ASHLAND A local veterinarian is helping people by helping animals.
Dr. M.J. Wixsom of Guardian Animal Medical Center will leave Tuesday for a working visit to Uganda. Through The Big Fix Uganda, the only veterinary hospital in the country, Wixsom will spend a little more than a week spaying and neutering, deworming and vaccinating dogs.
She also will work with radio stations in the area to provide education about caring for pets and sheâs planning to travel with as many bags as possible full of medications and other items for animals and toys and school supplies for children. Large- and medium-sized collars are especially needed, as there are no lights at night and traffic is a danger to dogs not collared and chained overnight. She said she will accept collar donations through Monday.
Wixsom said she was looking for volunteer opportunities and had no plans to leave the country, but she talked to another veterinarian, Ellie Newcomb of California, who had worked for The Big Fix Uganda; not only did Newcomb talk Wixsom into joining the program, Wixsom talked Newcomb into going to Uganda again. The two are the only veterinarians who will visit the country this year through the program.
Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world and its people continue to suffer the effects of a 20-plus-year war.
The Big Fix Uganda provides free services to animals whose owners have no money to pay for care and it needs all the help it can get. The country is home to more than 2 million people and tens of thousands of pets. To date, the group has vaccinated and treated more than 50,000 animals and spayed and neutered more than 4,000 cats and dogs.
In Uganda, the health of pets affects the health of humans, Wixsom explained.
âOne person dies of rabies every nine minutes, worldwide,ââshe said, noting in the United States, there are few, if any, deaths from rabies, meaning in third-world countries, the incident of rabies deaths is even higher.
âItâs unthinkable. There is no reason for anyone to die of rabies,ââshe said. âWe figured this out here in the 1950s.â Information fromâThe Big Fix Uganda shows children are most often the victims of rabid dog bites and likely will not get proper treatment, in which case, rabies is fatal.
Wixsom will be in Uganda during World Rabies Day, which will be Sept. 28. The Big Fix Uganda will have a vaccination and full-service veterinary field clinic in Amuru district, which contains a town that recently had an outbreak of rabies.
The education component of Wixsomâs trip will include radio messages, school visits and one-on-one training with animal guardians about kindness to animals, disease prevention and grooming. The group has reached more than 83,000 students and teachers in more than 150 schools.
The Big Fix Uganda also conducts cruelty investigations and offers a dog companionship program for war survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wixsomâs trip will consist of a 26-hour flight, which will cost $1,250, followed by an all-day, 200-mile vehicle ride to the site where she will work. She, Newcomb and two other volunteers will stay in a guest house belonging to The Big Fix Uganda; cost for participation in the program will be $995.
Other costs to Wixsom are $800 vaccines, $300 for new bags for supplies and airport time, supplies for children, adults, animals and the clinic.
Although sheâs never been to Africa, she said she believes sheâs prepared for the culture shock, having been in Alaska to practice sled-dog medicine for about 10 years.
âI know there will be places with dirt floors and houses encased in dung and no electricity and no cell phone service,ââshe said. âThe people are positive and grateful and, frankly, thatâs something we donât see around here enough.â
Wixsom said sheâs happy to help them.
âIâm going to give back to people who need it and it just happens to be in Africa,ââshe said.