Monday, January 18, 2021

Making veterinary house calls in Tanzania with Dr. Maguo

Article and photos by Tony Mangia

Animal welfare in Tanzania seemed like a simple enough volunteer program to sign up for once I made the decision to “get away” this past fall during the pandemic, but I didn’t expect to find myself poking needles under fur and getting elbow deep in body fluids, all with the aspiration of helping keep creatures — including myself — safe in a remarkable land far away from my isolation bubble at home.

This was my eighth volunteer stint at different worldwide outposts over the past five years, but, this time, the excursion came with the threat of an invisible menace — namely COVID-19. 

Overseas volunteering is a proclivity I do twice a year for three to four weeks — with a  week or two of adventure mixed in. On this trip, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro before my volunteering stint began and, like almost anyone else going anywhere nowadays, it was my first time traveling during a worldwide pandemic, so there was that added sense of risk as well.

Before leaving in September, I did get a flu shot and had considered getting a rabies pre-exposure immunization, after I was told I be working closely with animals, but the injection timeline — three shots spread out over 28 days — didn’t fit my schedule or my macho sense of immortality. So that inoculation was ignored — quite irrationally.

I would be spending two weeks with the International Volunteer Headquarters program in Arusha, Tanzania. IVHQ is a reputable organization with a variety of worldwide programs based out of New Zealand — six of which I already had satisfactorily completed with them. 

There was a standard orientation and meeting with some of the volunteers in other IVHQ programs (mostly childcare) my first night at the hostel in Arusha. Not surprisingly, COVID restrictions and worries had narrowed down the usually larger number of volunteers, but there were still about a dozen twenty-somethings from different locales such as Mexico, Switzerland, England and the US already there. IVHQ took a lot of care to safeguard its enlistees from the virus, as well their all-around safety. We were in good hands.

Each day, I would be picked up outside the home where I would be residing for almost three more weeks (There would be a four-day safari in-between). I preferred paying a little extra for a private homestay in order to avoid the noisier coming-and goings of the younger volunteers inside the group dorms. As a bonus, I get to live with, and get to know a local family.

On my first day, waiting outside the gate of my temporary home, Dr. Maguo — a genial, neat-looking man in khaki pants and button-down shirt with what already seemed a permanent smile — waved me over to his jeep-SUV hybrid with the PAWS (Protection of Animal Welfare Society) logo on the doors and tire cover.

Inside the vehicle were two other freewill engineers (my personal euphemism for us volunteers) — Liam — a 20-year-old from New Hampshire and Julien — a 75-year-old Canadian from Halifax — together, a nice combination of polar-generational perspectives in the mix. 

Liam had already been in Arusha with his wife Jordan for a few weeks and the young couple planned to spend the next four months in Tanzania. Julien — a retired dentist — was, like myself, on his first day of the job.

The doctor gave us a brief background of his experience and explanation of his official duties — with a fairly impressive command of English — while we drove to our first assignment.  His ancestors came from the Chagga tribe — the second largest group in Tanzania behind the Sukuma — and he has a masters degree in zoology and a BS in environmental science (both from Atlantic International University in Honolulu) plus a doctorate in veterinary medicine. He grew up around Arusha and has been working as a veterinarian since 1990. 

I found myself addressing him as Doc in some casual settings. He didn’t seem to mind.

Doc and his wife Evelyne established Elang'ata Agro-Vet Services — legally registered by the Tanzania Government — in 1997 as a way to promote animal rights and provide for their welfare, while at the same time educate people by offering advice and free veterinary services.

Since 2010, Dr. Maguo has been working as the District Animal Welfare Inspector in Arusha. Prior to this he was the district subject matter specialist in disease control, meat hygiene and inspection, artificial insemination and small and large animal production.

To put it mildly, he was, and is, a dedicated animal specialist whose enthusiasm for his work is well … infectious.

Elang’ata Agrovet provides a number of animal welfare services and sells veterinary supplies and medicines, but the one crusade that Dr. Maguo, as founder of Arusha Society for the Protection of Animals, spends a great deal of time on is combating the scourge of rabies — known as Kichaa cha Mbwa Kinaua or “madness of dog” in its Kiswahili name —  as much as his resources allow. We just called it Kichaa for short.

