In the summer between my 5 and final year of vet school I travelled out to Pushkar, India to work at TOLFA for 4 weeks with a group of 5 friends from Cambridge. Our work was primarily with dogs, cats, cows and goats, though camels and peacocks also featured in our visit. We were involved in the general care of the animals, medical treatment they required and a large neutering and vaccination program as part of a mission to lower the rabies problem in the area. The work was demanding both from a veterinary perspective, and in getting used to a new culture. One of the most difficult areas was the difference in opinion relating to euthanasia. We saw diseases no longer prevalent in the UK such as distemper, and nursed animals through the acute phases back to health where only a residual twitch remained. There were many animals with hind limb paralysis following traffic accidents, though they were kept comfortable and had free range of the sandy yard, where their incontinence was not the problem it may be back at home, and over time many started to re-gain some neurological function. I found my time at TOLFA incredibly rewarding and despite the minimal facilities and drugs available, I was amazed by the level of treatment that could be provided to sick and injured animals.

EHF ( summer, three days after receiving my veterinary degree from Cambridge University, I headed out to Rarotonga, Cook Islands to volunteer at the Esther Honey Foundation (EHF). Upon arrival I was amazed by the level of facilities and care that a charity clinic on a tiny pacific island could provide to local animals. The clinic boasted a digital x-ray machine, a microscope, the ability to test blood biochemistry and electrolytes, an air-conditioned surgery, multiple kennels for hospitalisation of sick animals and an exceptionally well stocked pharmacy. In my 6 weeks at the EHF I saw a huge range of cases from puppies with haemorrhagic diarrhoea to goats with leg injuries requiring amputation. I was involved in the stabilisation of animals following road traffic accidents, and the subsequent wound repairs which they required. The island has had an ongoing problem with the number of stray dogs living there and the EHF has played a huge role in reducing the number of strays through a neutering scheme: locals may own only 2 dogs which must be registered with the police and must be neutered in order to be registered. We generally had several neutering operations every day which I was involved in on my days in surgery. As with my time at TOLFA the work at the EHF was exceptionally rewarding: being the only veterinary clinic on the island the service provided is making a huge difference to the welfare of animals on Rarotonga.

While volunteer work is demanding and often difficult where facilities and drugs are limited I have thoroughly enjoyed both of my placements and feel fulfilled at the contribution I’ve made to their successful functioning. I would recommend volunteering at such charities to anyone who is interested, and hope I am able to repeat the experience again soon. As expected vets and nurses are common volunteers at such charities, however at both TOLFA and EHF I met volunteers with no veterinary experience; they were involved in the general care and well-being of the hospitalised patients, and made a huge difference to the comfort of their stay. I have included the websites of both charities for further information and details of how to donate and/ or volunteer. I am also more than happy to try and answer any questions regarding these charities or my experiences of volunteering in general.

Gemma Ellse VetMB BA MRCVS