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Am Samoa Humane Society holds highly successful clinic

One may not think of Mahatma Gandhi as an animal activist, but his keen observation on society extended to our domesticated four-legged friends when he noted, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

With that in mind, it is good to know that the American Samoa Humane Society (ASHS) is active, alive and well, and collaborating wherever possible with groups from around the world who have been supportive by bringing humane practices and treatment to the animal population of the territory.

The last two weeks of March were exceedingly busy for the local group, who teamed up with international organization Animal Balance, to host a high volume sterilization clinic. It was done with the assistance of ASG Department of Agriculture (DOA) American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA), Humane Society International (HSI) and the Animal Protection Society (APS) in Apia.

Animal Balance is a global group of volunteer veterinarians and technicians who organize high volume community-based sterilization campaigns to combat the over population of cats and dogs by conducting spay and neuter clinics in remote and underserved areas.

The goal, said founder Emma Clifford, was to spay and neuter 400 animals during this clinic.

This is the third trip to the territory for the group, which began in the Galapagos Islands, and now works worldwide from Oregon. According to Clifford, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Summerlee Foundation and the Edith Goode Trust generously provided grants to fund the medicines and supplies which the Animal Balance team was able to bring for the two week outreach.

Ten Animal Balance volunteers also personally financed their own transportation from the mainland and donated their time, professional experience and compassion for the animals of American Samoa.

Working at the ASPA compound in Tafuna during the first week, and at the DOA compound in the Industrial Park during the second week, the ASHS volunteers worked alongside the visiting team to make it possible for the vets and para vets to accomplish their goal, which did exceed the 400 mark, according to one of the clinic coordinators, Kelly Anderson Tagarino.

The vast majority of animals cared for were dogs, but a good number of cats also received treatment in the final tally.

Working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, their time and expertise was donated to spay and neuter our animals free of charge, in order to prevent an over-abundance of kittens and puppies. Considering the fate of unwanted animals here who find themselves eventually homeless, wandering the streets, disease ridden and hungry, it is a kind thing after all, said one pet owner.

Karen Kitiona, Safety Coordinator at ASPA who was assigned to work with the clinic, said, “I’ve always had a thing for animals, but this clinic gave me a whole new view of the situation. The homeless dogs I see on my way home... I want to help all of them. I have never been in the midst of a clinic like that... it was a real MASH unit, everyone with a job to do.”

She said that she really enjoyed helping with translations for some of the older people, and helping everyone understand the “aftercare” points when they took their animals home from surgery.

“I want to be there when we take the clinic out to the villages.” she told Samoa News.

“But we also need to address this at the highest levels of government, so that we can get this problem under control” she added.

Dr. Ikumi Ishikawa a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine currently stationed in Apia, was brought over to assist with the sterilization clinic. She gave further training to the para-vets at the Tafuna clinic the following week, which currently has three full time para-vets, and one apprentice.

According to Kelly Coladarci, program manager for HSI and another member of the team, ‘the local para-vets are doing amazing work given the limited resources that they have.” She noted that she would be looking into possible areas for continuing education, since the long term solution for the territory is to have home grown vets who want to live here and take care of the needs of the animal population.

She reiterated the sentiments of Kitiona, saying that this needs to be addressed at the highest levels, and she was very encouraged by her meetings with DOA director Mel Purcell and deputy director, Peter Gurr.

“The challenges are great, but you do have resources and good people here” Coladarci said, adding that regulations are vague as to the responsibility of animal control. She intends to provide DOA, who are willing to take the responsibility, with a working model and sample laws which they can then present to the legislature.

She said that while she is aware of the tremendous challenges we face, she left “very optimistic” that things will move forward. Political will, she said, is what will make this happen.

Cheryl Morales Polataivao, who co-coordinated the clinic this year with Tagarino, noted that while the first week was devoted to spaying and neutering, the second week continued with spay and neuter surgeries, while also addressing tumor removals and cancer treatments, with Dr. Ikumi teaching the DOA staff the latest procedures and methods. She said that some animals are receiving chemotherapy treatment, which is something which we cannot even do for our human population here.

“Every clinic owes its success to our tireless volunteers, our dedicated government partners, the visiting teams of volunteer Veterinarians and individual donors. Without their help, this would not have been possible,” said Polataivao.

If you would like to join the American Samoa Humane Society, or donate to their efforts, please visit their Facebook page to learn how you can help.