UPDATE- January 2022
Dateline: November 2021
Well, it has been two stressful years but on November 7th our small team of thirteen arrived back in Samana, Dominican Republic. After a two-year hiatus there was a lot of pent-up demand for this trip, but the Delta variant surge and our team vaccination requirement brought the team size down to the smallest we have had for a couple of decades. The small animal team consisted of two young and eager doctors, Travis Grodkiewicz and Michelle Jenssen, and one old timer, moi. Cape Codders all. Very gratefully we were supplemented by Dr. Francis Rodriques, the young Dominican veterinarian whom we had helped to train for several years. Sarah Quigley, Donna Turley, Lauren Barbo, Jessica Rodriques, Diann Funk, Abby Faherty, and Josette Grieder, made up a strong tech team. Drs. Celeste Grace from Montana, Carrie Colgan from Georgia and Julia Bentley from Massachusetts made up the equine team and were supplemented by Dr. Ricardo Mendez and one of his Dominican veterinary students, Isabella. Dr. Mendez’s daughters name is Oscarina, she was a Project Samana “intern” and presently practicing in Louisiana.
Before leaving Samana in November 2019 we had hired Dr. Rodriques to provide spay neuter services to small animal patients picked and monitored by Kim Beddall, our local team leader. What was initially thought to be a six-month trial turned into two years but was a huge success. Francis performed over three hundred procedures; easily the most cost-effective way of providing these services and we have hired him on a continuing basis. We hope to develop the same type of program for the horses with help from Dr. Mendez. However, for the last two years the horses have had no veterinary care, making for a very busy week for the equine team.
The small animal team set up in a small park just off the malecon in Samana. We had a good size open air rotunda with a good roof. We were able to rope it off and had set up an adjoining area as a sign in and waiting area so there was minimal direct contact with the local Dominicans, but everyone was able to see and hear what was going on. We also provided everyone with masks as needed but overall the Dominicans are not into masks. The covid status in the DR had dropped to a CDC level three but was much lower on the Samana peninsula. The Delta surge had come and mostly gone, and Omicron had not arrived yet. All in all, we felt fairly protected and much to our great relief we all tested negative the night before departure. We took no time off this trip and even with just a few surgeons we were able to perform 180 procedures including a couple of full limb amputations and multiple rather involved pyometras and growth removals. Nevertheless, we had to turn away many patients.
Every trip has something unique about it that sticks in my memory. We learned a few weeks before departure that our “host” hotel that we had used over the years was not in fact going to reopen November first but was closing indefinitely as were the other two hotels in the area. Needless to say, this was a problem. To the rescue came Kim, who directed us to the Casa Paraiso. The Paraiso consisted of seven close but separate small villas which were all unique, playfully eclectic, thatched roof, open air rooms in the mountains of Las Galaras overlooking Samana Bay. All had electricity, running water, a necessity alcove and a couple even had homemade hot tubs. All also had been handmade with local materials, rock, coral, local woods and what might be described as local bric -a- brac. For instance, the sink in my room was a scorched kitchen pot with broken handles, a hole in the bottom for drainage, and attached to what looked like a broken plank from a shipwreck which had washed ashore. Actually, it all came together nicely, and it worked. Being open to the air makes for interesting bedfellows so while I was quite surprised but not overly alarmed when I felt a sizable tarantula crawling up my arm at 2:00AM. I had been introduced to tarantulas on a previous trip but two nights later a scream that could be heard on Cape Cod alerted me to the fact that another team member had been initiated.
With bats circling in the rooms, a raucous raven, a wandering flamingo, a few beautiful amazon parrots, some great house dogs, and a precocious puppy we had brought from the clinic; where else would a veterinarian want to be?
As it turns out Casa Paraiso was built and is owned and run by two Dominican veterinarians, Drs. Jose and Nora Nova. A charming couple and both wonderful cooks to boot! And they have a daughter, Carla, a Dominican trained veterinarian who was also a Project Samana “intern” and presently practicing in California.
Makes me feel right at home. Next trip is planned, with a little luck, for June 5 – 11 followed by November 6 – 12.
Hang in there a be safe,
Bob Labdon, DVM