Running a Vet Clinic in a Remote Tropical Paradise

Bringing HOPE to the furry residents (and the humans) of Nomuka island in the Kingdom of Tonga. In May 2018, our small team set off for this remote island to run a vet clinic, neutering dogs, educating kids and trying to make a big difference in this small community...

The clinic, and some patients in recovery - our makeshift clinic under the mosquito nets at the back, and a mum with her two female pups sleeping off the anaesthetic.

How the heck did we end up running a clinic in Tonga?

Back in 2017, we surveyed the entire island, visiting houses and schools, delivering some basic medical care, and trying to figure out how exactly we could make a difference (there's an article about that previous visit here). It was obvious that the population was out of control, with way too many un-wanted dogs causing havoc on the island and making life unhealthy and unsafe for both the dogs and the human residents of Nomuka.

With the support of the local Sheen family, we went back to Spain to formulate an ambitious plan with veterinarian Marta Pedraja. Together we formed the group Pacific Hope, with the hope of bringing hope to some puppies and people. We put together a crowdfunding campaign on Chuffed.org and received incredible support from family, friends, strangers and super-star philanthropist Phil Woollen, and then began the laborious process of figuring out how to get a small team of vets, along with all the necessary drugs and equipment, across the planet and to an extremely remote island without an airport, or even a wharf!

The Pacific Hope Project in Action

From May to June 2018, our amazing team was in Nomuka, setting up the clinic and neutering as many dogs as we could. In the late afternoon we'd pack up and head off around the town for other treatments - injured horses, checking in on dog patients, and even one huge (slightly terrifying) pig. This was only possible due to our amazing team of dog-catchers, and the support team back at the Barn (headquarters of the Sheen Family, founders of the NICE Foundation).

The Pacific HOPE team (L-R): Head vet Dr Marta Pedraja, Millie (the dog), assistant Alice Forrest, Ricky (the other dog), vet Dr Angel Grimaldi, head vet nurse Peta Fysh, and Buddha (the little dog).

We also ran education days for the local primary and high schools, showing them around the clinic, playing games, facepainting, teaching them how to care for dogs, and how healthier happier dogs is good for the whole community. They loved the opportunity to play with our equipment & overall the students and teachers were really interested in what we were presenting. And we loved the opportunity to speak and inspire – at least one of the students is planning to join our team in the future and wants to study veterinary nursing.

It was incredible to see the whole community getting on board with the project, bringing dogs in, hanging out and watching surgeries, chatting to us about their pets and making the whole experience so incredible. One of our favourite visitors was Tavita, who was frequently visiting to watch us work and jumping in the truck for a lift home after school. After visiting the clinic earlier in the week, Tavita wanted to get his dog neutered. After discovering that his mother had neglected to get it done while he was at school, he picked up Taika and carried him all the way to the clinic. He then waited patiently, and helped the vets prep his pup for surgery. He waited right through the operation, keeping an eye on Taika and frequently checking in. We loved having his cheeky smile around to brighten up long days in surgery.

The Results

Our team of 2 vets & 2 nurses sterilized 62 dogs (that’s about a third of the total population of Nomuka). In real life terms, that's 21 females and 41 males who are no longer adding to the huge overpopulation of dogs on the island. It also means avoiding several generations of unwanted puppies, vastly improving life for those females, and reducing the overall population (meaning less packs of dogs roaming the streets plus improved health, more food and better conditions for all those that are left).

About 40% of the total dog population of the island came through our clinic. They were all treated for fleas & worms (which can transfer diseases to people). We also treated a lot of cuts, skin conditions, eye infections, tumours & other wounds.

We hope to get back there again in the future, and the NICE Society are currently fundraising to make it happen.

This was honestly only possible because of the incredible support of so many people! Thanks to everyone who donated, shared and supported the Pacific Hope Project, helping us to make a crazy dream of wanting to help some puppies into reality.

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