Dr. Maguo has been taking on volunteers like Liam, Julien and I to help in his quest for about 10 years now. 

For the most part, like an old-fashioned country doctor, he does mostly personal house calls — only with pets and livestock. But, when Dr. Maguo does mass dog vaccinations and promotes rabies prevention in the temporary rural health centers he sets up around Arusha, it turns into an amazingly grand scene. 

Until then, we would be making the rounds with Dr. Maguo — watching and learning — during the house calls.


Our first day found us driving to a private home on the outskirts of Arusha where we treated a timid dog with kennel cough — a constant itching in the throat that is highly contagious among canines. Looking around, the gated house was a far cry from the crudely constructed homes with tin roofs we passed on the way over.  Dr. Maguo gets no funding from the government and depends on public donations and private benefactors, like the dog owner here, to pay for supplies, transportation, medicine and his occasional professional staff help. 

Gloves, sterile needles and syringes, sanitizer, overcoats plus surgical tools are always welcomed as gifts to his cause. At the moment, Dr. Maguo is hoping to get enough endowments to pay for a wifi set-up in his spartan office,  Not a small expense when you consider it costs the equivalent of $100US a month for internet with, at best, 5-mbps of speed!  But despite the tiny megabits of data, it is a big upgrade from nothing.

After watching Dr. Maguo give a shot of penicillin to the sad-eyed, ever-hacking pooch, we headed out to a pig farm that was a little more agrarian and even further away from the city.  We drove down bumpy dirt roads for awhile before we came upon a small wood house with a few young children running over to greet us. They directed us around a crude electric fence with the word HATARI (danger) written on a sign dangling from it. The fence theoretically kept wild dogs away from the farmer’s herd, but it wouldn’t help unless one of the pack could read. There was no current hooked up to it appeared that some predators had already dug under the base.

Inside a pen made of halved logs were about a dozen large pigs which need to be dewormed.  We washed out all of the swine’s water and feed troughs before refilling them and adding some powdered de-wormer. We ended up a little dirtier, but not as filthy as at some of the other jobs we would be doing in the days ahead.

It was getting near midday and the Dr. suggested we get some coffee before we made one last stop to a dog with a case of mange — a scabby skin disease caused by parasitic mites. Nothing regular injections and pills gently massaged down its throat wouldn’t cure in a few weeks, he explained.

Tagging along as new freewill engineers, we would find out the fine doctor usually liked to stop for a midday coffee before finishing his daily rounds. The doctor seemed a man of simple tastes and this single extravagance would become an unpretentious, relaxing ritual for us over the next two weeks.

And while I had been expecting a nondescript, little coffee stand, we ended up at an oasis of a spa not far from the pig farm. It was actually quite exquisite with a pool, bar and numerous trees with Mount Meru — Tanzania’s second highest mountain after Kilimanjaro — looming in the background. The comfy green pathways to our table seemed out of place from the dirty brown roads we travelled on all morning, and a welcome respite. 

The four of us sat outside under a canopy among the quaint setting, getting to know each other over reasonably-priced scones and coffees. We also figured out the simple reason why this type of sophisticated resort ended up here — seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Arusha is about the mid-point between Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park (among a myriad of other tourist destinations), so when trekkers or safari-goers need comfortable accommodations in between trips, it’s a perfect central pit stop.

That day, I picked up the tab.

After our relaxing caffeine boost, it was back to another gated private home and a dog with half of the fur scratched off his back and sides. It was a friendly dog and, after I filled a syringe with medication and tapped the bubbles out, the doctor waved me over. 

“Put the rubber gloves on” he said, while holding the dog’s leash and making an injection motion with three fingers on his other hand. “You remember how I did it?”

I nodded, feigning confidence, wondering if I was prepared to handle what seemed like such an advanced veterinary chore.

