Monday, December 5, 2011

Awesome, Brilliant ... Volunteering on Tonga ..

Thanks to Pfizer Animal Health, kiwi Vet Nurse, Jo Pilcher was fortunate to win a trip to volunteer with SPAW.  Jo joined Dr. Andy David and other volunteers for one and a half weeks, working alongside of him directly and enjoying the journey as part of our wider volunteer team.  Jo wrote to us about her time and we share some of her comments with you ....

"How best to describe my time volunteering for SPAW in the Kingdom of Tonga? Brilliant? Awesome? Words can only portray so much. You have to be there to get a true appreciation of how wonderful Tonga is: the place, the culture, the people, of course working with the animals, and seeing how much good SPAW is achieving. Volunteering for SPAW provided a perfect combination of hard work, adventure, and relaxation. For me it was a truely gratifying experience and I can not speak highly enough about my time spent there." Jo Pilcher, New Zealand

SPAW really encourages any vet or veterinary clinic to sponsor one of their vet nurses to attend a SPAW clinic. The professional and personal development a vet nurse will experience while volunteering for SPAW can be life-changing.

So, why not consider sending a vet nurse to Tonga in 2012.  It will be well worth it - in fact - why not come too?

The team at SPAW

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A volunteers perspective - Dr. Alex Melrose (NZ)

4am. Up and go. Excitement tinged with apprehension provides a great counter to the call of sleep. Avoid the mirror, that’s why they call it a Red-eye flight.

It’s a quick flight, less than 3 hours, the temperature’s already hitting 25 when we hit the Tongan tarmac. Customs seem happy with our bulging suitcases. With 2 pairs of shorts and 3 t-shirts the remainder of the 25kg made up of copious donated supplies from Pfizer, Shoof and KahuVets. A declaration we are working with their ministry keeps them totally happy and we’re waved through to an enthusiastic, welcoming and overheating Karen.

Buy some water.

Into the rented Terrano and off we head, Dr Cathy and nurses Jo and Leanne complete the team. Lush fields, Taro and palms roll by. Roadside stalls sell fruit, veggies and fish every few hundred metres.
First stop, Kingdom Coffee, Jo and Vinnie Kupu. These guys are legends, a welcome local guiding light, nestled in the midst of their ultra-relaxing and amazing coffee plantation retreat.
Having someone on the ground that cares so deeply for animals and specifically to manage our SPAW clinics… Invaluable. 

The barbeques, the coffee, the smiles, the local contacts, the reception work and meet and greet at the clinic. Really oils the vet team machine.

Onto our digs. The green Lodge. Great location half way between where we will be working, and Nukualofa township. The place is massive, totally secure with security fencing and really clean and tidy. Way flasher than expected, 3 houses, 9 bedrooms, not fully used by this smaller team but perfect for future visits of vet and nurse teams. It was to be accompanied by its own special nightly concert of roosters, wildlife, dogs and church choirs. Decibels.

We unloaded some medicines, and 2 Minute noodles, set our snorkelling gear aside and headed back down the road towards the clinic.

We’d hired the empty doctor’s surgery at Glennis Marfys, again, a perfect setup, front-side parking, waiting room, reception, surgery room with observation window, and a consult room. 

The couple of hundred kg’s of supplies start to find their place on the shelves, and storerooms. We’re well stocked with all the basics thanks to our awesome sponsors. 

We take a group vote and speed off to the closest beach to cool down , a cliff-top café, coral swimming holes and mini blowholes await. Fan-bloody-tastic.

Back to Kingdom coffee for barbequed whole parrotfish, what a day! A couple of large bats zoom past. Day2. A quick breakfast and we speed over the potholes to kick off the clinic. Hand painted signs and radio ads have done their part and people start rocking up from 8am. 

