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The origins of our Big Corn Island veterinary mission trip

As I have introduced you to both Harley’s Haven and Pennridge Animal Hospital, I do believe that this secondary project requires its own introduction. Though Harley’s Haven primarily focuses on helping animals right here in Pennsylvania, there is a great need for help for animals around the world as well. It is unrealistic to think that one person, or a small group of people can help everyone, everywhere. However, thinking about our work on Big Corn Island always makes me think of the quote by Margaret Mead - ‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ And I do believe that our work on BCI has changed their world, and vastly improved the lives of the animals on that island.

In order to properly introduce what this project is and how it came about, I need to first introduce you to the woman who inspired the trip, and has been a core reason that it has happened again each year – Miss Cynthia. Or as we affectionately call her, the honey badger. Cynthia is the type of southern charm woman who captivates a room with her larger than life personality. She has a heart of gold, and a soft spot for animals in need, and is never afraid to say exactly what she thinks. Cynthia and her husband, Eddie, like to travel and often choose spots that are off the beaten path, so that Ed can go fishing and scuba diving. In 2015, this exploration lifestyle led them to a tiny island off the coast of Nicaragua called Big Corn Island.

Big Corn Island is a very small, very remote island. It’s smaller than the size of Manhattan, and has a total population less than our great town of Perkasie, PA. In order to get there, one must take a series of 4 flights and it has one tiny air strip, with 2 flights a day in and out. The people of the island primarily fish, or support the small but mighty tourism industry. For as remote and 3rd world as it is in some ways, it is also one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and the people are kind and generous. It is tropical and gorgeous, and the island is FILLED with dogs, cats, and some livestock, and has had no veterinary care available on a daily or even monthly basis. There was just one vet group that would come once a year for 3 days, and that’s it. THREE DAYS out of 365 days was all they had any vet care for their pets.

So enter the honey badger – she traveled there and spent a few weeks on the island getting to know them, their culture, and their pets. As she realized they had very little care and many of the animals were underweight, underfed, riddled with parasites and who knows what else, she felt she had to do something. At the time, Cynthia was my client at PRAH, but I honestly did not know her well at all, other than to care for her pets. I still vividly remember the day she called asking to speak to me about a collection she wanted to do. As I got on the phone, skeptical as to what this call was going to be about, her excited voice rang over the line, “Dr Beth, this island just NEEDS our help! I want to do a collection and send them parasite medicine, we just have to do SOMETHING!” As we started talking more and she filled me in on the plight of the animals there, my wheels were already turning and I thought to myself – my od, sending them supplies isn’t going to do ANYTHING….we need to go there! As soon as I said it, Kira was behind me miming that if I’m going, she’s going…and our trip was born.

From that day, we had many dinner meetings (over Ed’s delicious spaghetti), where we started planning and pulling it together over the next 9 months. As with so many things in my life, this first trip was part planning, part help from others, part luck, and part winging it. I got in touch with a contact at NicaVets, which is the other group that goes each year, and they agreed to help us get supplies and to even lend us some of their equipment as long as we went to pick it up, and were sure to return it safely at the end of our trip! We gathered our supplies and our nerve, and on a cold day in February 2016, six of us headed out on the trip of a lifetime, and one that has definitely changed my life for the better.

*Check back next week to hear about our adventure through the Nicaraguan countryside to collect our drugs!

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