While the doctor gave a friendly scratch to the bare spot on the skittish dog’s scalp before grasping its snout, I snapped on the rubber gloves, recalling the doctor’s steady and sure-handed jabs which I had observed, then grabbed the scruff of its bald-patched neck. I inserted the needle and gave the tiny plunger a quick squeeze. It was that easy. And, while I hated getting needles myself or even seeing them in movies, it was odd to think giving a shot was a lot easier than getting or even watching one. 

And it was a perfect example of why Dr. Maguo’s hands-on approach makes his program a rewarding experience for the volunteers.

The next morning Dr. Maguo drove the other volunteers and I along a highway — one of the few paved roads around here — passing dust-covered shanties where the occasional Masai tribesmen wearing their brightly colored blankets called Shukus stuck out like poppies in the desert. In between the constant rolling up-and-down of the windows when stampeding trucks blew by and wafted plumes of dust and exhaust into our vehicle, Doc pointed out points of interest in the Masai villages we passed, including large honey beehives they hung from the trees. 

There were more than a few traffic stops at police license-check/speed traps (a common occurrence here and an inconvenience we got used to at least a half-dozen times a day!), but the doctor seemed to know each one of the officers and it always ended up more of a social meeting than a dragnet. Like the antiquated visiting country doctors of old, Dr. Maguo’s modern-day method of going door-to-door to help made him a well-known and respected man. 

We learned that besides the physical care of the animals over this vast geography of house call locations, Dr. Maguo’s practice extends to teaching and the education of people — a legacy of compassion and values that he hopes will be passed down and on to others.

It’s a difficult process considering the economic and technological deficiencies in Tanzania — compared to many parts of the world — a communications void which makes getting Dr. Maguo’s message to the masses a real logistical problem. The relative lack of household computers and internet access in Tanzania harken back to 1990s U.S. — the pioneer days of cyberspace — when only a select few had them. The doctor happens to be one of those Tanzanians still waiting to set up his own internet connection.

Despite limited funding and minimal high-tech resources, Dr. Maguo works hard in his mission to reach pet owners, farmers and herders who sometimes harm the animals not out of cruelty, but unintentionally out of ignorance or tradition. Impeded by cultural practices in farming and husbandry passed down through generations, Dr. Maguo must slowly break the chain of these unenlightened lessons embedded by their elders through lectures and word-of-mouth.

Dr. Maguo’s gentle philosophy is summed up in what he calls the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. 

It’s a simple and logical charter for pet and livestock owners to extend the life and contentment of their animals in a caring environment. The five keys:

- Freedom from hunger and thirst (Fresh water and correct diet)

- Freedom from discomfort (Safe environment and shelter)

- Freedom from pain, injury or disease

- Freedom to express normal behavior

- Freedom from fear and distress

One morning, while driving to an appointment, we observed a perfect example of Dr. Maguo’s modus operandi when Doc spotted a farmer with a cow on the side of the road and pulled over. We could see the doctor indicating displeasure with the man who was tugging his heifer by a rope twisted around the animal’s neck.

I sensed confrontation, but Dr. Maguo’s genteel manner won over the man who listened as the doctor rearranged the knots on the rope and showed him how to “guide, not pull” the animal to market. Mentioning he is with the Tanzanian Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries gets the herder’s attention as well.

Following that impromptu stop, we finally made it to our morning destination — a farm… and slaughterhouse. 

The doctor was there to inspect inside the plain brick-walled building and facilities where cows are slaughtered before the meat is sent off to butcher shops. Government regulations may not be as strict as they are in the US but, as workers hosed down the walls and turned remnants of the morning’s bloody butchering into watered-down pink puddles swirling down floor drains, Dr. Maguo stringently went through a checklist of hygiene and cleanliness procedures before making sure the live cows on deck for the meat hooks are disease-free and safe for consumption. 

After approving the slaughterhouse conditions, Dr. Maguo handed the volunteers white lab coats with the PAWS logo on the front and Elang’ata Agro-Vet on the the back. Slipping on the rumpled protective garb, I suddenly felt like I was on Grey’s Anatomy  or maybe in Jackass 2 for what we were about to do.

