Diana Loubser arrived in Vanuatu 5 years ago with teaching skills and a passion for animal welfare.

With her family she lived out near Mele Village and quickly saw a need to assist her local community and its animals by working with Sam’s Animal Welfare Association that had been formed a decade earlier in Port Vila after a very generous donation to the animals of Vanuatu.

This local animal charity had done a few field clinics in Mele years earlier, however Mrs Loubser could see that there was so much more which needed to be done and felt that while she was living in Vanuatu this is one way she could make a difference in her local community.

Diana quickly got to be known as “Mama Dog” and along with her Mele/Devil’s Point Road team have achieved a mammoth goal in Mele village- Efate’s largest village. To date this amazing team, with the never say “no” Loubser as the driving force have organized over 515 cats and dogs to be desexed for free from villages stretching from Melemaat through to Prima.

The way she did it was to use a road grid strategy and series of landmarks to identify which households had the greatest need for assistance and then filled in each village block so that sections were controlled.

The sections were revisited every 2 to 3 months to identify any new animals that had come into controlled zones. People living on roadside were a priority because of the danger to traffic and high risk of injury to their pets. These dogs were picked up from their village on Wednesday mornings by volunteer drivers and then brought into the Vet Clinic for their operation. They were then picked up in the afternoon to return home a little sleepy from the operation, wormed, treated for fleas, ticks and mange.

Over 4 years, eight drivers have transported the dogs in cages for Mrs Diana Loubser.

These volunteers have been an integral part of the provision of a high standard of animal welfare. Diana is especially grateful to her husband, David Loubser who has been very understanding, as well as Ingrid Vasconcellos, Paula Griffiths, Gill Forde, Rhonda McCreanor, Maggie Crawford, Terry Roberts and Janet Collins.

One of Diana’s secondary goals has been the education of both adults and ‘pikinini’ in caring for their pets — from what food to feed them, how to care for wounds and the special care needed for elderly dogs and puppies. This type of education has been critical to reduce the level of cruelty happening on the ground such as the physical abuse through beating, kicking, and bush-knife stabbing of animals.

Diana has also delivered a basic veterinary care program on behalf of Sam’s while on her regular village visits. The main issues that have come to light include the treatment of parasites such as intestinal worms, lung worm, lice. Also other occasional treatments have been reef fish poisoning, treatment of septic hot water burns and the euthanasia of sick animals with advanced stages of heartworm disease. All these treatments have largely been carried out at grass roots level under the guidance and support of Dr Karin O’Connor using Sam’s Animal Welfare Association charity funds.

Unfortunately many dogs are also maimed by cars and trucks when they wander on the road and some badly injured animals cannot be rehabilitated by the charity. To reduce the suffering of these severely injured animals, Dr Nigel Kittow has also graciously performed euthanasia in the field at Diana’s request.

Dogs have 2 breeding cycles per year and cats can have up to 3. Each dog can have 4 to 8 pups in one litter, so that can be 8-16 pups born per female dog per year! Many pups may die from worms and parvovirus, however there will still be a lot of pups surviving and the female dogs are ready to breed once they are about 8 months of age, so dog numbers can very quickly get out of control if there is no de-sexing program.

With large numbers of dogs they can form packs that then attack livestock, including pigs and chickens, in order to get food. Unfortunately many unwanted puppies and kittens often are dumped near rivers, within local forests or sometimes at resorts and these then become another person or village member’s problem as these strays find new households to pester for food.

Prevention by de-sexing the dogs and cats is the most effective way of controlling our dog numbers and through Diana’s hard work and dedication she has significantly improved the dog and cat populations around Mele village. The local animals are much healthier and there will be hundreds or even thousands less unwanted puppies and kittens and fewer animals suffering with disease and injury.

Sadly, Diana’s husband’s work contract will be coming to an end and the family will be returning to her home in New Zealand at the end of July. She will miss the special friends and the many Mele dogs who she has fed and got to know very well. Diana has no replacement volunteer yet, but she is hopeful that someone with a love for animals will put their hand up to continue her legacy.

A big thank you goes to all the ladies that staff the vet clinic, Mr Roderick O’Connor and the Sam’s fundraising committee. Without their afterhours service, comradery, willingness to assist with cages and preparation of animals for surgery and fundraising activities, Diana’s team would not have succeeded.

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