Pico, a little puppy, short on height, but fully believing itself to be the alpha male, he bossed the other arriving patients around to his little heart’s content. Perhaps he thought we said he was to be tutored rather than neutered. We’ll help his owners later on with getting him to Australia upon their return.
A steady stream of locals and ex-pat kiwis and aussi’s swing on by. Some gut infections to be treated, fevers to be alleviated, pregnant cats to spey and lots of nervous dogs ready for their ops. We have an audience. Interested and super grateful. Man it’s hot. 

The ministry of Ag boss drops in to welcome us and wish us well and their small animal vet tech Nau joins the team. He’s one hell of a nice guy, skilled and a massive assist with communicating with local Tongans.
Cathy was taking the lead expertly, this being her second trip she knew all the routines that work best in this environment. When Dr Andy arrived the next day sharp as a tack it was my turn to pass down the routines. 

House call to a local home with 15 dogs were followed by visits to the Prison and School farms to check conditions for their very valuable pigs and chickens.

Throughout the week the antibiotics flowed, the scalpels whirred (in controlled fashion of course) , the suture packets emptied, and groggy pets were safely shipped back home. Somehow we managed to fit in swims, snorkels, a dive or two, great dinners and a huge supporters party at Jo and Vinnie’s Koffee Plantation and desex 180 dogs and see countless others for various ailments. Phew!

We left Andy and Jo to carry on the great work and sped to meet our flight literally from the beach to the airport. What an adventure. 

A unique experience. The hospitality on the island. The grateful owners. The daily challenges. The heat. The teamwork. The rescued pups. The community education. The glowing health of  animals treated on previous trips. Feels great.  

Alex .... (keen to get back to Tonga)

To see more photos from our November clinic, join us on Facebook just enter South Pacific Animal Welfare in the FB search field  ...

Friday, November 4, 2011

As if our new website wasnt exciting enough ...

Thanks to travelling NZ documentary maker Amy Taylor we now have an amazing video which features our stars - our volunteer team - from our August clinic to Tongatapu.  Amy was inspired by SPAWs work and wanted to help us share our message.  After a busy year, shooting a Moko documentary, travelling back and forth from the islands and getting married, Amy was kind enough to travel from Vava'u to Tonga to film our team for 3 days and spend hours editing this piece for us - all free of charge. WOW. We are indebted to Amy, but know she had a heartfelt mission to help island animals - her way of giving something back to the animals she dearly loves.

Our team are heading up to the Kingdom of Tonga today ... so we will be posting more exciting news from the frontline ... in the meantime, enjoy the video - its awesome.

Much love
The team at SPAW

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Website

Exciting news ... today after a whirlwind turnaround we have proudly launched our new website. Its been a work in progress (actually still is) but we are really proud of it .. not only that, but we have twitter, utube and blog capabilities too ... its so exciting.

All the more mediums to share our stories and work from the islands we run programmes on and daily activity in the SPAW whanau ... we are building a great team of people who are helping us drive this amazing grass roots kiwi charity forward at a rapid speed - watch out the Pacific, we are headed your way!

A huge thanks to Gavan from Alternate Instinct for providing his services for free saving SPAW several thousand dollars in website development fees (which we couldnt afford anyway) and also to the team at Miru and Lovebyte for their contributions to our new fab webpage!

So keep an eye out on SPAW activity via our new website, utube and twitter ...

Malo ....

The team at SPAW

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Skupors - our first assisted export arrives home

In May 2011 we were really pleased to be able to help our first two dogs be sent to the homeland of their adoptive parents - one to Australia and the other to New Zealand.

Skupors (the island dog) was reunited with her family here in New Zealand just a few weeks ago.  Jane Pares who lived on the northern island of Ha'apai for several years and her family had adopted Skupors - a homeless dog with little hope until they took her into their home. Skupors became such a huge part of their family, the thought of leaving without her was unimaginable.

So,when Jane and her family ended their tenure in Tonga they were distraught with worry over what may happen to Skupors.  Skupors was placed with friends in Vava'u (a neighbouring island) while Jane and her family returned to NZ to make appropriate arrangements - surely something could be done to get Skupors to NZ.