A couple of farmhands had lined up half a dozen cows in a corral chute — head-to-tail —  as Dr. Maguo handed out shoulder-length surgical gloves to his suddenly uneasy pupils. We had a pretty good idea that, soon, the gross factor might be going off the charts after sliding the long, pink sheaths over our sleeves.

The doctor explained how to see if the cows were pregnant and how far along in the calf-bearing timetable if they were by, well, reaching inside of their bodies. The cows lives — fundamentally — depended on the result. The distinction between being pregnant or not was the difference between a few more months grazing in the pen or hanging off a hook in the slaughterhouse right next door.

The good doctor went first and inserted his hand into the first cow and explained the procedure.  

“Press your fingertips together into a cone-like shape and slide your hand through the rectum downward until you feel the cervix," Doc explained. "By palpating the fetus, you can judge the age of it by the size of the calf.” 

I was first in line and — with the other snickering volunteers’ cell phones filming — looked twice to make sure I put my hand in the correct orifice. I awkwardly glided my gloved arm inside the cow up to about my elbow, while the surprisingly calm animal was held steady by the farmers and restrained by fencing on both sides. And, although I didn’t have the expertise to tell how preggers this mom was by feeling the tiny rounded skull, I was able to excitedly exclaim that I sensed some leg bones too. Dr. Maguo double-checked, and told us the cow was about 3 months into the gestation period. Then, smiling like a proud dad, described how he was the veterinarian who artificially inseminated the cow with bull semen in the spring.

“Who bought her dinner that night, you or the bull?” I joked.

Under the watchful eyes of Dr. Maguo, each of the volunteers got to check a couple of cows — making for some funny video highlight reels on our social media sites. The doctor seemed to get a kick out of his charges performing what must be considered one of the messier — but essential — duties of a farm veterinarian. But, despite the slimy body fluids and occasional cow gas or dung expulsion, the hands on assistance make this volunteer program well worth remembering. 

It’s a simple theory towards a rewarding and memorable volunteer experience. You watch Dr. Maguo, you learn and then you do. 

In all, we checked out five cows (the sixth was in heat) and found three lucky moms bearing calves and the other two sadly headed to the carving board. The sixth would soon be having a date with Doc’s artificial insemination wand.

Our next house call was at a chicken farm where you had to be careful not to step on any of the tiny chicks hopping around a large coop. We entered an annex to the main coop where we learned how to corral and catch hens to inspect them for their egg-laying potential. Again, those animals who didn’t pass muster would end up on the dinner table.  

We learned that good egg-layers have wet, oval-shaped openings at the end of the cloaca — commonly known as the vent  — as opposed to a dry, round-shaped one. And a good egg producer will have a three-finger distance (not exactly a science considering finger sizes) between its pelvis and the exit hole. Handling the birds and pressing your fingers through the feathers against their bones gave me weird flashbacks of the chickens I sectioned and fried at a fast food joint I worked at in high school.

So here we were, like little kids, chasing and grabbing the squawking chickens, or the accidental rooster — feathers and giggles flying around the coop simultaneously — then inspecting their bottom ends before sorting them into good or bad pens. 

And, just like I felt sorry for the cows condemned to the butcher block because of our pregnancy inspection, a chicken’s fate was left hanging in the balance, hinging on our layman’s examination to decide who lives and who ends up on the dinner plate.

After that hand of God quandary, we added some powdered medicine to the brood of hens in the main coop, where we tried our best to avoid stepping on more of the tiny, hard-to-spot chicks but, oops, ending up with one careless casualty. 

Next, it was onto a well earned coffee break and some delectable samosas — small triangular meat pies inside a flaky pastry crust. 

While the volunteers day usually ended around 2 pm, Dr. Maguo’s days extended sometimes long into the night. There was paperwork, planning, fundraising and the occasional night call for assistance – mostly for an animal giving birth.

On Friday, we visited the kennel-cough and mange dogs for follow up visits and second doses of penicillin. Tongue out and peering through the fencing of his little outdoor house, the kennel cough dog wasn’t hacking nearly as much and seemed well on the way to recovery. The mange dog’s progress wasn’t as visible and would take a few more visits. And, like an old pro, filling the syringes and giving shots to the animals was becoming second nature to me now.

