Animal Warrior Series: Rubén Alemán
Emma: Dr. Rubén, please would you share your story of how you ended up on the Galápagos in 2003, a year before AB arrived to hold the first MASH clinic?
Rubén: I graduated from Vet school in Quito in 2003. I wanted to work with wild species and conservation. At the time I was performing spays and neuters in Quito. I wanted to work with wildlife and help protect national parks. I applied to volunteer with CIMEI on Isabela Island and for my first 3 months I volunteered, then they hired me to help control invasive species. As I had spay/neuter experience I was asked to spay and neuter animals at the human Red Cross hospital facility, as there was not any other option. It was difficult at first as people didn’t trust me as I am not from there (Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island in 2003 had a population of 1500 people). I worked with Biologists and learned about wild species. I was aware that the National park had been poisoning the cats and dogs. I began offering spay/neuter through CIMEI to the community.
I remember AB’s first clinic in May 2004. The community was amazed at the amount of equipment that arrived into Puerto Villamil to help their animals. The people were also surprised at the way the AB team interacted with the animals. As there were few volunteers who spoke Spanish, I was asked to do many of the outreach and pick-up activities. When I was in the AB clinic I saw the vets perform the surgery with such small incisions and the animals recovered very quickly, I had not seen this methodology before.
I met many valuable people through Animal Balance. Animal Balance had a link into the community and started to organize more campaigns, leaving supplies behind after campaigns so I could continue. I began practicing the techniques the vets had taught me. I made my own spay hook so next time they came, I could keep up.
After Isabela, we traveled to the other islands, teaching their CIMEI vets how to do the work. It was very tiring work, but very important as the community of the Galápagos started to see Animal Balance and CIMEI as the leader of change on the islands towards responsible ownership and spay/neuter as the best practice to stop the decimation of invasive species. The authorities started to see the results and finally thought it was a good idea.
At that time AB was in charge of everything as it pertains to cats and dogs, it was so much work, so hard, long days but it was working as before the native species were being negatively impacted and now they were not.
Emma: How long were you on the islands?
Rubén: Isabela 2 years, San Cristobal for 5 months and Santa Cruz for 2 years. At that time, I realized my contribution for the Galápagos was done and I moved back to the mainland, I fixed hundreds and hundreds of dogs in Guayaquil and consulted on environmental conservation. Then in 2010, I was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and had to stop and heal. I literally had to learn to walk again and I became depressed.
Then, I got an invite from you to go on another AB campaign. That got me out of my depression. I had always been really active and then I had to stop, that was very hard for me. The AB campaign with my friends again really helped to begin healing.
After I got back, a friend took me to Machalilla National Park. My dream had always been to become a Park Ranger and guess what, they were hiring! As I had experience in wildlife and invasive species, I got the job. I still work in the park now. The Park has allowed me to also continue spaying and neutering the cats and dogs and promote the end of lethal methods used by the Ministry of the Environment. Just by myself as the vet, I have done over 11,000 surgeries. I go to all the protected islands and fix all the dogs and cats that I can. Working with wildlife is my passion – marine birds, dolphins, whales and coastal region wildlife.
Emma: 11,000 surgeries by yourself Dr. Rubén, that is amazing, thank you, thank you! What happened next in 2012?
Rubén: Well, I realized that the marine turtles needed help, I had to understand why they were dying. I found out that 90% of the reason was because of human activity. I decided to build a shelter rehab center for marine animals. I sold t-shirts and other items to fundraise and basically built it little by little, myself. Then, other NGOs realized how successful I was and built the hospital and gave me an X-Ray machine. It is a beautiful hospital and now animals are brought from different parts of Ecuador for rehab and release.
Emma: Incredible Rubén, well done, congratulations my friend! How is life now for you?
Rubén: I have found balance. All the things I have gone through, all the beautiful experiences and not so great, have led me here, to this beautiful hospital. The hospital is my baby. It is a very important contribution to wild animals. We even have rescue equipment for whales. I am blessed to know so many NGOs but AB is very important in my life to connect me. My work with AB gave me confidence and gave my job importance. I am very thankful to AB and I will continue to fight for the right of all animals; wild animals and cats and dogs.
Emma: Thank you, it could not have worked without you. Do you have advice for new vets?
Rubén: Yes, when you leave University, fight for what you want to do. Give your eternal love to what it is. Don’t be scared, do it with passion and love. Have many goals for your life, love what you do in every area of your life. Would you do it for free? Then it is right for you. Set goals, work for it. Realize it's often difficult for everyone, sometimes you have to keep jumping hurdles. Just do it, go for it. The difference is not waiting until 5 pm to leave the office, you don’t even notice the time, or want to stop.
I bless the day I met you and AB, for our paths crossing and for this life.