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February 10, 2010

Dispatches from Haiti

Humane Society International

  • Giving medication. © HSI

  • Team members John Benoit, Chris and Jay with some of the orphans. © HSI

  • Vital support to many people's livelihoods. © HSI

  • Evaluating a baby goat. © HSI

  • A dog we helped. © Kathy Milani/HSI

      Members of HSI's disaster response team offer their impressions from the field as they work to give aid to animals and people in the wake of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

      February 17, 2010

      by Dr. Jay Merriam

      Today, we left Port-au-Prince and headed southeast, arriving in the village of Grand Gove, where we spent a good part of the day evaluating working equines.

      The half-mile-long roadside market scene was chaotic, with animals everywhere. Many of the vendors likely came from a nearby village, but some arrived on horseback from afar with their fruit and other wares. All of the horses and mules we saw were tied in an adjacent area, with no attempt having been made to unsaddle or water them. They were all smaller than I have seen before—considered miniature in stature, in my experience. They were all appropriately saddled and seemed to be of average weight. We easily restrained and de-wormed them.

      By good fortune, we were introduced to a local community health worker who helped us navigate the neighborhoods. He spoke reasonable English and accompanied us as we went from one group of tied-up horses or donkeys to another. He seemed to know everyone, and they him.

      At one point, we were amazed to see a litter of puppies in an alley between houses and then just next to them, a woman who had given birth just two hours before who wanted to show off her "bebe" to us!

      There was immense destruction in the area where we were today, and we actually walked over the tops of houses that had fallen during the earthquake a month ago. There was an active bakery, along with hundreds of vendor stalls and shops. The horse owners we met were glad to see us and understood the value of getting their horses vaccinated against parasites. We were able to assess the general health and strength of the animals as we worked. I saw no harness sores or saddle sores, and no shoes or bits. All the horses wore a locally produced string headstall.

      The main problem was nutrition. We were in coastal plain and there was no accessible pasture visible. Any area that could be cultivated has been devoted to cane production. It is clear that regular vet care would be helpful and appreciated, but better access to nutrition is even more vital for these animals. We had some hay with us and at the end of our stay we gave it to one of the local men, who promptly loaded it on the back of his horse and promised to distribute it.

      Driving back to Port-au-Prince, the whole road and the houses in every community we saw along the way were heavily damaged. The infrastructure needs are staggering. There is no doubt that healthy working equines will be an important means of support for the people in this region for a long time to come.

      Dr. Merriam is a large-animal veterinarian.

      February 16, 2010

      by Dr. Jay Merriam

      Port-au-Prince is in chaos, covered with a pall of dust and smoke. It smells of death and living with death, and tent cities are everywhere. The people are crowded into parks, empty lots, and even the median strips of one of the thoroughfares near the water. Water and sewage bubble out of the streets and the trash-filled streams that flow down from the hills above.

      We were shoulder to shoulder as our drivers tried to avoid “gua guas” and oncoming trucks and squeeze through the mad mix of cars, trucks and cycles. We spent almost three hours getting across the city, including a 45-minute stop at a hardware store to purchase shovels, rakes and trash containers to add to the hay and feed we were carrying for the goats owned by the orphanage we planned to visit. We traveled roads that looked like they had been recently bombed, as well as a few that were clean and flat and had recently been swept.

      It was on one of the latter that we finally stopped, backed up and were directed through swinging steel gates, over an incredible bank and down into a small flat yard almost covered by several tent tops shading it from the sun. Immediately, we were surrounded by children of all sizes, running to touch us, hold our hands and “give us five”! My colleague John introduced us all to Sicilene, the director of the orphanage, and she welcomed us effusively. She had been expecting us and so had the children. They had been told that “veterinaires” were coming, though they weren’t sure why. They wanted to show us their toys--mostly cut up plastic bottles they towed around with string made to look like little cars, complete with bottle cap wheels. Then they clapped and rushed to the farthest corner of the sheds at the back of the compound.

      We could hear the bleating before we could see the animals. Our hosts ushered us into a dimly lit back room where the noise was loudest. There, we found a little black and white nanny goat and her two tiny babies. She tried to stay between us and them, but she was also tame and we were easily able to catch them all. We then carried the animals to a small, roofless pen where two other nannies with their kids and two small rams waited. They were grazing on the discarded trash, plastic, fruit and glass that the school produces daily. This was made into a lumpy compost by their feces and a little grass. The smell was a pleasant relief from the city, though not much better.

      We restrained each animal in turn and did a physical exam, checking gum color and weight. We vaccinated the adults and de-wormed all of them. Then we instructed the children on cleaning the floor, passing out hay and pellets and making sure the animals would be given water consistently. One of the older men who seemed to be a teacher said that they would keep water available, but it would not be “drinking water” as they didn’t have enough to share.

      Our trip to the orphanage was rewarding on many levels: we were able to spend some time with the astoundingly resilient children of Haiti, help educate them about how to take better care of the animals in their charge, and provide some overdue medical attention to the sheep and goats we saw.

      Dr. Merriam is a large-animal veterinarian.

      February 1, 2010

      by Chris Broughton-Bossong

      Yesterday was our (Team 2's) first day of reassessment and fieldwork. 

      Now that the waves of substantial aftershocks have dissipated, thousands of people in Haiti have begun the arduous task of rebuilding their lives. Staggering to contemplate even with a wealth of resources at one’s disposal, in the abject poverty of this island community, recovery and reconstruction would seem to be nearly insurmountable challenges. 

      As the displaced congregated in Port-au-Prince, a myriad of tent cities began to appear throughout the area. What were once parks and town squares are now overcrowded, bustling camps; shelters made from tents, tarps and sheets are the only housing available to many of the affected residents. Piles of refuse and streams of sewage cover the streets and sidewalks. Garbage is disposed of through incineration of heaps of plastic bottles, fruit rinds, discarded meat and debris, filling the air with a white haze and pungent smell. Parents and children resort to bathing in the street using buckets of cloudy water. 

      Among these sprawling Bedouin-like encampments, the street dogs of Port-au-Prince began to gather. As scraps of moldy food are discarded, the malnourished animals waste no time in recovering them. They scour the grounds for any edible remnants. Our team visited one of the many camps to assess the numbers and needs of the animals in the area around this tent city. Many of the dogs we encountered were gentle and quite approachable. Several could even be held. HSI volunteer Dr. Megan Hlusko provided some preliminary medical evaluations, treated the dogs for parasites and provided some injectable nutritional supplements. As our team leader, Dave Pauli, commented, by helping animals, we’re helping people too because treating these dogs for parasites reduces the risk of their transmission to humans.

      Chris Broughton-Bossong is an HSI Disaster Certified Responder and vet tech.