We later visited Dr. Maguo’s home which sat behind the Elang’ata Agrovet Services pharmacy shop — which is handled by his wife — and the office he manages to keep running due to the generosity of donors and despite the lack of funding from any government agencies.  

It is a clean, tiny office built for functionality more than a state-of-the-art showcase. With a plastic-covered wood surgical table in the center of its pale yellow walls, it is where Dr. Maguo performs veterinary duties ranging from spaying, neutering, check-ups, and everything else from treating an infected paw to life-saving operations. 

Stethoscopes, muzzles, tiny rib-spreaders, vails of medicine with names I can’t pronounce and various other instruments fill shelves and hang from hooks scattered around the room.  But, more important than modern-day facilities, it’s easy to get a sense of his knowledge, compassion and skill among the tangible items. The sense of dedication to his chosen field of veterinary medicine permeates the room.  A wall of diplomas, awards and certificates attest to all of the experience Dr. Maguo has and the good he does for the community — whether in this facility or on the road. 

We all ooh and aahed while the doctor proudly showed us heated cabinet filled with drawers of chicken eggs — some chicks poking heads through broken shells and others still warming during their 24-day incubation. The hatched chicks would be headed to the coop behind his house in a few days.

The doctor’s home is just as functional.  It’s a cozy house behind the pharmacy with a wood kennel filled with rescue pups in the back and a tarp-roofed podium in front.  

Did I mention that Dr. Maguo is also an Anglican minister and gives sermons on Sundays?

There would be no coffee break on this Friday. After lunch, Dr. Maguo, five volunteers (Julien, Liam, Jordan, Elise and myself) and three government assistants would pile into the doctor’s PAWS mobile he already crammed with boxes of rabies literature, vaccines and other supplies and take a drive to Mto Wa Mbu — a rural village situated along and above Lake Mynyara for an overnight stay before doing a mass vaccination of dogs on Saturday.  

After a little more than four hours of driving by mud hut villages, numerous waving Masai herders and roadside bee honey sellers — while getting passed by a lot of speeding safari jeeps carrying tourists to the Serengeti National Park — we finally made it to Mto Wa Mbu that evening. 

The town’s western range leads to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area — a spectacular natural crater lake where I would later see herds of wildebeest moving across its rim when I went on my own safari — the mountainous entryway to Serengeti’s wide open sub-Saharan plains. 

We arrived at the Kizumba Campground after picking up more boxes of rabies pamphlets to hand out, but not before getting swarmed by women with headlands of fruit when we stopped to buy some red bananas — a purplish plantain, heftier than a regular banana with a thicker texture and sweetness — in town.

Kizumba was more on the lines of glamping than the canvas pup-tenting I remember as a Boy Scout. We each had a spacious safari-style enclosure with cots for lodging. There were also showers, toilets and a sumptuous meal and an invigorating African dance show — where some vols joined in to the dancers’ delight — after a late dinner. These accommodations, as well as a midnight campsite stroll lit up by an amazing full moon and a filling breakfast all for $25US!

Early the next morning, it was back to being crammed into the PAWS mobile for a short jaunt over to the town civic center.  A rustic cement building next a small, bustling marketplace. It seemed Dr. Maguo’s modest social media, poster and word-of-mouth campaign to promote the free annual one-day mass vaccination was working. Dogs and their owners were already lined up outside. 

Rabies in Tanzania is endemic — killing over 1,500 people annually. Compared to the United States, where, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were only 25 reported cases of rabies from 2009-19 and seven of those infections were acquired outside of the US or its territories. Ninety-five percent of rabies cases in Tanzania come from dog bites.


So we went to work. The government workers would set up a check-in table in front of the building and were supplied with pamphlets, posters and hundreds of syringes and anti-rabies vaccines before we headed off to a different spot with the doctor.

A few miles away, us volunteers set up our own clinic in the middle of a village where we proudly unveiled and hung a long PAWS banner from a roof’s edge and over a table covered with small vaccine bottles, needles and rabies registration and certification cards. You could see owners and their dogs starting to come across the flat terrain from every direction, so filling the hypodermics and registering the dogs began at once. 

