Dan Meakin, a local veterinarian for 21 years and owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital in Clermont County, recently became involved with a group of volunteers who flew to Chile on April 30 and stayed through May 10. The trip made by volunteers was spearheaded by Kinship Circle.
Kinship Circle is a non-profit animal disaster aid organization that mobilizes volunteers and resources for animal victims through its network of trained responders.
Chile was hit hard by an earthquake on February 26 of this year and many animals were left homeless, sick and injured.
“When people left their homes, some left their pets behind,” said Meakin. “The dogs especially were roaming and starving in the streets of Chile.”
Bonnie Morrison, a client of All Creatures Animal Hospital, and volunteer for Kinship Circle, was responsible for getting Meakin involved.
“She approached me with the idea of going to Chile, Meakin said. “She kept bugging me, then recruited me. First she wanted me to go to Haiti. That ended up falling through for various reasons.”
Meakin explained that one of the main goals of Kinship Circle was to develop a more permanent structure for free veterinary clinics for the earthquake victims as well as providing spay and neutering services.
“We were there to help where needed and provide some additional training for the Chilean Vets,” Meakin said.
When asked how he felt when he first arrived on location in Chile Meakin said, “I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t be useful. Because I’ve been in rescues locally where you have a hundred people that want to help but you only need about five of them, there’s leadership lacking. Things like that.”
However, this rescue, admitted Meakin, was handled very well and he was impressed by the organization and meticulous record keeping in Chile.
“Everyone had a role. There was a leader who made sure everyone’s needs were taken care of,” said Meakin. “Because of these deployments it sometimes means working long days. The leader had to make sure people were eating, going to the bathroom and that they weren’t sick.”
There was also a safety officer who patrolled the area to make sure no one was in danger.
“He was there to make sure we had no threats from locals or issues with Chileans.”
Meakin said he discovered the next morning after his arrival in Chile, how serious the safety officer was about his responsibly in making sure everyone was safe and understood the “rules” of keeping oneself out of harms way.
“I did what I always do when I first get up in the morning. I went jogging,” Meakin said. “I thought the streets of Chile would be laid out in grid patterns like they are at home. It seemed like the roads would be easy to maneuver. The roads made no sense. The roads did not go grid pattern. They just made no sense at all. I was in the city. I thought I could navigate my way back but I kept doing circles. Right when I was getting lost they showed up in our vehicle. He (the safety officer) said ‘there you are get in here!”
Meakin laughed as he said, “When I got back to my apartment I got a lecture never to leave alone again.
“Everything was so well organized, though. They even had someone there responsible for taking pictures all of the time. You have somebody who is called the communicator. They keep a log and they keep all the information. They take it back to the home base and it is given to the lady in Missouri who is in charge of Kinship Circle.”
According to Meakin, the communicator talks to the founder of Kinship Circle, Brenda Shoss, every night on the phone. Meakin said he was very impressed by the dedication to communicate and keep impeccable records.
“I was also provided with a translator,” Meakin said.
In addition to the organized approach that was implemented by Kinship Circle and the Chileans, Meakin was pleased that everyone in his group got along very well.
“This is not always the case according to what we’ve been told,” Meakin said. “They (Kinship Circle) want us to be a permanent dispatch, on call, group in the event there is another major emergency. This is due to the fact that we all get along so well. Most groups don’t get along that well. Most groups don’t get along.”
Meakin said overall he had no idea what to expect when he arrived in Chile so he brought medical supplies from home and other items that he believed would be useful in taking care of the animals. He was pleased, however to find there was an array of supplies provided by the Chilean vets.
“I was glad they had inject able medications on hand,” Meakin said. “I knew that most opportunities and exposure for the Chilean vets to learn from us was going to be a one time shot. Dispensing oral meds and long term treatments were not going to be possible. I was disappointed there were no rubber gloves, ear medication or clippers there. But we got by.”
On site in Chile Meakin said there were portions of the day that time was wasted due to some leadership issues.
“Since I was, and I don’t want to brag, one of the more educated people there my time was not wasted. I actually felt sorry for the people who were there to help us with the animals. They had to just stand around and wait for us to utilize their help.”
Even though the helpers seemed to have wasted time, Meakin said they were very much appreciated and needed for functions such as holding the animals for them.
Meakin said that of the six people in his group, there was only one veterinarian besides himself. However, there were 10 Chilean vets that were ready and willing to help in any way needed.
“They were very hard working and helpful,” Meakin said. “This is not the poorest country in South America, in contrast it’s one of the more wealthy countries. It’s more of a middle class than most anyplace in the world. But they still haven’t worked in veterinarians.
“Being a veterinarian is a low priority in Chile,” Meakin said. “There are clinics down there but they hardly make any money. There are vets but they just don’t have anywhere to practice. People don’t pay for veterinarians that much. A person in this country (Chile) may have several jobs in addition to being a vet. We were there help, and where needed we provide some additional training for the Chilean Vets.”
Meakin noted that the statistics concerning the number of vets in Chile compared to the United States are broad.
“In the United States it takes eight years to become a vet with about 2,500 college graduates a year,” Meakin said. “In Chile it takes only five years with only 300-500 graduates from vet school, not a college. Of course, we have a lot more people in our country. Chile is in a desperate situation. They want to learn, but no training is available. I had the most experience there as a vet.
“I really enjoyed spending time with the Chilean people. Like most South Americans, they were very friendly and fun to be around. They are also very generous and also very appreciative. I also liked the food there.”
The trip to Chile was not a free ride for volunteers.
“I paid for my own plane ticket, which was $1,500, Meakin said. “The lodging expense was minimal because we shared a three room apartment with the Chilean vets. I thought it would be difficult to sleep with so many people in one room but we were all so tired at the end of the day that it didn’t matter.”
Among the items Meakin brought to Chile was an air mattress that had no pump. He was determined to take this mattress with him even if he had to blow it up on his own. He was pleased to find a battery operated pump when he got there.
“A lot of times in situations like this the group that precedes the next group coming in leaves supplies behind,” Meakin said. “The two groups that preceded us left stuff. It’s the generous thing to do. You bring a full suitcase and leave with an empty one. There wasn’t an extra air mattress so I am glad I brought mine. That air mattress was my savior
During his stay in Chile Meakin worked long hours with the rest of the group, however on his last day he said he was able to take some time to enjoy a hike in the mountains before his departure. Of course, he was not alone. He had the company of a few native Chileans who were able to guide him through some very beautiful sites in the country. All things said and done Meakin said he was glad to have had the opportunity to help out where he was needed and get to know Chile and its people.