Blantyre SPCA 2017
Dr Dagmar Mayer
The Blantyre SPCA has been active since 2010, and May Valentine and Tarryn Roux have done an amazing job in turning this small local Malawian NGO into something truly amazing! When the shelter had to leave the property on which the charity was located in 2015 they had to find a new site quickly. Luckily, an anonymous donor purchased the land on which the BSPCA is now located on. Due to several changes the Blantyre SPCA had to deal with in 2017, especially the surprising departure of Tarryn and her move back to South Africa, we had to cope with the situation and find a workable solution. It was decided that I was to take on the position of CEO of the BSPCA, running the WVS clinic and manage the Mission Rabies work as the Country Manager.
View of the BSPCA premises from the roof of the clinic
There is a lot of space for up to five vets operating at the same time in the clinic. The treatment kennels are in front and the shelter for the dogs for adoption are in the back.
As the power situation in Malawi is very bad with load shedding in the dry season leaving most people without electricity for up to 5 days every week, the decision was made in March 2017 to install solar panels at the BSPCA. The Mission Rabies office as well as the WVS veterinary clinic are located on the BSPCA premises and all Mission Rabies vaccine stock is kept here as well. Now enough electricity can be produced and stored to make sure the fridges and freezer as well as the lights in the offices, consult room and surgical theatre are working constantly. Switching to solar power was a great decision which was made possible through funding by Mission Rabies.
January to March
Starting from my arrival in mid January, the WVS clinic at the BSPCA was able to open to the public once a week for treatments and surgeries. Before I got here veterinary services were only available when WVS sent volunteers to work at the clinic for two weeks every few months. The reputation of the clinic is great already and people from the poor communities in Blantyre know that they can bring their dogs for free treatments when they need help. Difence, the shelter supervisor at the BSPCA is also picking up sick dogs when the distance to the clinic is too far. Many dogs are brought in for sterilisations, mainly to stop male dogs from fighting and roaming around so much and to stop unwanted litters since up to 80% of puppies are dying due to malnutrition or infectious diseases (distemper and parvovirus).
One animal welfare case we treated in February was ‘Lightness’ a dog who was ‘neutered’ by a local AVO (Assistant Veterinary Officer) in Zomba. The neighbour saw that the dog had a large wound in his inguinal region and offered to take the dog to the WVS clinic in Blantyre. Examination showed that only one testicle was removed but there was no ligation placed, which meant that a huge hematoma built up. The second testicle was still there, dirty and infected, which was removed under general anaesthesia. The open wound was treated the same time and sutured. After a few days of post op treatments the dog was able to be taken back to the owner.
Lightness: The testicle which was removed was exposed and infected
Difference bringing another sick dog from one of the poorer communities
Another dog we were able to save was ‘Zak’, who was attacked with a machete and injured so badly that three incisors and one canine tooth, including the adjacent part of the mandible, were hacked off and only attached by skin.
Zak’ on the morning after the attack and a few days later.
The piece of jaw had to be removed and the skin sutured to the gingival tissue. He is doing absolutely fine and is not showing any problems
On World Spay Day 2017 (28th February 2017) we sterilised around 20 dogs from the poor communities which were picked up and returned by Difence on the same day. The message about the health benefits for sterilised animals is spreading and people are keen to bring their dogs to be neutered. This is also due to the Mission Rabies education teams, explaining the reasons for sterilisations to children. The education officers keep telling me many Malawians have no idea that sick dogs can be treated and they can’t believe that we sterilise female dogs, something they have never even heard about. The mind set has been changing since the work of the BSPCA has begun and people now know that there is an option to get help if needed.
In March two French vets (Anne Marie and Christine) came to visit and volunteered at the clinic for one week, during which time we ran an outreach clinic at a local primary school in Nkolokoti on a Sunday. They were accompanied by two nurses (Olivia and Amy) who stayed for 2 weeks and we organised one vaccination and one sterilisation day each at CapeMaclear during their stay. There is no veterinary service available at any village along Lake Malawi and the need for such outreach clinics is very high, especially as no human rabies post exposure vaccinations are available at the health centres and the risk of a rabid dog causing human deaths is immense.
