Emma: Dr. Lew, how long have you been a vet? Dr. Lew: 50 years
Emma: Incredible, wow! At 85 years young you have seen it all. I am sure we can all learn from your experiences. What was your first vet job? Dr. Lew: My first job was at the local shelter in Illinois. They had never had a vet before. I had to learn everything from scratch, I did not have a mentor. Interestingly, the state of Illinois had pretty progressive laws, first that all female dogs had to be spayed and then, they added in males. We were the first state to do that. We learned quickly that sending adopted dogs home not fixed, even if they had a voucher for the spay/neuter, ‘meant’ they would often come back a year later for the spay, along with a whole litter of puppies, the voucher didn’t work, they had to be fixed before leaving. Interestingly now, today, 50 years on, we are seeing some vets advising against early spay/neuter (8 weeks/2 lbs) and/or the shelter cannot find vets that perform early spay neuters.
Emma: Exactly, the spay/neuter vets are not located near to where the spay/neuter need is. Dr. Lew: Yes, they (puppies) are coming in from other states not spayed, as the spay/neuter vets are not there.
Emma: How did you get involved with MASH and international veterinary work? Dr. Lew: Well, I went to a SPAY USA convention and I met a couple who were both vets and they invited me to join them on a MASH on an Indian Reservation in Montana. I got the bug! But, my first international campaign was with Animal Balance to the Galapagos in 2005.
Emma: Really, how fantastic! How on earth did you find us back then? Dr. Lew: I think I was searching the internet and found you.
Emma: What do you recall from that first trip, what sticks in your mind? Dr. Lew: Well, I found it very, very interesting, it was an eye-opening trip for me. I was so surprised to see huskies; it made no sense at all as to why they would be there.
Emma: Yes, they’d try to hide under park benches to get out of the sun having such heavy coats on the Equator. Dr. Lew: Yes, but I think what made the biggest impression on me from AB’s work, was the dog training. Seeing all those children with their dogs at class, that is the best way to teach a generation to be humane. My credo is that education is the best thing in humane work and it takes time to see results, but it is the most inexpensive and most important aspect of humane work.
Emma: You know those children who used to take their dogs to those dog classes, they are now in positions of power on the islands, you are right, they get it. What would you say to those who are considering going on a MASH clinic? Dr. Lew: It is a great experience for vets young and old. You get to learn techniques that you are not taught in school, you learn about other people’s way of doing surgery. It is an incredible learning experience and a great way to meet others. You learn about all types of situations and other programs around the world and at home. Here in Chicago, now shelters don’t have puppies, so the rescuers are bringing them up from other states. Those are the places where the spay/neuter clinics should be established. In my area there is absolutely no reason why people cannot spay their animals. There are so many resources for people, even with specific breeds. If people missed one dinner/movie night they could use the money to spay their pet.
Emma: I agree! Dr. Lew: I worked with another group in Mexico. I hooked up with their vet association and my plan was to help with vet work and learn Spanish. I didn’t learn Spanish too well, but I did show them high volume spay/neuter techniques. I was amazed as the vets had not seen, or knew what, a spay hook was. One vet said to me,” Oh I’ve had this in my surgery pack for years, I didn’t know what it was for”. Oftentimes, I see vets use their finger instead. The spay hook is so important.
Emma: Dr. Lew, your and Dr. Diego Barrera’s story is one of the most important in my life and I tell it often. When you met in 2005 on the Galapagos at the AB campaign, you formed a mentor relationship with him; that action ended up changing the face of animal welfare in Ambato and across Ecuador. An incredible friendship built on trust and respect for one another cultures and experiences. Tell us more about that (we will be sharing Dr. Diego’s story soon). Dr. Lew: Well, these trips provide an opportunity to talk to and get to know other vets in different countries. You develop friendships and learn about what they are doing and vice versa. Ours grew and for 8 years we held high volume spay neuter clinics in Ambato. I brought in the vets from the USA and Canada and they formed friendships with the people in Ambato. Ecuadorian vet students joined us and we taught local people tech skills and they became techs. This all happened on a personal level, it is a 2 way process, learning and teaching.
Emma: In terms of forming mentor relationships, like yours and Dr. Diego’s, what words of advice could you give to vets seeking to travel and spay? Dr. Lew: Think about 1) the need 2) interesting for both 3) respect the vets who have different training from your own country. There are many well-trained vets who we can learn from all around the world. Due to the drugs available, they might be using different protocols, especially for anesthesia. You have to think about the processes that are used when ‘the Americans’ are not there. This is very important to consider. I remember AB using an injectable protocol quite often until you guys got those travel anesthesia machines. Sometimes though, you have to go back to the basics. I am doing a cat clinic here and I use a very basic protocol for injectable anesthesia, and it is great. The vet students these days have so much equipment, but when you go to other places, you learn to provide high standard veterinary services well, under those circumstances. As an older vet, I think that we all should give back, and this is one way of giving back.
Emma: Is there a story that you would like to share? Dr. Lew: Well of course, Merlin’s. Do you remember, we used a 2-liter coke bottle and sticks to make his splint? His leg was fractured in multiple places.
Emma: I can jump in here and finish the story….. It is December 2007, around 6 pm, dark, massive rainstorm, we are holding a clinic in someone’s carport in Cabrera, DR. A man comes in and says there is a dead dog on the street. Dr. Diego, Liz Peach and I go out to find him with our headlamps, there is no public electricity at the time. We find him, in a pile on the side of the street, water gushing down the drain next to him. Dr. Diego had brought a syringe of euthanasia solution and a syringe of pain medication. The pile of dog has a heartbeat and moves slightly. He gives the syringe of pain medication; we take him back to the carport clinic. It is so dark and stormy that Dr. Lew, Dr. Diego and Dr. Ruben (also from Ecuador) decide to give him more pain meds and evaluate in the morning in the light. He makes it through the night at my house. Next day, the vets find out that his back leg has multiple fractures so we can either amputate or try to repair it. With what though? Dr. Lew takes the soda bottle, cuts it up and finds sticks the right size for a splint. We wrap him and hope for the best. Next day, a man comes by the clinic and says he’s lost his dog, his dog’s name is Clifford. I am off picking up more dogs for surgery at the time. I came back and weirdly I had said to the team, if no one comes for him, I will keep him and do his rehab, he looks to me like a wizard and he has a deep soul, so I’ll call him Merlin. The owner of the dog tells the AB team that he doesn’t want Clifford back as he is not very good at herding cows, he just runs off the whole time. He said he wants him to get well and he cannot look after him, he is too busy farming. I come back with a truckload of dogs and the AB team tells me the story. I go find the owner and tell him I will do the rehab, but he can take him back afterwards as Clifford is his dog. He said to me, what’s your name, I said, Emma Clifford. He smiled and said, well then he is your family. Merlin Clifford got well, his leg healed, Dr. Medina, the local vet, got to know our vets and then started using Kitty Magic (a great anesthetic cocktail for cats) and he helped me rehab Merlin. The AB team left and the previous owner continued to stop by occasionally to say hello. He told the entire village the story. It made a massive impact and was part of AB’s introduction to the community of Cabrera. Merlin Clifford lived until November 2017, he was 15 years old when he passed on, thanks to Dr. Lew.