With no registered veterinarians on Tonga, and New Zealands strict animal import laws, getting Skupors to NZ would have been finacially crippling and logistically near impossible.  But fortunately for Skupors and her family, our SPAW clinic was scheduled for May so after several phone calls & emails between Karen and Jane, the team kicked into action, with volunteers assisting in securing the vaccines and medications required to clear Skupors through NZ customs and quarantine and getting them up to Tonga (Thanks Dr. Geoff Malcolm for helping here).  As this was our first "export" it was all abit of a learning and things come into play that you dont think of, like purchasing a microchip scanner and making sure all the correct paperwork is completed - if anything was missed, it could have meant Skupors being sent straight back to Tonga when arriving in NZ and we couldnt risk this.  

Skups first round of treatments were administered by our volunteer vet team on Vava'u and she was set. Jane (being a lovely canine mum) had, just a week prior, driven all the way from Whangarei (via Karens house to pick up some vet supplies) then straight to the airport where she boarded her plane to Tongatapu (with our vet team). From here Jane then flew to Vava'u to spend Skupors last few weeks in her homeland, with her.   So what an adventure. One little dog, and alot of love and commitment to bring her home to New Zealand.

Skupors safely arrived in NZ (chaperoned by Jane) just a few weeks ago (thanks to new quarantine laws and SPAWs efforts) and was cleared from quarantine soon after (thanks to new quarantine laws and our vets efforts, Skupors quarantine time was only a few short weeks vs the old laws that confinded an animal for 3 months).  Word on the street is Skups is settling nicely into her new home in the north island and loving all the new sights and smells so prevalent to a dogs world. She is even adjusting to the colder climate and not having sand under her paws at every moment!

We hope to help many animals (and families) in the same way over the coming years - whether it be to the US, NZ or Australia we think it is well worth the effort.

We wish Skupors all the best in her new kiwi homeland.

The team at SPAW

Saturday, June 4, 2011

$47,000 worth of veterinary services provided in May 2011

In May 2011, we rolled out our 2nd volunteer veterinary trip to the Kingdom of Tonga. We outdid our own expectations in terms of surgery and reach, thanks to our volunteers and on island supporters.

In 3 weeks of surgery time, our team of 8 volunteers managed to perform 3 surgeries (1 x cherry eye, 1 x pig hernia, 1 x tumor), euthansed 2 critically ill dogs, visited 8 pig farms, arranged 3 remote village clinics, desexed 77 male dogs, 61 female dogs, 23 male cats, 26 female cats and prepared two lucky dogs for export to their new NZ and Australia homes. On top of this, our team visited 6 schools delivering humane education to hundreds of school children and provided hundreds of individual flea and worm treatments to dogs, cats and livestock.

All of this was provided free of charge, running with our policy that no animal will suffer due to financial constraint or lack of access to our care.  If we were an operational veterinary clinic in NZ we would be in the money, with these treatments worth $47,000 in chargeable fees to a NZ veterinary clinic.  But we dont charge, instead, we raised the money to purchase anaesthesia drugs, sought the help of our sponsors (Pfizer and Shoof) and relied on the donations from various sources around NZ (Kahu Vets) plus those donations made by our volunteer team who were collecting items for months before the trip to bring with them.There was also those kind people on Tonga and Vava'u who donated towards our services, assisting with our on island costs.

There are lots of people to thank including our volunteers and on island helpers.  Jo and Vini Kupu provided invaluable support to our volunteer team and worked tirelessly throughout the month to manage logistics.  The Ministry team - Mika, Mote and Nau are wonderful people who welcome us into their world and allow us to work alongside them to benefit their communities animal welfare efforts.  To all the wonderful people who opened up their homes to our volunteers, allowing them to live in relative comfort while they volunteered - thank you so much.  To the Vava'u team - Fran, Lisa and others, thanks for providing the most wonderful leisure experience for the team.  Really - we cannot thank anyone enough.