Children queuing to bring their dogs for rabies vaccinations. Back: William, Chiku, Amy, Difence, Anne-Marie, Christopher. Front: Dagmar, Christine, Olivia.
Free sterilisations were offered at a local Primary School at CapeMaclear. People waited all day until it was their dogs’ turn. This was very likely the only time these dogs were ever seen by a vet in their lifetime. On top of sterilising the dogs we are also treating them against worms, mange and ectoparasites (fleas and ticks)
In the first three months 127 dogs were neutered, either at the BSPCA or at outreach popup clinics.
From the beginning of April, Ellie Paton, an experienced veterinary nurse from the UK, came to Blantyre and stayed for three months! This was brilliant as she had worked with me on two busy projects in Malawi and Goa in the past and she knew exactly how we work and is aware of WVS standard procedures. From April 22nd til May 26th we ran a mass sterilization and treatment campaign, alongside the Mission Rabies vaccination drive. Leading up to this Ellie managed the clinic, made sure the stock of medical supplies was sufficient, bought what was needed, coordinated the logistics for outreach days etc. The first two weeks of the mass campaign (April 22nd til May 3rd) another nurse, Ashley from Australia, joined us and stayed a whole month, as well as two vets, Cait and Nicola, from the UK.
Cait, Rob, Ellie, Rosie, Philip, Nicola, Ashley
Cait, working in one of the schools
Every weekend popup clinics were set up in Primary Schools all over Blantyre city, where sterilisations and treatments were offered for free. As the mass rabies vaccination teams were also working at 8 different primary schools every day over the weekends, they came across many injured or sick dogs, which were then sent to the WVS team. This system worked very well, the dogs which were not too sick, for example suffered from TVTs, just needed to be sterilised and received the first TVT treatment. Dogs with broken legs in need of an amputation or with severely injured eyes, which needed to be removed for example, were taken to the clinic and were hospitalised for some postoperative care and were taken back to their owner once they recovered. The vets and nurses worked from the clinic every week from Monday to Wednesday, treating these sick and injured dogs and receiving new cases, found by the Mission Rabies teams working in the field, vaccinating dogs while going door to door.
This little puppy had a horrific wound on his head, caused by a knife.
This dog came to one of the vaccination points with a two-month old fracture.
We amputated the leg at the clinic and he went back home a week after surgery, doing very well!
During the mass campaigns Ellie was in charge of the day to day logistics of working at outreach clinics or from the clinic at the BSPCA, communicating with the Mission Rabies teams, which animals should be brought in and making sure they went back to the correct place. She was also in charge of running the volunteer teams during the campaigns as some of the vets and nurses had not been part on a volunteer trip before and it takes some time to get used to the basic setup, especially when working in schools without electricity and running water.
This dog’s leg was smashed a month previously by burglars when the dog tried and defend his owner.
The leg had to be amputated
Ellie with Savanna, who was surrendered because the owner didn’t want a 3 legged dog. His eye had to be removed
A terrible animal welfare case, which sadly is not an exception but happening a lot in Malawi: People want to ‘castrate’ their dog by tying a rubber band around the testicles. This one was not tight enough to actually cause the tissue to get necrotic and I suspect that this dog suffered for several months. After removing the testicles it was obvious how long this was in place! Luckily we were able to treat this dog who was seen at a Mission Rabies static point.
The second part of this synergistic campaign with Mission Rabies in Blantyre took place from May 11th til 26th and nurses Ellie and Ashley were joined by vets Rachel and Ben, who are both very experienced veterinarians from the UK and have already volunteered at the BSPCA in 2016.
