San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

McKee: How One Woman Made a Difference

If you have ever walked around a Central American city, one thing you may have noticed is a parade of bag-obones stray dogs and cats. They barely make a living off the streets, scrounging for food wherever they can, and oftentimes they don’t find any and ultimately die of malnutrition or an opportunistic disease.

What’s worse is that these animals often have litters in the streets, further compounding the problem by increasing this population of unfortunates.

Christine Crawford, a former Californian who now lives in San José, noticed this problem and started to drive around with bags of pet food to help these poor street animals.

She managed to improve temporarily the lives of some of the animals she met, but after a while she noticed that her efforts were futile, as the population of malnourished cats and dogs wallowing in ever-increasing misery kept rising.

She met with her veterinarian, Alexander Valverde, and asked him how she could help. Her original thoughts of having a shelter to house abandoned small animals was quickly dismissed by Valverde – “They are holding camps like Auschwitz, not to mention unaffordable,” was his reply to that suggestion.

Valverde convinced Crawford that the only way to start to improve the lives of  street animals in Central America was to set up economical spay and neuter clinics that worked with the communities of Central America not only to help control the population, but also to improve the health of the animals and educate local veterinarians and communities in how to accomplish and sustain the project.

And that’s exactly what Crawford did, by founding the McKee Project. She started by organizing people in her community in San José to set up a makeshift clinic where they would spay, neuter and de-worm any dogs and cats that were brought in for ¢15,000 (about $30), sometimes free for those who couldn’t afford such an amount. She also hired teachers to train vets in the community in the small-cut procedure to minimize the risk of possibly fatal infection in the fixed animals.

She went on to set up such clinics wherever she could throughout Central America, in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, even much of Mexico, always using cost-effective solutions that got local communities involved.

Even so, finding space for her spay and neuter clinics was frequently difficult. In her words, “Oftentimes people would say they would accommodate my spay and neuter operations and change their minds last minute.”

Not so in Zancudo, on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.When Crawford contacted the Zancudo Lodge on the Osa Peninsula, co-owners Greg and Goldine Wang freely offered full support for all the participants in the spay and neuter clinic to fix, de-worm and immunize all the small pets brought in from the surrounding community.

Soon after this offer, Crawford, with the help of her assistant Carla Ferraro, had a team of veterinarians, assistants and volunteers assembled. Much of the local community organization was done thanks to Leo Bustos, a resident of the Osa Peninsula who volunteered his time to educate his fellow residents about the spay and neuter operation and the need to fix their dogs and cats.

Transportation was provided to the makeshift clinic for people who weren’t able to come on their own. Without Bustos’ compassion and hard work, many pets that needed fixing in his community would have gone without.

Starting as early as 6:30 a.m., a crowd had already formed, and the makeshift spay and neuter clinic was up and running. Quick, efficient, small-cut fixing surgeries were the order of the day, and the veterinarians and assistants performed admirably, treating anxious patients with calm, loving care, with as little time under the knife as possible.

They seemed practically tireless, as each new patient, from the first to the last, was treated with the same quality care.

Crawford’s dedication to ease the plight of street animals is amazing. With her passion and persistence she has encouraged, enabled and educated many people throughout Central America to take up the cause of the animals and find affordable and sustainable solutions for their care. She has made a huge difference in the lives of countless animals and people as a result.

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Matthias Scheer, 15, from Santa Barbara, California, is traveling throughout Central and South America on the 90-foot research vessel Phantom. He claims that Costa Rica’s dramatic natural beauty has surpassed all other countries he has seen so far in the region. He came in the pursuit of quality education and exploration not found in classroom settings, and has found both here in abundance. He loves to scuba dive, explore and meet new people.



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