If anyone has any queries about this trip or future trips to Tonga or other pacific island nations, please contact us at

Warmest regards
Karen Galvan
Executive Director

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Image Gallery

Tonga, Round II

On the eve of our 2nd month long trip to The Kingdom of Tonga I thought I would quickly write an update on whats going on.

Aside from the hours of work that has gone on voluntarily arranging our clinics on Niue, Tonga and Vava'u here in NZ, there are lots of people also busy on these islands helping co-ordinator logistics, arranging accommodation for our volunteers, dealing with media enquiries and fundraising - all to help animals. Its inspiring and SPAW is really proud to be associated with so many wonderful individuals who selflessly give up their free time and invest both financially and emotionally to this cause.

Our upcoming Tonga trip includes a week long visit to Vava'u and we are really excited about this aspect of our work - being able to send vets to very remote islands to deliver veterinary care that otherwise wouldnt happen. We are also proud to be assisting with the export of our first two "travelling" canines. One who is leaving Ha'apai for Whangarei in NZ and the other who is leaving Tongatapu for the sunny shores of Australia. What an honour it is to be able to help these expat families who have fallen in love with these local dogs, given them a loving home and are investing the money and time it requires to bring their canine family members back to their home countries with them.

One of these dogs Skupors is currently waiting on Vava'u for our vet team to arrive with his mum Jane. Jane is today driving from Whangarei, to make the flight back to Tongatapu, then up to Vava'u to be with Skupors until his export date in about 3 weeks. This is dedication and as you can see by the pictures, Skupors is one lucky canine. I think though, that Jane and her family feel like they are the lucky ones having Skupors in their lives.

It reminds me of when I was in the Cook Islands and helped 5 families export dogs home to New Zealand - I loved taking those dogs to the airport, bundling them up in the cages and waving goodbuy as they made their way onto the tarmack. Nervous as they all were, I new that feeling would be short lived once they settled into their new home.

Good luck to our team as they embark on an exciting journey to The Kingdom of Tonga. Im going to thank each personally, they deserve it, having paid their own flights, will fund themselves in full for their time on island and have given up their annual leave - all to help island animals and experience working on a tropical island in the pacific ocean.

Tongatapu Clinic: 4th to 28th May
Vava'u Clinic: 4th to 11th May

Dr. Alex Elson, Dr. Amy Douding, Dr. Kim Vickerman, Dr. Geoff Malcolm, Dr. Julie Brown, Dr. Laura Nettleton, Vet Nurse Luella Osborne and Vet Student Mallori Kaminski.

Also a special thanks to Jo and Vini Kupu, for their dedicated support and co-ordination on island.

Welcome to our awesome journey ....

Pictured is Skupors.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

We made it to Tonga! An amazing experience.

We made it to Tonga!

I cannot believe how quickly 2011 is flying by. Next week, its my birthday. The very same day, our first ever clinic to Niue island will end - what an occasion to celebrate.

I am still coming down from the high of our Tonga visit in February, over 120 animals de-sexed, 40+ more were provided with much needed veterinary care for various ailments, two beautiful dogs lives were humanely ended after being hit on the roads, hundreds of flea and worm treatments were distributed and at least 100 families now look forward to spending time with their pet without the concern of pregnancy or unwanted puppies or kittens - overpopulation is a very real concern for the community of Tonga and due to the level of need we experienced during February, I have no doubt our future on Tonga is long term. We were welcomed officially by Lord Vaea who heads the Ministry and is also a nobleman, it was a great honor for our organisation to be invited to meet with Lord Vaea. It seems we made a good impression during our first meeting, as he followed by an official dinner invitation which was enjoyed by all the team.

