Community: Spay Panama emerges from the epidemic

husky eyes
She wanted to play with the kitty standing in line with me. The cat might have liked that idea, but cats running at large are not appreciated at Spay Panama. Dogs are supposed to be kept leashed or caged as well. That, and the rule that you must wear a mask during these plague times, is posted along the alley where you line up outside the spay clinic. So all these would-be cross-species female friends could do was look.

An appointment at Spay Panama’s headquarters in Betania

photos and notes by Eric Jackson

Spay Panama is a movement that has metastasized into a bunch of local groups, and is mobile. Its road shows go to corregimientos where the mayors or representantes welcome them, but where I live the PRD representante dismisses the movement started by Panama native Patricia Chan as “foreigners.” (He’s also the kind of local elected official who, when our neighborhood had no water coming to us for eight months a few years back, did not see fit to show his face.) So people by and large have to seek other solutions here in El Bajito.

Dogs and cats running at large are part of the neighborhood custom. Generally somebody takes them in, or at least feeds them (which is often really the same thing). Thing is, we have too many in the area, and we are the poor side of a non-rich corregimiento, such that when the epidemic hit people from the city thought it a convenient place to dump inconvenient animals. Some died, most were taken in. And THIS old Panagringo hippie had all these cats coming to dinner, and over the two years when spay events were shut down some of them had kittens.

But WAIT! There is a spay organization in Anton, the sprawling municipal district of which my neighborhood in Cocle is a part. Yes there is. And as Animal Rescue of Anton stirred back to life, they helped me to spay this affectionate puppy with a slight hip dysplasia — watch her run from behind and it’s slightly like a car whose wheels are out of alignment — but at this point in her life gets around well enough without need for orthopedic surgery. When she went into heat and attracted multiple dog packs, however, once the excitement was over it was time to get her spayed and aborted and Animal Rescue of Anton was there for her.

Then, with the help of volunteers from Animal Rescue, we caught a half dozen of the cats from my household and they were sent off to be neutered, then returned. That left most of the sterilization work yet to be done.

As a bus rider with modest means, I decided to do two things — take this look at Spay Panama’s old outpost in the city and get one more cat spayed. The one that I initially chose, this wily and beautiful black and orange tortoiseshell, got away. The gray tiger who might or might not have been early into her first pregnancy was not so swift. So I put her in the cat carrier and off we went.

We were early and had to wait in line. We fell in behind this young man and his beautiful and friendly husky mix, and ahead of some people with multiple cats to neuter. Spay Panama has these rules about being in line — if you come early for your appointment, the person with the earlier appointment gets attention before you do. If you come in with a poorly secured cat, you wait because they don’t want the chaos of a terrified cat running around the waiting room. There was a man at the door maintaining this order, and nobody seemed very impatient or annoyed.

Eventually, into the pre-op waiting room. Registration and a $15 per cat charge. Then, into the animals’ waiting room to leave the kitty in a temporary new cage. Then to the post-op waiting room, waiting for a volunteer to take my cat out, waiting some more for after that for her to come to. The volunteer looked in after awhile and said it was OK to go, that the kitty was just sleeping.

At Spay Panama they gave me this printed set of guidelines about post-operative care. Let the cat lick on ice at first, rather than gulp down water until she pukes. Keep her clean. That sort of stuff.

However, this was a feral cat, and I doubt that my finca is the only place that she comes to find a meal.

Got home, got a little bowl full of crushed ice ready, opened the lid to the cat carrier… and she bolted! Surely I will see her again at dinnertimes.

Waiting patiently in line.


Like most Panamanians who live with huskies whom I have encountered, the human half of this symbiotic relationship with a canine had not heard of Frank Zappa’s notorious song. Is that because we don’t get snow here?


A scared kitty peeks out while waiting in line.


In the pre-op waiting room, this dog probably had no idea of what was to come on the other side of that door.


Post-op: a volunteer checks to see if the kittens are OK.


Post-op, cats brought in by a company’s security / public relations crew. Spay Panama has over the years built relationships with the National Police, municipal authorities, businesses and institutions on whose grounds feral or abandoned cats gather and community organizations. A cultural shift away from cruelty and toward responsibility has accompanied that work.


Post-op: she came to without a chance to know the joys and sorrows of bearing litters of puppies.



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