"Dr. Diego Barrera - one of AB’s most inspiring, hard-working vets who took the MASH model and recreated it in Ambato, mainland Ecuador, with incredible life-saving results. His work is creating social change across Ecuador. It is my great honor to share Dr. Diego’s story." (Emma)
Emma: Hi Dr. Diego, thank you for doing this interview with me, it’s been way too long since we talked! When did you work on the Galapagos Islands and who did you work for?
Dr. Diego: I lived in San Cristobal in 2005 and I was the vet for CIMEI. I met Dr. Lew Seidenberg that year too at my first AB campaign. I didn’t speak much English then, I had only been on island a month and I was very new to vet work. I actually hid when I saw the AB vets coming, I was shy and it was quite hard for me at the beginning. That first experience opened up my eyes to overpopulation strategies. I had actually aimed to work with wildlife, but the experience changed my mind to work in cat and dog overpopulation.
Emma: Is there a story from then that sticks in your mind?
Dr. Diego: The most important part for me was the day I met Dr. Lew. Despite the language issues, we could understand one another. Dr. Lew arrived earlier than the rest of the AB team. I was a bit lonely and I think Dr. Lew was too. We created a friendship. Dr. Lew was very interesting, his energy and experience was very important to me. Dr. Lew and AB taught me everything, techniques, how to use instruments, everything I learned from Dr. Lew and AB. I remember, I received a reprimand from Liz Peach in the correct way of doing things – I never forgot - this has lasted a lifetime with me and now I reprimand the vets, I teach with Liz’s words in my head, “change your gloves between each surgery."
Emma: How many years were you on the Galapagos?
Dr. Diego: 2 years
Emma: When you left the islands, what did you do next?
Dr. Diego: After the AB campaigns, humane population control was important for me to talk about. When I was a student, I didn’t know it was a problem. I thought I would work with wildlife. It is hard to work with the government for wildlife, it was better to work with cats and dogs as I could do it myself and didn’t have to depend on anyone else 15 years ago. I started spay/neuter clinics in Ambato in 2010. I worked with international volunteers, the first volunteers were from AB, Dr. Lew, Dr. Larry Richman, and Mary Ann Wentzel. We also do weekend clinics where we would spay 200 animals each time. Since we started in 2010, we have spayed and neutered 30,000 animals!!!
Emma: You are my hero! That’s incredible Diego, well done my friend, wow!
Dr. Diego: Yes, it was so great to work with everyone I met at AB and be led by Dr. Lew.
Emma: I understand that you have also been key in changing legislation in Ambato, tell us about that.
Dr. Diego: The campaigns taught us about the community, their needs, and the correct methodology. I worked on the ordinance with the previous Mayor. The municipality then funded the campaigns and provided supplies. This was a BIG milestone in Ecuador, it was the first time this had happened – to have government support for spay/neuter. We then built the shelter in 2010 and at that time the spay/neuter clinic was in the shelter and I was the Director.
We then built SNAP, a beautiful spay/neuter clinic. I left the shelter 6 months ago so I can wholly focus on SNAP.
Emma: What are the goals of SNAP?
Dr. Diego: We are taking spay/neuter across the country; we are going beyond the city limits. I create spay/neuter clinics using the best protocols. We do MASH, using portable anesthesia machines, pain control, etc. We do mostly MASH style clinics, doing 150 surgeries per day with 2 vets. The municipalities provide free spay/neuter to the community.
I am now full time with SNAP. We also have an educational side. We used a cartoon of Dr. Lew to promote it all over the SNAP clinic and on our outreach information.
Emma: Brilliant! Do you have any advice for new vets?
Dr. Diego: Follow your passion. Find a big NGO, find out the outcome of the project and be sure that they will train you as you wish. The volunteers are your ‘tools’ to start the project, therefore of the mission, then they become the ‘doers’ in their own communities. When you follow your dreams, you will find your volunteers.
Emma: Thank you, Dr. Diego, you are an incredibly inspiring human, congratulations.
Dr. Diego: Thank you and everyone at AB, I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I had not been exposed to AB………..ha, I always think of you when I spay 😊