Tuesday, June 17, 2008


This weekend I had the luck to be part of a vet team that went into Havasupai Canyon to help the local community with their feral dog problems.
The Havasupai tribe live at the bottom of the canyon with fairly limited resources. The only way in is to hike or horseback ride 8 miles or get the Helicopter.
This Wiki article explains more about it.

It is a huge tourist attraction because of the waterfalls, they are spectacular.
Its a strange place really. A remote Indian community with problems that many isolated areas suffer- limited jobs, very bored youth, medical issues and availablity, animal problems - side by side with hundreds of backpackers.

A lady of Florida who has been going down there of years donated the money for us get there and work.
She is very driven and was also organising ways to place decent shade and fences on the properties for the horses. There are a lot of horses down there, pack rides are very popular and its a way of life though some are in better condition than others.
Road out of canyon and to our lodgings.

Three of our staff went down on the Wednesday to scout out the problems, do a bit of educational stuff and get things set up for the vets to turn up. They were met with some resistance at first from the local officials as to what was exactly happening but in the end everything was fine and we were very much helped out and made welcome.

Carly, Lisette and I (3 uber elite vet techs) left Flagstaff at 5am on Friday. It only took 3 hrs to get to the helipad not 4 that we thought. There were hundreds of cars all lined up the road which we thought was a bit of a worry. Most people hike in, but still I was amazed that the number.

Vet Techs Three

The chopper wasn't due till 10am so we settled in for a wait. There was a family there waiting, who were very nice and funny so with spent the time chatting and laughing so the wait and the heat didn't seem so bad.
There is a sign up sheet and we let them know we were here for work, on the hopes we would be able to get down there fast.
Any tribal member gets first dibs so we were bumped a few times, and started to wonder if we were going to get on at all. Finally by noon we were allowed on.

Over the rim in the Helicopter

The chopper ride is less than 10 minutes long but it was excellent fun. Dropping off the rim, following the canyon, everything is barren and dry until you get closer to the township of Supai when a everything becomes green and lush and almost startling against the blue sky and red rocks.
Its a true oasis.
Green of Supai

So we finally got there. The two vets had hiked in and were waiting for us so they could get started. The 'surgery' was a table in a kitchen, we set up IV fluids up hanging off the light fitting and used a torch to shine light into the animals being spayed and neutered to the sound of the chopper every 15 minutes.
Despite the less than optimum conditions we all worked well together and everything went fairly smoothly. We were encouraged that people were keen to desex and vaccinate their owned animals.

There are a lot of roaming dogs. Most are not aggressive just very wary of humans. None looked starving since the sheer amount of tourists around means fair amount of food.
We worked with the Animal Control Officer armed with a blow gun to try and get some of the more aggressive, known biters. We humanely euthanised several problem dogs.

It wasn't all work, work, work.
We got to hike down to the falls for a swim. Its a hot, dusty trail for a few mile, then you turn a corner to find another world. The water is a stunning blue and a perfect temp. We swam behind the falls and considering the sheer number of cars up top there wasn't that many people there, which was nice.
We just went to Supai Falls, next time I'll get to Mooney.
Supai Falls

One of the issues in places like this is to help and teach the locals without coming over all patronising. Its a fine line but I think to gain trust and mutual understanding means being consistant and working together so we can do good without being do gooders.
It was hard work but very rewarding and I hope we get to go back and not just because of the Helicopter ride and the waterfalls. The more we go the smoother it will run and people will know us for what we do and be more likely to trust and accept us.

Beats a day in a cube any day.

More photos on my Flickr