Most of the dogs looked oddly similar — a tannish, pointy-eared, medium-sized, shorthaired mixed breed (almost a strange hyena and Labrador hybrid?) — and came by all means. Apprehensive canines were dragged by homemade rope leashes by children or carried over the shoulder by adults. They arrived in bicycle baskets or even in wooden boxes on motorcycles.  The doctor might not have approved of some of the modes of transportation, but he knows the means to an end doesn’t come easy or conveniently — especially on this terrain. Some of the villagers walked for miles, dogs in tow, just for the free vaccination.

The relationships between humans and dogs in these Tanzanian villages differs from the same household connections which are commonplace in the US. Rather than the dog being recognized as a domestic part of the family unit, these village canines are usually viewed as property, if only in the sense it will live outdoors — sometimes caged — and be utilized as a work or protection dog, rather than relating to it as a companion or an extended family member. An emotional bond between dog and owner can still exist, but it doesn’t seem to be in the same familial context.

This free-range rearing leads to many untamed strays, and then those strays producing more strays — a perpetual cycle making Dr. Maguo’s, among others, quest to eliminate rabies — through vaccines, spaying and neutering — a monumental endeavor and a seemingly never-ending battle.

In 2008, a large-scale rabies eradication initiative was funded and coordinated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the World health Organization (WHO) in selected African countries, including the United Republic of Tanzania.  Right now, according to BMGF, only about fifty-percent of Tanzania’s estimated two-and-a-half million dogs have been vaccinated against the disease.

All morning, under a magnificent blue sky, the doctor and volunteers lined up dogs and their owners — checking and updating each canine’s immunization record cards — giving shots into the scruffs of the furry patients, some who yelped or snaked around on their backs — scratching the momentary pinch in their necks. It’s interesting how, while even in the comforting hands of their owners and Dr. Maguo, the dogs, with a dubious look in their eyes, seemed to sense what was coming — sort of like a parent trying to coax a suspicious child into a dentist’s chair. 

At first, it was a strain to not wince at some dog’s wild yowling and running around after getting the shot, but, like sticking your hand in a cow’s womb, you get used to it knowing it is for the animals own good.

Word spread fast that morning and the denizens of faraway villages even showed up. Dozens of children crowded around, giggling at the fidgeting dogs, watching them with fascination in between playing soccer with an empty plastic bottle they used as a ball.

And when I whipped out my own little bottle of hand sanitizer and dripped some into my palm, I was mobbed by tiny hands all wanting a drop of the gel for their own — each of them imitating how I rubbed mine together and asking for more. 

It was funny how the simplest of things could turn into an event.

Dr. Maguo also treated a few pets for infections on their paws or heads and gave most of the shots himself since many of the dogs were not the usual household pets we normally see, but slightly feral animals with unknown origins who live outside the home and mostly fend for themselves. It wouldn’t be hard for a frantic, unmuzzled dog in unfamiliar surroundings to nip an inexperienced volunteer who might be just as unsure of what he was doing there.

By the end of the day, we had registered and vaccinated over 400 dogs between the two locations and  — more importantly — educated a legion of adults and children, who will become future dog owners, about the importance vaccinating your pets and the scourge of rabies. Boxes of used syringes and empty vials of vaccine in garbage pails were testament of the good work. Dr. Maguo seemed pleased at the turnout of dog owners who had taken the time and initiative to make the long journeys with their furry companions to his temporary clinics.

So until vaccination day next year in Mto Wa Mbu, it will be another village in the upcoming month and another the following and so on. 

Aptly, like the mountain which sounds like Dr. Maguo’s first name, I thought, Evarest stood high above the rugged logistical and financial landscape to make his presence known.

On Monday, we traveled to a small farm where Dr. Maguo would artificially inseminate a cow that was in heat. We watched as the doctor loaded the tip of a long straw-like AI gun topped with bull semen which was stored in a portable dry ice vat. There was a sense of urgency, since the delicate procedure had to be done within an approximately specific timeframe of the cow’s fertility cycle to insure success.  

