Adventures in Shelter Medicine: Bangkok

Dr. Katherine Polak, a trainee in Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Residency, is spending four weeks in Asia learning about community animal issues and assisting with the emergency sheltering of dogs displaced during the recent devastating floods in Bangkok, Thailand.  She’s keeping us posted on her adventures from across the globe.

A dog on the beach in Sri LankaGreetings!

Just wanted to send y’all a quick update.  Today I arrived in Bangkok after some flight difficulties out of Sri Lanka.  Thought I would go ahead and sum up my activities in Sri Lanka.

During my time spent in Sri Lanka, I worked with the organization Blue Paw Trust, an organization sponsored by the WSPA [World Society for the Protection of Animals] that is committed to reducing the number of stray dogs in the capital city of Colombo and lessening the incidence of rabies in the community.  I worked closely with Dr. Ganga de Silva, the External Liaison Manager for BPT.  On Monday we went into the field with a team of 4 trappers and assistant to rabies vaccinate Sri Lankan street dogs.  This consisted of driving through the streets of Colombo with two vehicles, one with the ‘netters’ and another with the veterinarian and myself searching particular wards of Colombo looking for stray dogs.  Once one was identified, all participants would jump out of their vans and chase the dog down the street with their nets, which very quickly became exhausting in the heat.  These chases typically led us into alleys and the local’s backyards. Many times we were successful at capturing the dogs and other times not so much.  Once a dog was netted it was vaccinated and spray painted to identify it as being vaccinated.  We successfully vaccinated 32 dogs that day.  BPT’s goal is to vaccinate 80% of the dog population in every ward of the city which is quite the task.  Since 2007, BPT has vaccinated over 5000 dogs.

On Tuesday, I visited a mobile spay/neuter clinic located at a nearby Buddhist temple in the outskirts of Colombo run by BPT.  The clinic consisted of a mobile van with two surgical tables and tent used for surgery prep and recovery.  4 trappers would go out into the community and net female dogs that would be sterilized that day.  Anesthesia was strictly injectable and equipment was basic (razors vs clippers) but the surgeons were fairly successful at maintaining sterility and proficiency despite the field conditions.  It was personally a great review on how to perform surgery in those conditions as I anticipate such skills will come in handy while working in the shelter in Bangkok.  After the clinic we headed back to BPT’s office for lunch.  There I was taught the art of eating rice with only one’s fingers which is customary in Sri Lanka.  Later in the day, I delivered a presentation on community cat management to several veterinarians and staff members.  There was significant interest by several attendees and a quality discussion was had following the lecture.

Later in the evening I accompanied several BPT staff members in an underserved community in Colombo for a rabies prevention talk titled Bouwwa’s Secrets. Bouwwa is the name given to community dogs in Sri Lanka and ‘their ‘secrets’ consist of activities one should and should not do when seeing a bouwwa on the street.  For instance, children were instructed to, ‘never touch a bouwwa when it is eating.’ While I was unable to understand a word of the presentation as it was delivered in the local language of Sinhalese, the audience appeared to be very engaged.  The night was ended with a cup of tea served at a staff member’s home down the street.

Today I arrived in Thailand and hope to meet a few of the shelter workers tonight from the organization SCAD Bangkok, whom I’ll be assisting while on the ground here.  Also looking forward to sleeping tonight as I was up at 3am to arrive at the airport this morning and with the time change I have little concept of night vs day!!

Will keep you posted!!

Dr. Katherine

Tell-tale signs a pup has passed this way
A street dog sunning by the water
Blue Paw Trust team members catching a street dog for vaccination


Katherine Polak, DVM, MPH
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Resident, First-Year