Free Sterilization Services and More for your Pets at Centro de Salud in La Paz

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By Penny Cottee
The small, white trailer parked under a rubber tree on Calle Independencia seems an unlikely place to wage a war, but within its flimsy walls a daily battle takes place. The trailer is one of the city’s main weapons in the fight to control the over-population of dogs and cats in La Paz.
In a bid to reduce the innumerable litters of unwanted puppies and kittens born each year, the city offers a free sterilization service to any and all comers, and the trailer is its operating room.
Last year, 1,400 free sterilizations were performed. This year, the average has been 120 operations per month.
But given the limited capacity of the facilities, and the stream of unsterilized animals wandering the streets (many of them owned), it is of course a struggle of mammoth proportions. “The work never ends,” says Dr Francisco Javier Leon Leon, Co-ordinator for Public Health for a region covering La Paz, Todos Santos and East Cape. “We should be over-run by public demand for spay and neuter, but we are not.”
The operating trailer is based at the Centro de Salud (Health Centre) downtown. Once mobile – now grounded for lack of funds – it resides on Calle Independencia at the back of the main Centro complex.
It is managed by the Zoonosis department. A Zoonosis is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and this title reveals the emphasis of the department’s work. Its several animal welfare campaigns have at their core the protection of human health. “When an animal health issue impacts on human health, it becomes part of my remit,” explains Dr. Leon.
Running the Zoonosis project on a day-to-day basis is Dr. Maria de Jesus Lopez Collins, a qualified veterinarian and specialist in zoonosis.  From offices piled high with boxes of latex gloves, leaflets on rabies, and maps of the city’s colonias, Dr. Collins directs the sterilization program, among others.
Open to any dog or cat, owned or street, Mexican or extranjero, the sterilization service is a MASH-type set up. Clients queue up on a first-come, first-served basis on the pavement outside the trailer. Animals are given a tranquilizer shot while with owners, and then anaesthetized inside the trailer. After the surgery, pets are handed to owners straight from the operating table, still out cold.
Waits can be long, so patience is necessary. “An operation averages 30 minutes, so four animals ahead of you means a two hour wait,” explains Dr. Collins. Afterward, owners are given a prescription for injectable antibiotics. “We prefer injectable antibiotics as they are broader spectrum and provide better protection for the animal while recuperating. We advise people to ask a vet to help with the injections.”
Another free service offered by the Centro is vaccination against rabies for all dogs and cats of four weeks plus. If you need a vaccination, just bring your pet to the mobile trailer during its working hours.
Dr. Collins has comforting news about this dangerous virus. “Rabies is not endemic in the domestic dog and cat population in the state,” she says. “However it certainly is in the wild animal population, particularly among bats, coyotes, and even badgers. Our vaccination program for dogs and cats is vital to maintaining control of the virus, as protection for the animal and for people, particularly those living in open country.”
The main vaccination campaign is in March each year. Around 80 volunteers – mostly vet and medical students – don hi-vis vests, load up coolboxes with vaccines, and set up temporary stands on street corners in designated colonias. A loudspeaker van cruises the colonia’s streets, inviting owners to bring pets along for vaccination.
Last year 44,837 free vaccines were administered.
Sterilization and rabies vaccinations are also available, both free, at the Centro Municipal de Atencion Canina at San Pedro. This is also where the dog pound, the perrera, is housed – another, rather grim, weapon in the city’s struggle against animal over-population. Dogs and cats are euthanized here. This facility is intended for sick or injured animals and abandoned litters. (It is not an adoption center. Animals going in almost never come out.)
The Centro de Salud’s Zoonosis division has also just launched a pilot project to try to eradicate ticks in certain high risk areas of the city where the infestation is so overwhelming it poses a serious threat to residents. “Ticks carry dangerous bacteria which can be fatal for animals and even humans,” explains Dr Collins. “Our program teams fumigate houses, de-tick animals and put free anti-tick products on them. We’ll be monitoring monthly for four months to assess the impact on the tick population.”
The sterilization and anti-rabies vaccinations are open to all animals in the city, and Dr Leon wishes more people would take advantage of them. “I want to have people demanding these services for their animals, as responsible pet owners.”
So even if you don’t use the services yourself, be sure to tell your friends, family and neighbours about them. You’ll be helping the city to continue its uphill struggle against unwanted animals on the streets.
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