SPCA sets up mobile vet clinic to provide essential services to remote East Coasters

Fallon Hauraki's papakainga in Ruatorea is home to a multitude of dogs, but the canines are much more than pets for the kids - to her, her dogs are vital to their whanau.

"They bring in food for us, our boys go hunting a lot to fill up our freezers with venison and the wild pigs. They play a big role in our families, not just my family but for the majority of families around here," she says.

As well as her own animals, she's recently taken in stray puppies and she's feeling overwhelmed at the thought of looking after them all. But it's not just the number of dogs, it's cats too.

Jocelyn Hohepa says her mum Kui Ngata's home is being overrun by feral cats.

Hohepa says in the 30 years her mum has lived in her Tikitiki home, the latest batch of newborn strays are the most she's ever seen.

"For me, it is a big problem here because there's so many of them. This is the second litter, and I'll be honest, I took the last litter to SPCA in Gisborne, because what else could I do? That was six, and then another five popped up. There was another three before this, but we managed to re-home them. This is the third lot in the last three months," Hohepa says.

Feeding the ravenous pack is a financial burden for her 93-year-old mum, but Ngata can't bear to see them go hungry. Ngata spends around $70 a week on feeding the unwanted strays.

The over-population problem is caused by not de-sexing animals - a contributor to poor health and the spread of disease in strays.  

Most animals should be neutered or castrated at about six months of age, but it's an expensive exercise that costs hundreds of dollars.

"People in this community can't, financially-wise, they can't do it," Hohepa adds.

"When I was on a benefit, that was hard. We couldn't even think about getting them to the vet, because it was hard enough just taking care of our kids, feeding ourselves. Even for me, I'm working and I can't afford to go to Gisborne and get our animals done. That's just how it is up here," says Hauraki.

Not seeing a vet means many of the animals go unvaccinated too, and that's why the region has the highest rates in Aotearoa for the highly contagious canine parvovirus or dog flu.

"Parvo is a huge problem here in Ruatorea, it's huge. We've had quite a few dogs who have died. I've lost count actually how many of our puppies have died, it's quite sad," Hauraki says.

A simple vaccination could have saved their lives. Now the SPCA has set up a caravan that is complete with a mobile operating theatre, vet, and a vet nurse.

For the past two months it's been touring Te Tai Rāwhiti, providing essential veterinary services for around 500 animals in the region.

The caravan has been in Ruatorea for two weeks, offering a range of procedures like de-sexing, vaccinations, and microchipping at no cost.

SPCA sets up mobile vet clinic to provide essential services to remote East Coasters
Photo credit: The Hui

Lindy Magee is a former animal welfare officer who manages the SPCA centre in Turanganui-A- Kiwa. She's been trying to squeeze everyone in, and the need is great.   

"We were supposed to be up here in May last year, we got derailed because of COVID. So three years for the idea, two years in the planning and we are finally here, and it's making a bigger impact than I could have ever imagined," Magee says.

Vets have been in high demand with locals lining up to get much-needed treatments for their cats and dogs.

Animal owners don't have to make the more than two-hour drive to Gisborne to see a vet, which is another barrier to getting care.

"That's a huge ask for animals to be transported that far. They don't know what's going on, so for them that would be pretty traumatic," says veterinarian Naya Brangenberg.

Magee says they've been emphasising to owners the life-saving benefits of neutering their pets.

"Getting your animal de-sexed can prevent cancer, that's what a lot of people don't realise, it's a big cancer preventer. For the boys it's testicular, for the girls it's the same as having a hysterectomy," Magee says.

"This is one of our answers to stopping unwanted litters. When you think about one litter, how many they create from one litter - a litter of 12 puppies can just go on to create hundreds of puppies."

Due to COVID-19 and many cats and dogs not having the opportunity of being neutered last year, that has resulted in one of our longest breeding seasons. It's put pressure on animal shelters, which have been overrun with abandoned animals from all over the East Coast.

"When I was growing up, if there was an unwanted litter, you'd dump it. We thought that's how it went. We didn't know about getting them de-sexed or anything like that. It wasn't until I got older and realised you can. I reckon people need to be educated, especially the younger generation," Hauraki adds.

It's hoped the de-sexing blitz will finally bring breeding numbers down, and due to its popularity, the caravan plans to return to the East Coast.

"We're seeing five and six-month-old puppies for vaccinations here that are not old enough for de-sexing, so once they are old enough they'll need to come down. We're hoping that the caravan will be back. So I think in the future we will do a lot more projects like this," adds Magee.

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.

SPCA sets up mobile vet clinic to provide essential services to remote East Coasters