One of the most outstanding memories of my time on Tongatapu was the incredibly large number of local people who visited to make use of our free veterinary services. We were never really sure how things would pan out, but thanks to our partnership with the Ministry and some good relationships established on island with expats and locals alike, word spread and we were kept very busy. On the first day, our waiting room was full, and the animals (and people) didnt stop coming, one day, our volunteers Dr. Roz Holland, Dr. Bethan Cosgrave and vet nurse Stephanie Davidson managed to desex 17 animals on their own - this is dedication and I am always amazed at the levels to which volunteers will work, their willingness to help unwavering and they were all a credit to their profession and to our organisation. Quality care is at the forefront of everything SPAW does, and they did us proud.

Our first clinic saw 3 veterinarians, 3 vet nurses, a photographer, a clinic assistant and vet student (plus myself) pass through Tongatapu. We also had the pleasure of the company of two kiwi animal lovers who were accompanying our volunteer Vet Student on her first ever volunteer stint as a vet student - mum and dad so proudly supporting their daughter in her endeavours. This was a very heart-felt gesture and I loved seeing this family supporting each other through the volunteer experience.

Pfizer and Shoof, our official sponsorship partners outdid themselves. We really cannot do this without them and are building long term relationships with these organisations - they are standing by SPAW and their neighbouring Pacific Island communities.

There is no doubt spay/neuter and veterinary expertise is needed in the pacific. It is our organisations goal to create a legacy that ensures the long term development of veterinary care on island communities. The only way this can be done well and with integrity is to make sure our knowledge and skills are being passed on to local people and that they have the training and provisions relevant to their work. They are the ones that rightfully can and should influence their people and therefore must be given the opportunity to own as much of the process themselves. To my good friends Nau, Mote and Mika, we are so inspired by you and cannot wait to spend more time at your side on Tonga.

As our world faces difficult times - my own country of New Zealand rocked by the death and destruction of the Christchurch earthquakes, Japan now going through heartbreaking devistation and likely more to come, my heart goes out to all of the people who have lost loved ones and to all the animals who are effected during these tragic situations, they do matter too.

Which leads me to my closing point: One of the most important things we can do as good human beings is to share; share our knowledge, our financial resources, and our good will - to help where needed. I know this is the view of millions of people on our planet and any person who volunteers or helps SPAW will likely take this stance in life. We welcome you all and cannot wait to share more amazing stories on our development as an organisation and the future of animal welfare, veterinary care and training and development in the pacific.

Take care out there everyone,

Email from Tonga in Support of our Work

Thought I would share this great letter from Sue Gardiner who has lived on Tonga for years, is a Kiwi and helped us set up on Tonga.

March 2011

Dear Karen and the team at SPAW
I would like to express my sincere thanks to SPAW and your generous sponsors Pfizer and Shoof for the vet clinic recently held in Tonga.

I have resided in Tonga for ten years and during this time I have been deeply troubled to see the state of many of the animals here. Unfortunately, with the cost of living being far higher than the average salary, the care of animals is usually way down the list for most Tongan families priorities. They simply can not afford the cost of taking an animal to the vets . Our local vet clinic is in appalling shape. Often they have no drugs to assist sick and dying animals and at times they operate purely on the generosity of overseas donations which are few and far between.

The clinic has had many positive outcomes. Firstly you have managed to spay well over 100 animals and treat many more. These are animals that would not have otherwise been seen by a vet. Secondly, the visiting vets have passed on valuable skills and knowledge to our local vets . The local vets would not have been exposed to this training had your team not visited Tonga. There is no resources to send our local vets overseas for further training. In addition the clinic was able to further educate the public on caring and valuing their pets.

To Pfizer and Shoof I would like to extend my sincere gratitude. Without the generous sponsorship from you this clinic would not have been possible. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your extremely kind donations.

To the lovely Vets that visited us...thank you for caring enough to come to Tonga to help us and our animals. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us .

It is very important to us that the SPAW continues the clinics in Tonga. Education regarding the proper care of animals is very important . I urge SPAW and your wonderful sponsors to keep up the good work and please come visit us again in May.

Kind Regards

Sue Gardiner

General Manager

Forum Travel

GSA for Tonga