After the semen thawed to the correct temperature, the cow was held steady by a couple of farmhands while Dr. Maguo guided the pencil-thin, semen-loaded staff of the AI gun over the cervix into the uterus, while avoiding the urethra, and depositing semen into both sides of the fallopian tubes. Whew … who knew I could learn all that from the Doc.

Dr. Maguo explained how keeping accurate records of dates, cows and bulls is important to preventing serious problems with breeding or health issues and makes it easy to track them to the source, if need be. 

Our next few days consisted of final shots for Kennel-Cough Dog (she seemed happy and completely cough-free when we arrived) and Mange Dog (who despite the patches of missing fur was coming along too) and more visits to farms and private homes to check on chickens, cows and even a giant litter of rabbits before a trip back to Mto Wa Mbu and the classrooms of its local schools educating children about the dangers and prevention of kitchaa.

This is what I think Dr. Maguo likes most about his job and where his preacher at the pulpit experience comes in handy. Standing in front of groups of uniformed schoolchildren in a courtyard area or sparse windowless classroom annex teaching them about the danger of rabies and how important it is to get their dogs vaccinated is when the doctor shines brightest. The joy on his face is apparent. Hundreds of curious eyes focused on Dr. Maguo as he teaches and asks question in Swahili. I didn’t know exactly what he was saying but, from the gestures, I could sense the gist of it from my time with him.

Dr. Maguo knew how to mesmerize a crowd and it was quite a scene watching hundreds of rambunctious kids being set free from the crowded classrooms all at once suddenly sit on the ground and become attentive and curious, ears tuned to every word, answering his questions about what animals get rabies and raising their hands to ask what are the signs of a rabid beast. A sea of blue uniforms being parted by a veterinary Moses and his Five Keys to Animal Freedom as he waded through the schoolchildren. 

The children’s ears really pricked up when he explained the consequences (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, then probable death) and the potential cure (seven shots in the arms, but only before the infection takes hold) of rabies. And, despite my lack of Swahili, it wasn’t hard to decipher what Doc was saying when he repeatedly, and dramatically, jabbed a finger into his arms, mimicking the the seven shots of the post-exposure vaccine.

We took our traveling lecture to a couple of other schools that morning including a solitary hilltop primary school — where children sat crammed on benches, four to a desk with a spectacular view of Lake Mynyara in the landscape below. Another lecture and then it was back to the Kizumba campground for a late lunch and — what else — coffee.

Friday night was my return flight to the U.S. and I was told that I would need a COVID-19 test from the Ministry of Health within 72 hours before jetting back to the states. 

A day off from volunteering was necessary so I could get to the hospital at 9 am Wednesday where I waited almost two hours before an administrative person even showed up and another hour before a medical assistant could take the test. The results could be picked up in two days, but not before  I made a $50 US payment at some sort of bank check-cashing outlet and got my certificate number for proof of payment at pick-up. In between waiting, testing and making payment, it is basically a slow, all day process — just like anything here — it’s what the unhurried locals jokingly call Tanzanian Time. It was almost as frustrating picking up the results at the hospital on Friday night (I was directed to a leprosy ward among other wrong directions when the results didn’t arrive on time) with just hours before my plane took off. At the eleventh hour, almost literally, the test would come back negative.

And not a single airline employee or airport agent (through four airports) would ask to see it on the trip home anyway.

Anyway, my last day with Dr. Maguo started out pretty much the same. The PAWS mobile picked me up outside my homestay, and we were off to routine checkups of a couple of dogs for mange and treated some chickens by adding medicine to their feed.  Today Liam, Julien and I had a special assistant making the rounds with us — Dr. Maguo’s son Andy, a graphic designer who lived in Dar es Salaam — Tanzania’s largest city and about a 10-hour drive on Tanzanian 35 mph-limit highways (or about 3 hours in US Interstate time) even without the frequent police stops. Andy handled most of PAWS and Elang’ata Agrovet’s website and social media updates from out of town.

