Monday, June 15, 2015

TNR - Regreso

(On-the-spot news from Susana Hurlich, the Spanky Project’s coordinator in Cuba)

On Sunday, June 7th, 2015 we held the first of two small sterilization campaigns for the cat colony coming under the care of two wonderful ceramicists who live and work on Mercaderes Street in Habana Vieja, Amelia Carballo and her husband Ángel Norniella. 
The cat colony, who have made two tiny parks - Rumiñahui and nearby Simón Bolivar – their home, come daily to the front entrance of Amelia and Ángel’s expo-venta (exhibit-sell) studio-gallery – known as Terracota 4 and located right across the street from Simón Bolivar - for their meals.

Amelia's and Ángel's ceramics workshop on Mercaderes Street, Habana Vieja

Two years ago, Amelia and Ángel’s entire cat colony was sterilized in what was Cuba’s first Trap-Neuter-Release campaign - organized by the Spanky Project in collaboration with our sister organization, Animal Balance - in which some 500 cats were sterilized in four of Havana’s municipalities. Amelia and Ángel were key of our several partners in Habana Vieja. However, during the past two years, new cats have come into their area and though some of the original group remain, their colony now has a number of new members.

Definitely time for a small, targeted mini-sterilization campaign.

Because they live a distance from the veterinary clinic in Habana Vieja and transporting the cats was a problem, it was decided to hold the mini-campaign in Amelia and Ángel’s home which has good conditions for a “holding and recuperation area” for the cats, an area for surgery and adequate water and light.

With backing from the provincial and national level of the Sociedad de Clínica y Cirugía Veterinaria (Society for Veterinary Diagnosis and Surgery), we had a wonderful team! Three veterinarians: Leyssan Cepero, Fernando Gispert and Yanaisy “Nana” Pino. Two third-year veterinary students who, as part of their practical training, frequently assist Nana and Leyssan: Ernesto Carlos Hernández and Yoani Alfonso. And a support team consisting of Amelia (helping with post-operative animal care), Ángel and María (Amelia’s sister) providing coffee, fruit juice, soft drinks and sandwiches, and me (coordinating the order of surgeries, numbering the cages and taking lots and lots of pictures!)
The team: (left to right): María, Fernando, Susana, Leyssan, Nana, Ernesto, Amelia & Yoani.

(Ángel is behind the camera!)

The day before the surgeries – Saturday - Amelia organized trapping the cats, using our special cat traps. Ángel, María and a few others helped. They already had four cat traps at their home, Susana brought two from home, Leyssan brought one from his work site (Quinta de los Molinos, an “educational park” in the middle of the city that comes under the Historian’s Office), and even Eusebio Leal, Historian of Havana, provided the Spanky Project cat trap that’s on extended loan for his use, making for a total of eight traps. We also brought ten “recuperation cages” to Amelia and Ángel’s home, loaned by Quinta de los Molinos and which are actually large cages used for their annual pigeon (rock dove) exhibitions.
Amelia with trapped cats before surgery begins.

 Ernesto with recuperation cages.

The plan was to sterilize ten cats each Sunday. Amelia and Ángel had captured nine: eight females and one male, a couple of whom were quite friendly and didn’t need to be trapped. As soon as they were in their respective cages or traps, the trap was covered with a light cloth (to make it somewhat dark and cave-like so that the cat would feel safer and less exposed, as seen above) and was brought to Amelia and Ángel’s apartment, located very close to Rumiñahui.

On Sunday, everyone arrived at Amelia and Ángel’s home on time – 8:30am. We organized the surgical table, a large dining room table with room for two surgical areas on either end. We covered it with special plastic and surgical cloths. Leyssan and Nana arranged all the medications, most of which Leyssan and Susana had dosed out the previous week. Fernando provided absorbable sutures and Leyssan provided injectable vitamins.
Nana, Fernando and Leyssan talking about medications.
 Leyssan preparing his surgical instruments while Ernesto looks on.

Nana explaining her anaesthetic protocol to Fernando

Then the surgeries began. Leyssan worked at one end of the table with assistance from Yoani and Fernando worked at the other end of the table with assistance from Ernesto. As third year veterinary students, they’ve already had experience suturing so in a number of cases, they did the final “sewing up.” And under the watchful and instructive eyes of both Fernando and Leyssan, Ernesto carried out the final sterilization with flying colours!
Nana administering eye lubricant just before surgery.

The surgical teams: Fernando and Ernesto. Leyssan and Yoani, who is putting in the final stitches under Leyssan’s watchful eye.

