Saanich filmmaker profiles work of traveling doggie doctors

Saanich filmmaker Erin Skillen hopes to raise $30,000 through crowdfunding for Vets Without Borders documentary

Filmographer Erin Skillen

At four months pregnant, Saanich filmographer Erin Skillen had her doubts while riding in the back of a pickup truck through the dirt roads of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico.

With cameraman Mike Wavrecan in tow, Skillen had committed to documenting the work of members with mobile veterinary clinic Mexi-Can Vet Project as the team collected more than 200 street dogs in La Penita, a few kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta.

“Most dogs were malnourished while some were sick and in desperate need of care,” says Skillen, whose credentials include an Animal Planet documentary on the University of Victoria’s once-booming rabbit population. “When I was in Mexico, a dog was saved after it had been deliberately fed a plate of poisoned french fries.”

Mexi-Can’s work was too uplifting for Skillen to overlook, so she launched a crowd-funding project to create a new documentary: Vets Without Borders.

Poisoning dogs isn’t rare in Mexico, as urban areas become overrun, though not all street dogs are actually astray. The dogs taken in by the Mexi-Can veterinarians and vet techs receive health care, a consistent diet and are spayed or neutered. After that, most are returned to their owners, though some are brought back to Canada for adoption.

“From a Canadian perspective, there’s dozens of dogs roaming the street but most actually do have homes, which is why education is so important,” Skillen said.

Sandee Legh of McKenzie Veterinary Services has now been on two trips, where the one- to two-week crash courses with the Mexi-Can team treats as many dogs as possible and work with local groups and organizations to develop relationships and educate the local populations.

“You can’t just go in there and tell them what to do,” Legh said. “When I first visited, it was women and children bringing dogs into the mobile clinic and now it’s men, which is a powerful statement.”

It means the educational work that Mexi-Can has done is working, she added.

“We actually go into schools where there are English-speaking children and we teach them health care values for dogs, and then they teach their parents. It’s an effective cycle,” Legh said.

Tails, for example, are routinely removed from puppies, often in a barbaric fashion, and for no known reason other than aesthetics. That’s since changed in La Penita.

Skillen’s first trip with Mexi-Can was to Guatemala in 2010. At that time the area they visited had hit a crisis point with so many dogs roaming in packs.

“That’s when they become dangerous,” Skillen said. “But the truth is, they are surprisingly well adjusted and socialized because they’ve learned to depend on humans for food, and have learned to get along with other dogs. It doesn’t work being an aggressive dog. And because of this they’re perfect for adoption.”

Skillen is using crowd funding site Indiegogo.com to reach her $30,000 goal for Vets Without Borders (igg.me/at/vwb).

Most of the cash will be used not to pay the filmmakers but for distribution to film festivals and broadcasters.

So we can get the message out,” Skillen said.

Skillen approached several broadcasters to commission the project but was met with requests for more trendy topics about predators or river monsters or snakes.

“I believe there is a human story here that people want to see, people helping dogs, and people helping people,” she said.

For more information, visit vetswithoutborders.com or igg.me/at/vwb.

reporter@saanichnews.com

Quick Facts

  • Vets Without Borders, a one-hour documentary, follows two teams of veterinarians and vet techs using their vacation time to volunteer at temporary clinics in Guatemala and Mexico.
  • Local filmmaker Erin Skillen hopes to raise $30,000 through crowdfunding to complete and distribute her documentary to festivals and broadcasters across North America.
  • The main goals of the Mexi-Can Vet Project are to fund and participate in sterilization clinics and improve animal welfare in Mexico; however, after each clinic, Greater Victoria vets return with anywhere from six to 14 dogs for adoption in Canada.