Back: Rosie, Rob, Ben, Rachel, Roxy (local Volunteer). Front: Philip, Dagmar, Ellie, Ashley
Ben and Ashley in one of the schools in Bangwe
During the 4 weeks of the mass campaign 374 dogs were sterilised (139 females and 235 males), eight legs had to be amputated, and five eyes to be removed. The team also treated some very severe wounds and a large number of TVTs. These tumors are called transmissible venereal tumors and are spreading when an affected dog is mating another dog. Generally, the tumors are found on the genitals but can also be found in eyes, in the mouth, nose or anywhere on the skin or even subcutaneously. They can be very large and painful, they bleed easily and cause the dogs to pass blood when urinating and can even block the urethra. Our treatment protocol consists of sterilisations, so the tumours can’t be passed on to even more dogs and weekly injections of Vincristine, a chemotherapy drug, which is very effective in dogs with TVTs and can cause complete regression of the tumors after 4 injections, occasionally the dogs need more treatments, but we can say that we are having a very high success rate treating this terrible disease. Luckily Vincristine is readily available from pharmaceutical companies in Malawi and is relatively cheap to buy here.
Some example of successful TVT treatment:
‘Casper’ was seen by our Mission Rabies team colleagues during the April campaign and at first we thought the eye needs to be removed. The dog also had a TVT on her vulva tho, so an ocular version of TVT was suspected and treatment with Vincristine was started. 4 weeks later the tumour was hardly visible at all
Thanks to a donated microscope, which was shipped to Malawi two years ago, we can diagnose these tumors. This is important in cases like this, to make sure we are not dealing with a different, potentially more malignant neoplasia
‘Mafuna’ was presented with one of the largest tumors possible. The lesions have also spread subcutaneously to her legs and neck. After 5 weeks it was hard to even notice that this beautiful dog has ever been sick.
‘Mafuna’s’ TVT responding to treatment in week one, two and three
Mafuna’ in week four. Mafuna’ with Difence, who collects all TVT dogs weekly for their treatment and returns them to their owners afterwards
‘Tiger’ suffered from a terrible TVT which didn’t only affect his genitals but also both eyes and he was hardly able to see at all. Luckily this friendly dog was brought to the WVS clinic and is now completely fine!
‘Tiger’ at his first visit Receiving chemotherapy. No sedation is needed for these intravenous injections
‘Tiger’ after 3 weeks of treatment. His eyes have almost completely healed
From June 10th until the 22nd WVS ran another synergistic sterilisation and treatment campaign alongside Mission Rabies, who repeated their successful rabies vaccination campaign all over the city for the second time. Ellie was joined by another nurse (Helen from the UK) and two vets (David from the UK and Michelle from Australia) and similar to our previous work in Blantyre, we set up field clinics in primary schools at weekends and worked from the local DAHLD office during the week. As there is no veterinarian working in Zomba or even the district only basic treatments can be given by the AVOs, but major injuries like fractures, tumours or other injuries often mean the death of the animals. If not directly due to the injury then as a result of neglect or the failure to be able to look for food, as many dogs are not fed at home, but have to find their own food nearby. People in Zomba are incredibly grateful for our offer to sterilise for free and the team was busy every day, having to turn down dogs after a certain number of registered dogs.
A few of many dogs, waiting for their turn. Every dog is receiving a blue collar (made possible by a specific Dogs Trust grant)
The typical set up at a primary school in Zomba . Back: Michelle, William, Chiku, David. Front: Alice, Helen, Dagmar, Ellie
‘Bruce’ had an open fracture and was found by the Mission Rabies teams when they walked from door to door to vaccinate. The leg was amputated and Bruce recovered amazingly well. He greeted Ellie every day with a wagging tail, when she came to his place for post op checks
In June a vervet monkey was seized by the police after they received a report that this monkey was kept on a chain, indoors in a room full of cigarette smoke. The police brought the monkey to the BSPCA and we looked after it for five days until a supporter of the charity offered to take her to Lilongwe to drop her off at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. Hopefully she can join a troop after a few weeks in quarantine and be released into the wild after rehabilitation at the Centre.
Another wildlife case was seen at the clinic in December, when an injured purple crested turaco was brought to the clinic. An x-ray confirmed the diagnosis of a fractured leg and we applied a splint bandage. After a few days at the clinic someone volunteered to take the bird up to Lilongwe to the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, where it is now kept until the injury heals and it will then be released back into the wild.
