Perros Project celebrates 10th anniversary with 2019 clinic in Huanchaco, Peru.
On Saturday, July 20th the small coastal town of Huanchaco, Peru will welcome a team of 20 people who flew all night to get there from places far and wide like Portland, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin. While they come from many walks of life and each has their own story to tell about why they have made this journey, they all share a commitment to improving the lives of dogs (and sometimes cats!) living on the street in Huanchaco. Many volunteers are using precious vacation time, giving up beach trips and family outings for the hectic environment of a mobile veterinary clinic focused on spay and neuter operations.
The clinic is coordinated by the Perros Project (www.PerrosProject.org) which Courtney Dillard and Matt Webber founded in 2009. The couple decided to launch the project after their experience with a very special street dog, Lola. While traveling in the region, Matt and Courtney met Lola, a black lab mix who was covered in tumors and in need of medical attention. Through their efforts to find care for her, they met many wonderful people in Huanchaco, all eager to do what they could to help. From those conversations came the commitment to return to the region, work in concert with local animal organizations and focus on reducing the number of stray dogs fending for themselves on the streets.
Working in a mobile style veterinary clinic is not for everyone. Volunteers arrive carrying everything from donated dog treats and used yoga mats for surgery tables to scrubs and antibiotics. They start the day early, greeting people who bring in community dogs often in laundry baskets and even the occasional suitcase. Surgeries are performed in the main conference room at the hostel where the team stays and patients recover next door in the smaller meeting room. After a week of back to back surgeries, community outreach and exchange with Peruvian veterinarians, most members are dead tired, but as Kim Upham, who oversees recovery relays, “at the end of the day, there is no better feeling than doing this hard, but heartwarming work.”
Prior to the 2019 clinic, the Perros Project has coordinated five clinics, sterilized well over 500 animals and hosted over 55 volunteers. Exactly half of the volunteers in 2019 have participated in multiple clinics, returning year after year to continue this important work. While the veterinarians focus on spay and neuter surgeries, the team also provides education on pet care, distributes flea/tick/mange control medicines and fields general pet wellness questions from community members unable to afford regular veterinary care. In addition, the Perros Project provides support to partner organizations on the ground, Amigo Fiel and Huanchaco al Rescate, by paying for vaccines, part time staffing and food year round.
Through consistent and heartfelt efforts, the Perros Project has seen not only important advancements in the lives of Huanchaco street dogs, but also increased support for animal welfare throughout the community. In the early years of the clinic, the local municipal government dismissed pet overpopulation as a concern and some community members doubted the benefits of sterilization. More recently, as the government has seen the Project’s commitment to their community, they have not only endorsed the clinic, but promoted it widely. In addition, interest in and support for the clinic has grown among residents. Dozens of community members work with partner organizations on the ground to arrange transportation and care for the canine patients.
It is often said that a small group of people, united by a shared purpose can make a meaningful difference. Looking back across nearly a decade, it is apparent that little by little, but also year-by-year, the Perros Project, its volunteers and its supporters have worked to do just that.