Project Samana June 2016

By Sarah Quigley CVT

Project Samana (PS), if you are unaware, organizes a group of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and a few non-tech volunteers to travel to Samana, Dominican Republic three times a year for a spay/neuter mission.  PS has evolved from a loosely based group of vets from the MVMA to an international organization.  Through the years, PS became one of the oldest volunteer spay/neuter programs, helping countless numbers of dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, and mules.  We help to educate locals on proper husbandry, organize wet-labs for the local veterinary school, train new veterinarians and vet students both from the DR and the US, and have started a Mule breeding program (Mules are hardier for the climate and work load). 

Today, I am leaving after completing my 5th trip.  It was quite possibly the best trip I had been on yet!  Having been before I knew many of the volunteers both the Americans and Dominicans but I also was met by many new faces.  We had volunteers not just from Massachusetts, they came from Georgia, Colorado and Texas too. I am lucky each trip to make so many connections in the veterinarian community.   I was however a little nervous as I had just been appointed this year to the Board of Directors of Project Samana as the CVT liaison so with the extra responsibility I was also carrying extra supplies, it was fun trying to explain to customs why I need a whole suitcase full of sterile surgical drapes!

Luckily they let me go on with my journey and after a 2.5hr car ride to the other side of the country we were meeting the rest of the team at the gorgeous Luxury Bahia Principe.  Our team consisted of four equine vets Jay Merriam, Steve O’Grady, Carrie McCologan and Katherine Fertig, five small animal vets Robert Labdon, Arthur Freedman, Terri Nord, Ruth Marrion and Laura LeVan (who taught a dental wet lab at the local Vet school and also gave the CVTs a lesson in Oral Mandibular blocks for dental extractions), our techs Heidi Soffran, Mary Naughton, Tom Mulvaney, Jess Rodrigues, Meg Shenk and myself, a vet tech student Brianna Tellado, a vet student and several other non tech helpers. We were joined by our local volunteers and our local veterinarian Frances, who has been training with our team for the last five years.  

By Monday we were organized chaos, surely, to the newbies it must have been overwhelming.  This time our hospital was in a University (the students were on holiday).  We may use PVC surgery tables but we also place IV catheters and intubate every patient.  We have 2 anesthesia machines using isoflurane.  We have five ET tube apnea monitors and for the first time we had both a sPO2 monitor and an EKG monitor.  It always takes a little while to get going and get a rhythm but by the end of the day we had finished over 30 procedures in small animal.

 The large animal team was off to the fields with a number of horses to castrate and an infected wound to debride and stitch.  For our equine techs, the PS doctors use the Henderson technique and not emasculators for castrations. The Henderson clamp is attached to a power drill, through a twisting action it severs and seals the exposed spermatic cord, removing the testicles and resulting in a nearly bloodless surgery.  It takes very little time in experienced hands the surgery is about as long as a feline castration. The horse is up in less than 20 minutes.

At the end of the day as we are leaving the clinic a man on a moped came speeding up with his Chihuahua who had just been hit by a car. He presented with traumatic proptosis but luckily we had an ophthalmologist present to consult on how to replace the eye. We replaced the eye inside the eyelids then performed a temporary tasarrophy to help keep the globe within the socket and sent the man and his dog on hip way on the moped.  Hopefully the dog will recover uneventfully and have some use of its eye in the future.

Tuesday was busy, as expected.  In the morning we had a dog with a large inoperable abscessed mass engulfing his entire paw, he was prepped and had his hind leg removed at the hip joint.  At lunch, the few of us that stayed to eat street fare, had a puppy emergency, a puppy was thrown on the ground by young girl, the puppy had TBI in addition to potential broken ribs only time will tell whether the pup will make it, luckily the local team coordinator took her in to monitor the situation.  We had not one but two dystocia cases in one day, the first case a Chihuahua mix had mated with a much larger dog, she had been in labor for a day with no pups, we worked vigorously as a team and brought to life five pups.  The second case, both pups were stillborn but mom was saved and might be adopted by one of the local volunteers.