After a few morning house calls, we drove a couple hours out of Arusha to a weekly Masai livestock market — a massive congregation of tribal herders, farmers and animals.  This isn’t really a spot that welcomes tourists with cameras and us three white volunteers stuck out like, well … sore dog’s paws. The stern glares from some of the Masai herders — many carrying long herding sticks the younger Masai warriors occasionally use as weapons — let us know we were outsiders here.  Dr. Maguo was almost as unappreciated after he started poking around the donkeys and goats — where you could buy a burro for fifty US dollars — instructing the men how to humanely pen their animals. It wasn’t uncommon for the doctor to calmly chastise a herder for using their stick to heavy-handedly move an animal along either. 


The conditions for most of the the animals here are, to put it mildly, disheartening. This is certainly not a regulated 4-H livestock show. 

Hundreds of herders with their livestock mingle around acres of flat, grassless dirt which makes up the market. A few tattered canopied tents are sprinkled about and the colorful Masai shukus once again stand out among the gritty surroundings. Many of the animals’ existence is harsh. The severe treatment of some has been normalized by generations of deep-rooted cultural habits — passed down by ancestors ignoring modern breeding techniques or animal rights. A travesty against animals continuing more out of cost-saving and lifestyle than intentional brutality. 

We spotted goats bound together — six or seven at a time —  with a single lasso around their necks and donkeys tied to tree stumps — probably all day without water or grass to graze on. Dr. Maguo took the liberty of re-harnessing them more humanely.

There were other tense moments when the doctor asked a few chicken breeders to open some cages and move some of the birds — packed into small crates — into larger pens because the birds were plucking off each other’s feathers. The locals didn’t take too kindly to the intrusion and, after I took a photo of the action, the plumage hit the fan. 

A flash of Doc’s Animal Welfare Inspector’s badge — along with me handing out a couple of 2000TZS (about $1US) bills as payment to my photo subjects — helped quell the friction. And, although the doctor warned the herders of potential penalties for their negligence, he seemed more of a referee than a law enforcement agent. 

To Dr. Maguo, it’s all about education and instilling good, enduring animal care habits that can be passed down to the next generation rather than confrontation and punishment now. 

The doctor strolled the market, volunteers in tow, explaining to the livestock farmers that building temporary trough pens for the goats and donkeys would increase their herds and packs value and health — not to mention the comfort and contentment — of the animals. The doctor’s words seemed to be heeded and we left them smiling and nodding in agreement. The doctor vowed to be back next week with the materials  to help set up the movable drinking pens.

One of the chicken breeders even gave us volunteers a squawking hen as a peace offering. The bird would even get its own seat in the back of the PAWS mobile on our way home that day — then be on a dinner plate the next. The doctor even offered to cook it. He was a veterinarian, after all, not a vegetarian.

That fascinating insider view of Dr. Maguo at work in the Masai market was a wonderful sendoff before it was finally time to say goodbye and receive my “sheepskin” from him.  And what better place to have a graduation than, you guessed it, a coffee spa.

Dr. Maguo, with a congratulatory handshake, gave me a nicely embossed “Certificate of Attendance” diploma before I raised my celebratory Kilimanjaro beer in a toast — with an dark hint of sadness about leaving and light applause coming from a table of locals next to us — to Doc and my time here in Tanzania. 

It was an honor and privilege to work with Dr. Maguo.  I had my eyes opened to many health concerns and circumstances — often ignored by the rest of the world — and the challenges many people and animals, respectively, face every day. The hands-on volunteer experience with Doc was fulfilling beyond my expectations and I learned further about caring for animals, as well as myself. The sensation of thrusting that first hypodermic needle or being part of a mass rabies vaccination will be memories I never forget. 

Now, after helping out in a modest way, I think the most substantial contribution I can give to Dr. Maguo and Elang’ata Agrovet Services and PAWS is helping get the word out about those organizations’ good and important work. 

If I can let people know about these groups and the publicity assists them in getting funding — both financial and equipment-wise — it would go a long way towards making Dr. Maguo’s Tanzania a better and healthier place for its animals and the people who co-exist with them.

Visit these sites to donate and find out the latest about Dr. Maguo:


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