The clinical work at the WVS clinic has much improved thanks to a donated x-ray machine. It took roughly three months until the machine, which was donated by a veterinary clinic in Wales, reached Blantyre but it was worth the wait! It is a portable x-ray machine which we could even use for taking x-rays of large animals if needed. As we don’t have an x-ray film developer the films are taken to a private hospital and are developed there for a reasonable price. Additionally we are able to use an ultrasound scanner which belongs to the One Mission project. Even tho it is specifically developed for large animals it has already proven to be an invaluable tool for some diseases we have seen at the clinic in dogs and cats. Some of the cases we diagnosed were pregnancies in dogs, severe kidney disease in a young cat and liver tumours in dogs.
Outside Lilongwe the BSPCA is the only place where these diagnostic tools are available and we are getting referrals from the private veterinarians as well now.
The work at the WVS/BSPCA clinic in numbers
|Sterilisations in 2017||Dogs||Cats||TOTAL|
Additionally, more than 50 other surgeries were performed at the WVS clinic. Twelve legs had to be amputated, ten eyes were enucleated, many bite and burn wounds were treated and tumours removed. On top of this we treated around 40 dogs with TVTs and were able to give back their quality of life after a long time of suffering, both directly as a cause of the tumours and indirectly as these dogs are treated badly in the communities in Malawi and often they are hit with stones and chased away. And of course, we also helped countless other dogs with treatments of skin problems, respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal diseases, bite wounds and many other problems in the clinic.
Mission Rabies vaccination and education work 2017
For the past three years Mission Rabies has been working in Southern Malawi in the fight against rabies, combining rabies education, sensitization and vaccination strategies holistically. The collaborative teams of professionals work closely together, enabling the highest possible vaccination coverage throughout the targeted districts.
These are the final results for 2017 in all three districts in which Mission Rabies has been working:
|Location||Number of vaccinated dogs|
Additionally, almost 11,500 cats were vaccinated!
The education teams expanded their work this year and gave their life saving lessons to more than 260,000 children in public and private primary schools in Blantyre City and district. In Chiradzulu more than 45,000 children were educated and in both districts our education teams informed over 10,000 people at Health Centres about the risks of rabies and how best to react in case a person is bitten by a dog. In Zomba district more than 132,000 children were reached at public primary schools.
The Malawian Mission Rabies staff, both permanently and temporarily employed, did a fantastic job again this year and it’s a pleasure to see how much every team member is proud to be part of the ‘Yellow army’. They are proud of what they are doing and obviously nothing is more motivating than being recognized and praised by people on the streets for the work they are doing!
The importance of our work was made clear again from hearing stories some children told our education officers. One girl was bitten by a stray dog and she told her mum what she has to do and another child came home to find that her mother has been bitten and made sure that she took all necessary action to prevent a possible rabies infection. The head teacher of one of the private schools visited was so impressed by the work the education team is doing that he asked for more information and two weeks later two Malawian newspapers reported about Mission Rabies, with focus on the educations teams’ work.
Newspaper coverage in The Nation and Nyasa Times. Our education posters one year later. Seen by our education team at Chilangoma Primary School
WVS/BSPCA helping dogs all over the district in synergy with Mission Rabies
While working all over the district, making sure to cover every area and reaching every dog the Mission Rabies teams come across many sick and injured animals. Sadly, in most cases we can’t do anything but if it’s possible we are treating some cases in the clinic. The past month MR animal welfare officer John managed to find two of these cases in one week: Two female dogs with fractured legs and no chance of healing. In both cases the legs had to be amputated to make sure that the dogs don’t have to suffer anymore. One of the dogs, Spider, gave birth to 6 puppies just three weeks previously and they had to come with her to the clinic. Spider was emaciated as she had to feed these puppies despite being in lots of pain and was not able to look for additional food. She recovered very well after her amputation, in fact within three hours after the surgery she already hopped around, wagging her tail! She was obviously very happy that this painful leg was gone… After another two weeks of recovery at the clinic she was dropped off back at her owners’ place. The BSPCA also donated food to make sure that Spider continues to put on weight and the puppies have also started to eat solid food during their stay at the clinic.
Being able to offer free treatments to dogs in need of veterinary care and to know that these animals would otherwise never see a vet in their lifetime makes this work very interesting and rewarding. I am looking forward to next year, being able to work with a great team, continuing and expanding the important work of Mission Rabies and WVS in Malawi!