samana1In 1993, three veterinarians from the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) traveled to the Dominican Republic, the western hemisphere’s poorest nation. Their plan was to provide essential health care services to the animals of the rural town of Samana.

Nearly 20 years later – Project Samana, an outreach program of the MVMA, now sends veterinary practitioners, technicians and students to the Dominican Republic twice a year in support of its mission:

  • to provide vital surgical and medical services to the animals of Samana;
  • to educate animal owners about health care and proper use of work horses and mules;
  • to provide medical and surgical training to Dominican veterinary students and practitioners;
  • to give teams of veterinarians and students from the United States first-hand experience of the problems that plague animals of third world countries.

To date, Project Samana volunteers have castrated several hundred stallions and neutered over 2000 dogs and cats. Many animals also receive treatment for a variety of wounds, parasite infestations and other diseases.

Animal owners are educated about animal care, internal parasite/tick control, animal first aid and nutrition. As mules adapt well to a tropical climate and conditions, are resistant to disease and are strong work animals – Project Samana has persuaded several farmers to begin mule breeding programs. Noting their success, other Dominicans have begun breeding programs. As a result, the human/animal bond in Samana has improved and many animals have  better lives.

I joined the Samana Project for a week this June. That unforgettable experience has significantly impacted my philosophy as an equine veterinarian.

While our practice’s daily experience is with the competition horse, the backyard pleasure gelding or the pasture pet – the working horses, donkeys and mules in Samana are typical of the majority of the world’s equids.

The people of Samana know only one equid – one that works long days every day for as long as it physically can do the work – despite illness or injury.

samana2These animals do not have stalls with fans or grooms to hose off sweat. They lack repellant for the ever-present flies and ticks, farriery (as we know it), professional veterinary care and commercial feed or hay.

Life for the folks who own these animals is not much easier. People depend on a donkey, horse, or mule for their family income which is usually about $5 per day if there is work to be had.

Work for the animals means hauling nearly their own weight in coconuts, palm nuts or tourists up and down steep hills and along unpaved and rutted roads.

During my time with Project Samana, we traveled each morning  to remote areas. Villagers came with their donkeys, horses and mules – some from down the road and others having walked for a day or more.

We castrated more than 70 stallions to minimize genetic problems linked to indiscriminate breeding and to reduce aggressive behavior of some un-castrated males toward their companions.

samana3We performed anesthesia, basic dentistry, farriery and wound care. We treated a variety of wounds, illnesses and parasitic lesions. We found clusters of ticks  in ears and under tails on virtually every patient. Fly larvae infestations were prevalent and we cared for long untreated or poorly treated wounds. Animals with chronic lameness, angled limbs, deformed hooves and club feet were not excused from daily work.

In my regular caseload at home, a “performance horse” refers to a stadium jumper, the racing Thoroughbred, the competition driving horse, etc. My week in Samana changed my definition and perception of “performance horse”. And while the people of Samana possess little material wealth by our standards, they were invariably friendly and grateful for our help.

samana4Dr. Jay Merriam of the Massachusetts Equine Clinic is one of the founders of Project Samana. He and his wife Shelly have traveled annually to Samana for nearly 20 years.

My friend and colleague – Jay has encouraged me to participate in the Samana Project and other equine welfare efforts.

Thanks, Jay!