Nana, who has an incredible hand and experienced instinct with just how much sedation and anaesthetic to use, had the responsibility of sedating the cats and administering the anaesthetic. The cats were prepared two by two, with Ernesto, Yoani and even Amelia wearing a heavy work glove to hold the cat in place inside the cage while Nana administered the sedative. Once sedated, they were brought to the prep table where they were shaved for surgery – under the belly towards the back for Leyssan and on the right flank for Fernando. (Either method is acceptable in the hands of a good vet!) Since all the cats were colony cats, they got the internationally recognized mark indicating they’ve been neutered: the tip of their left ear is cut off (while under anaesthetic, of course!).
 Yoani restraining a colony cat while Nana injects sedative.

 Amelia ready to assist Nana to sedate a colony cat.

Two of the females were in fairly advanced stages of pregnancy. Another female is still occasionally nursing her already weaned kittens (she received a flank sterilization so that she could still nurse without discomfort), and as for the male, well, he must have been greatly disillusioned when he realized that rather than being in kitty heaven with eight females, he was about to lose it all!
 Ernesto shaving the surgical area of a sedated cat.

Ernesto sterilizing a cat under Fernando’s instructive eye & Amelia’s watchful gaze.

After surgery, all the cats received injections of an analgesic (and some received a local block before surgery), a 72-hour antibiotic, complex B and B12 vitamins and ivermectin (anti-parasitic). Each cat had her (or his) little report indicating exactly how much of what medication had been administered. No claws were trimmed – something that is usually done when domestic cats are sterilized – although they were checked to make sure there were no problems (claws growing into pads, seriously broken claws, etc.) that needed attention. However, they need their claws sharp and untrimmed since they’re colony cats who also hunt.

 Nana administering post-operative antibiotic, analgesic, vitamins & anti-parasitic.

Amelia and Ángel placing the male cat into his recuperation cage following surgery.

The male cat – waking up – half an hour later.

Leyssan also did a detailed calculation – based on the precise notes that Nana had made for each cat – and concluded that we still had enough medication to sterilize between fifteen and eighteen cats the next Sunday. Amelia and Ángel were thrilled as they still have a number of their own colony that needs to be neutered. Amelia also plans to include some “neighbouring cats” of other colony caretakers in the area.
Leyssan calculating the remaining medications.

Three satisfied vets: Fernando, Leyssan and Nana.

The decision was to keep all the cats in their cages overnight and, in the case of the two who were pregnant, to keep them for two nights to ensure there were no complications. The plan was for Amelia to offer a broth with soft fish (or whatever) towards the end of the day, along with water, in case they wanted to eat or drink. (Most of them did…)
Yoani, Ernesto and Amelia checking the patients.
Once we were all assured that the cats were coming out of the anaesthetic well and showing excellent vital signs, we cleaned up everything. Ángel and María brought out the snack – delicious mango juice, simple sandwiches etc. Fernando made a very nice statement thanking everyone for their good work and willingness to give up a Sunday to help our beloved cats. Susana, in the name of the Spanky Project, presented Ernesto and Yoani with their very own digital thermometer. They were thrilled, as you can see from Ernesto’s expression below, as it was their very first such thermometer!
A happy Ernesto with his very first professional digital veterinarian thermometer.
And then a group of us went to the nearby Museo de Chocolate. Not everyone went: Fernando wanted to spend part of the day – his only day off during his usually busy work week – with his family. Amelia didn’t want to leave her precious charges alone. Ángel wanted to get back to the ceramics studio, and María stayed with Amelia. But for Leyssan, Nana, Ernesto, Yoani and Susana, we thoroughly enjoyed our cold chocolate and delicious selection of chocolates, courtesy of the Spanky Project.

Left to right: Yoani, Ernesto, Leyssan and Nana enjoying cold chocolate and a box of delicious sweets.
(Susana is behind the camera!)
I called Amelia towards the end of the day Sunday. All cats were doing well and some had asked for food. When Amelia called me Monday late morning, the male and several of the females had just been released. One of the females was shivering in her cage and I suggested she put warm water into a little water bottle, wrap it in a bit of cloth, and place one along her back and the other along her belly to warm her up. It worked. Later Monday other cats were released and two had been picked up by a neighbouring protector. By Tuesday late morning, all cats were well, liberated and – says Amelia – clearly feeling well.
Two-month-old kittens saved by Amelia and Ángel as their mother, one of the cats sterilized today, had no milk for them. They were seven in all; two already have new homes!

If you’d like to help our work…

…although the entry of medications into Cuba - such as anaesthetics - is tightly controlled, there are a number of disposable supplies that are extremely useful for sterilization campaigns for cats. Here’s a little list of things that are in short supply here and that can be brought into the country by visitors without the need for customs authorization:
  • Syringes, 1 mL (1 cc), sizes 27G x ½”, 25G x 5/8” and especially 23G or 22G x ½”
  • Absorbable sutures (both internal and external), sizes 2.0 and 3.0
  • Surgical gloves, size 6.5, 7 and 7.5 (& some 8) (Note: surgical, not examination)
  • Ink for tattoo machines (Ketchum Animal Tattoo Ink)
Contact us for more ways to help Cubans help their animals.