Sonny greets you as you enter the clinic compound. The black and brown Raro dog named is cuddly and playful. Te Are Manu clinic’s more frequent visitors remark on how loving he is.
Today, the only animals being looked after at the veterinary clinic are Pipi and Pupu, two short-tailed cats from Mangaia, and about five kittens that have been adopted and are just waiting to be picked up by their besotted new owners.
The clinic has a surgical section, a puppy care section, a cats section that gives them space to play around but safe from any harm, and a section for dogs who need to stay overnight at the clinic.
That, and a healthy vegetable garden for the clinic’s staff and volunteers.
As the clinic marks its two-year anniversary this week, supporters gather together to celebrate, and reminisce about how it all started just two short years ago.
Patricia Barton, president of the clinic, says they had no real idea where the venture would lead them but they were full of enthusiasm and passion, and determined to create a long-lasting legacy for the Cook Islands.
Volunteers from all over, she says. Not just vets and veterinary nurses, but also those just passionate about animal welfare.
They have had 120 volunteers through the doors: from Ireland, England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Hungary, India, Taipei, Singapore, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
And those volunteers bring with them support and supplies from far afield.
Located behind the Ministry of Agriculture office in Arorangi, Te Are Manu is the only veterinary clinic in the Cook Islands. And in just two years, it has treated 2800 animals.
This is no ordinary clinic: for Cook Islands residents, it is their only hope when their pets are hurt or critically ill.
The clinic’s volunteer vets have seen it all: dogs, cats, pigs, goats, horses, cows, birds such as native tropic birds and kaikaia’s, ducks, baby chickens and even a turtle. Some are from the outer islands, some from Rarotonga.
Dr Samantha English, a volunteer vet, reckons Cook Islanders are lucky because the vet clinic is a brand new facility compared to other countries she has worked, where they struggled to have a proper place to work.
To be fair, her reference point is an impoverished central American country with some of the highest murder rates in the world, so it’s hardly surprising they place little value on the lives of animals.
“Dr Sam” did a job similar to that of Rarotonga in the small country called Belize. But she is originally from Canada, and has also worked in one of the wealthiest corners of the world, Florida.
“I think they are really lucky here because they have a brand new facility and in other places I have done work like this they all struggle with having a place to do all the work. Often-times things are intense or shelters are old,” she says.
With the clinic in Rarotonga there are a wide range of drugs for doctors to use, and the team, manager and those in the vets committee are helpful.
Like other volunteer vets, she’s not staying for long. Dr Sam is here for a month and then is moving to Australia, which she says is close enough to Rarotonga that she can return and provide more free medical services at Te Are Manu clinic.
There are plenty of people who regularly take their pets to the clinic for care; there are others who have never been there.
The clinic does not take payments, she says, but any donation is helpful.
And the kindness of the local community is seen when the vets turn up for work: there is tea in the morning, or cake and soda in exchange for cat treatment, or cash donations. “If you think you can afford to treat your dogs, we are able to take whatever donation you are able to make. But here is no reason to not come in, because we won’t turn you away.
“The care here is not what people might expect in New Zealand,” she acknowledges. “I think people are still learning and that’s exciting.”
learning and that’s exciting.”
FACTS AND FIGURES
* The clinic has twice won the Mana Tiaki Champion award in Arorangi for the community initiative of assisting control of the dog population.
* 25 cats have been transported from Aitutaki, Atiu, Manahiki and Rakahanga for treatment through the support of Air Rarotonga.
* Through Ministry of Agriculture, the clinic has run outreach clinics twice in Atiu, and health and de-sexing programmes in Aitutaki.
* In the past two years the clinic has de-sexed 1,440 cats and dogs.
* The clinic has provided hospitalised medical care for 270 animals, in the same period.
* It has humanely euthanased 290 animals that could not be treated due to injuries or old age.