GAIN's first ever 'Spaycation' a success

GAIN: Volunteer doctors and veterinarian students were in Guam over the summer to help with a pilot program to help sterilize pets and prevent hundreds of unwanted animals to add to the growing stray animal population. Photo courtesy of Guam Animals In Need. 

In July, Guam Animals In Need held its first pilot program at a satellite clinic with the assistance of visiting veterinarians and veterinary students who volunteered their time to provide spay and neuter services at the Ordot-Chalan Pago Community Center. A total of 162 animals were sterilized during the program. 

“The program was a great success because we were able to help so many families in such a short period of time,” said Samantha Mullen, program coordinator for GAIN's Spay Neuter Island Pets. “By sterilizing 162 animals, we prevented hundreds of unwanted or unexpected litters."

GAIN is a nonprofit organization that started in 1989. It is dedicated to improving the care of all animals on Guam by sheltering those in need, and through compassionate advocacy, expert education and strong community connections. 

GAIN has long encouraged pet owners to ensure their pets are sterilized to help prevent the increase of Guam's stray animal population. Many residents – particularly parents whose children walk to and from schools or bus stops, as well as people who enjoy walking or jogging through the neighborhoods – have shared their concerns with village mayors about the growing stray dog population and the dangers they pose to individuals. Recently, officials estimated Guam's stray dog population to be somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000. 

The email

In October 2018, Guam Animals In Need received an email from Faye Varias that would start the effort for a pilot program that Guam hasn't seen before.

Varias, a Guamanian currently attending her fourth year of veterinary school at Western University in Southern California, had attended a 2018 summer program in Ecuador where veterinary students go on “spaycations” to improve their surgical skills while performing a number of spays and neuters for communities in need, a press release stated. Varias posed the possibility of a similar program on Guam and the staff at GAIN "decided to make it happen."

“When I first approached GAIN with this concept, I thought to myself that if we had one doctor and a few students interested, I’d consider it a success. We had dozens of veterinary students sign up and several more veterinarians willing to step up and help," Varias stated in the press release. "I am amazed at the amount of support this project has received and am so thankful for the hardworking people at GAIN for making this happen."

It took months of logistics, fundraising and preparation but the pilot program was created to "help tackle the overpopulation of homeless animals while sharing our beautiful island with visitors from the states," the release stated. 

“This joint effort between GAIN and Western University veterinary students provides hands-on surgical training while providing the island with low-cost spay and neuter options and reducing the community’s stray and homeless animal population. It’s a win-win all around,” Varias stated.

Two surgery teams visited Guam for Spaycation Summer School. Each team consisted of two veterinarian mentors and six veterinary students. Each group stayed for two weeks, spending much of their time spaying and neutering dogs and cats at the satellite clinic, and the rest of their time exploring and appreciating the island.

The work continues

While Spaycation has ended, Mullen is hopeful they'll be able to "do this again and again." 

“It is so heartwarming to know that when you put your mind to it, really anything is possible," Mullen said. “To think, this wonderful program is now a reality because we believed in making it happen. It really all started with an email." 

Dr. Sara Ford, main volunteer veterinarian for GAIN, shared her appreciation to the community. 

“I’m amazed at the love and support the people of Guam have shown GAIN. This event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of such a strong community and all of the volunteers and staff at GAIN," she said. 

The nonprofit organization continues to hold periodic spay and neuter clinics at their Yigo location with the help of local and visiting volunteer veterinarians, and will continue to run their income-based spay/neuter voucher program to those in need, the release stated. 

Guam hospitality

Varias showed the visiting doctors and students the best of Guam during their stay.

"They enjoyed pristine beaches, hiked amazing trails, and ate their way around the island trying the array of cuisine that Guam has to offer," GAIN staff stated. 

The visits ended with a certificate of appreciation from the governor and lieutenant governor of Guam. 

Mullen said none of this would have been possible without the love and support from advocates.

"Thanks to Mayor Jessy Gogue and everyone at the Ordot Chalan Pago Mayor’s Office, Triple J, Bank of Guam, Pay-Less Community Foundation, East West Rental Center, the Raulerson Trust, Humane Society International, IHP Medical Group, Guam Surgicenter, SPPC/Circle K/76, Freddy Varias, New Mariana’s Trench, Crystal Aguon, Coffee Slut, and various individual donors for making GAIN’s very first Spaycation Summer School happen," the release stated.