in the students’ blog.

Since the surgical removal of testicles is not considered culturally acceptable in Chile and in many other countries plagued by an overpopulation problem, the investigation is aimed at finding an alternative sterilization method. Dr. Angelica Romero and Guillermo Perez of Chile and Dr. Elena Garde (WCVM ’05) of Canada are leading the VWB/VSF study.

Joined by Corinne Letendre, a third-year student at the Faculté de medicine vétérinaire of Université de Montréal, the WCVM students are monitoring the behaviours of over 100 free-roaming male dogs which have been sterilized either surgically or chemically through an injection of EsterilSol™ into the testicles.

The goal is to find a better way to manage dog populations in developing countries, thus improving their treatment within the community. The students are spending three months gathering data which will be analyzed by the international research team from Canada, Chile and Italy.

In addition to taking blood samples aimed at measuring testosterone levels, the students collect six hours of videotape for each animal in the study and use GPS to track its movement over several days.

“Depending on the whims of the dogs to which we’re assigned, we end up in any number of odd places or situations,” writes Jackson. “You might see us moping about in swamps and creeks, sprinting and falling through the pampas, scraping our faces and cameras as we push through a jungle of thorny bushes, or standing awkwardly outside a house (probably without permission).”

Despite the embarrassing situations through which they often meet the Puerto Natales citizens, the students have been touched by the hospitality and friendliness of the many people who have welcomed them into their homes to visit and warm themselves. In their blog, the students describe the Chilean winter as even colder than winter on the Canadian prairies.

On their days off from filming, the students have also been observing and helping out with Servicio Agrícola Ganadero (SAG) – Chile’s equivalent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Their experiences with SAG have helped them to gain an appreciation and understanding of animal agriculture in Chile while providing an opportunity for them to view the country’s amazing landscape.

For more insight into the students’ Chilean project, visit the VWB/VSF student blog.  

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