Wednesday was our off day, we had many things we could do some went to Las Terranas to shop, Las Galeras to snorkel, Caya Levantado to relax by a beach, or El Limon for the waterfall. I chose El Limon, you take horses up a mountainside to a beautiful waterfall, which is a fantastic swimming hole.  My guide Fransciso left the trail and picked us passionfruit right off the tree.  After the trail ride down we had a wonderful lunch waiting for us at La Manzana Restaurante.  The equine team has worked with many of the horse owners, in El Limon, educating them on proper husbandry including foot and saddle care.  In order for ecotourism to work we have to be there to support them. I was amazed at the quality of the horses, they were well fed, they were not treated poorly in fact while we went to swim the horses were bathed and fed. They only take the horses up and down once a day. But most amazing of all several horses were shoed and shoed well on all 4 feet! This doesn’t usually happen in the DR, however Dr Steve O’Grady has in the past demoed farrier work and worked with several locals to do it as well.  It struck me that most of the people we help really want to do what is best for their animal but they need to be educated on this.  Wednesday night we had a surprise birthday party for one of our group arranged by the hotel complete with cake, dancing and a magic/ comedy act which included the birthday girl and her father.  We work hard and we play hard!

Thursday went mostly smooth, well smooth for almost everyone. We moved right along, until a shepherd mix was brought in for a spay the owner told us that the dog was bleeding in the truck bed and he wasn’t quite sure why, on first look at the festering, maggot infested fist size tumor on the dog’s chest we were pretty sure we had the culprit.  Her spay was uneventful, however when I repositioned her for the tumor removal she projectile vomited all over me then she decided to try and crash.  She wasn’t done with me after she was stabilized, surgery was performed successfully although with no microscope and no nearby lab we have no idea if this was just a necrotic abscess that was causing Lymph node inflammation or some type of metastatic cancer. She completed her fluid spillage on me when she woke up post-surgery although her tail was wagging and she was a real sweetheart at discharge.  Luckily we had a hose outside and the ocean down the street. 

Throughout the week we saw many interesting cases that we just don’t see much of in the states, recovered case of active canine distemper with residual myoclonus (Dr LeVan pointed out the enamel damage to the teeth is indicative to distemper or focal seizures during surgery), badly healed fractures (one dog had right front leg amputated already and left rear had been injured and rendered the leg useless but boy he could move when he saw us eating chicken), broken jaws where we couldn’t open the mouth to intubate but the dog was good weight so somehow she was eating something on the streets.  An English bulldog with English bulldog problems in a tropical country.  Lots of angry cats and dogs.  That’s not all of what we saw but all I can remember as we fly through this turbulence. 

It was an amazing adventure, I am excited and renewed as a technician more confident in my abilities and will bring that back to the clinic.  Every year I get better and more confident on my skills with surgical prep, anesthesia, and surgical monitoring and post op recovery.  I am by no means the best at anything in fact on more than one occasion I shouted out “Damn Chihuahua and I need help!” Something, I plan on working on so next year Chihuahuas look out!

As a member of the board of Project Samana I encourage you to think about joining us once.  This trip we were considered tech heavy with 5 small animal techs but they were well utilized in reality. We also relied heavily on our support staff.  The non techs that came to help translate, clean or watch end up learning to intubate, place IV cat, and monitor recovering patients.  I want to give a shout out to Donna Turley, Casey Ledway and Leila Panzer, with little to no experience before they started with Project Samana, they were avid learners and extremely helpful.  I hope that next year, we may have enough techs so I will be able to spend one day with the equine team.

 In conclusion, if you finished reading this please, please, please, we need your help.  The MVTA sponsors 2 scholarships per year, we also are approaching others to sponsor a tech or two a year.  We have fun on the beach but we complete over 150 procedures in 4 days and I promise it will make you a better tech!  If you have been on a PS trip in the past please consider going again we have 3 trips now April, September and November.  We want to expand our services to nearby villages to accommodate the many people who have no transportation. I look forward to our new project in November that will develop an education program for schools about animal welfare. 

My last plea in this letter if you can’t volunteer, encourage others to do so, you can donate through our website at, we also collect gently used collars and leashes, you might consider asking clients for these we use the collars to help identify the dogs that have been sterilized.  Any supplies or equipment you can email us at to see if we can utilize.  Finally if you are interested in learning more look on our website or email me at