Superhero Spotlight: WVS Malawi, Dr Dagmar Mayer

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Superhero Spotlight: WVS Malawi, Dr Dagmar Mayer

Wed 9th Aug 2017

Spanning the globe, WVS develop and manage international veterinary programmes for the benefit of animals & communities worldwide. In our Superhero Spotlight series, we profile the vets who are elevating our reputation in veterinary science through the work they do. This week the spotlight is on Dr Dagmar Mayer, our Africa Veterinary Manager based in Malawi, who has been working for WVS since 2015, having started as a volunteer in 2009. Dagmar is spearheading our work in Blantyre, combining her superb veterinary skills and love of animals with a desire to help those who less fortunate in the world.

How did you get in the role?

Before I started working for WVS I was a ‘normal’ small animal vet. I graduated from Munich in 2002 and worked for several vet clinics and out of hours services in England and Germany. I went on my first WVS volunteer trip to Botswana in 2009 and soon realised that I find much more satisfaction in working abroad. So for the following years I went abroad as a volunteer as often as possible, only staying in Europe long enough to be able to go out there again, helping several animal welfare charities in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.  From 2015, I worked full-time as the International Veterinary Manager for WVS, during which time I visited some of the fantastic charities we support worldwide, and helped set up projects and run mass vaccination and treatment campaigns. During 2016, I went out to visit eight projects and on some mornings it was hard to remember which place I was waking up at!

Since January 2017 I have been based in Blantyre, Malawi, where WVS has partnered with the BSPCA (Blantyre Society for the Protection and Care of Animals).  I am now holding the position of CEO for the BSPCA, I’m the head vet at the WVS clinic here, coordinating our African projects and in charge of WVS volunteer vets and nurses when they come and visit. I’m also the Country Manager for WVS’ sister charity Mission Rabies, helping synchronize the vaccination drives in Malawi. So I’m definitely keeping busy! The BSPCA has been around for 10 years and WVS managed to equip the clinic with a container full of donated equipment, from surgical tables to a gas anaesthetic machine, instruments, medical supplies and an autoclave. I was involved in packing every box which ended up in this container and I was lucky enough to also be there when it arrived in Malawi! To see this clinic grow has been absolutely fantastic and we now have vets and nurses coming as volunteers for weeks to months at a time, helping to run the clinic.

The way the clinic is set up here is that veterinary fees are donation-based and we call it the ‘Robin Hood principle’ as the money we raise by treating dogs of paying clients goes straight back into treating dogs from the poorest communities in Blantyre for free. 

What do you have to say about this quote? “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” (Mahatma Gandhi)

I guess ever since I started working abroad as a vet, helping animals in need who would otherwise never be treated by a vet in their lifetime, I knew that this is what I really want to do! This work feels so much more rewarding for me than working at home, where so many other vets are doing the same (or a better) job as me. In the countries I have been working in instead, I can really make a difference. If I hadn't treated these dogs, nobody would have done it and many would have died. 

I can honestly say that this work fulfills me, and I feel I have found the place and work I’ve always wanted to be doing. It’s not always easy; life is quite basic here but I'm happy with what I do and enjoy being with the people around me. I am also doing my best to teach Malawian students when they come and visit the clinic to see practice. My dream would be to run training courses in the future for vets and vet technicians to really support the country in a sustainable way. At the moment there are still only few vets in Malawi but the first veterinary students will qualify in Malawi in a few years’ time. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

For me there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the smile on people’s faces when we are able to help their sick dogs. The communities we help are some of the poorest in Malawi, where people sometimes don’t even have enough food. Most dogs are brought to us by children and for many children here, their dogs seem to be the best friend they have. Sometimes I think the dogs are ALL they have. They would like to take responsibility but wouldn’t be able to afford it. As soon as we teach them about caring for dogs, sterilisations and vaccinations, they are very happy and bring their dogs to us. 

It's not always cats and dogs either. I was lucky enough to take part in a wildlife capture course in Zimbabwe this year which was really good fun as we learnt about darting animals and correct handling of wildlife, and even meant a few helicopter rides!

What is the most challenging part of the job?

Finding the balance of working and time off is sometimes the biggest challenge. While I'm busy I don’t tend to realize how tired I am but it’s important to recharge the battery before it’s empty! Working in the clinic also sometimes means operating in poor conditions, with little light so it is all about adapting and doing the best we can in the situation and environment.

How would you explain WVS to someone new?

WVS is supporting animal welfare charities worldwide with logistical advice, supplies and veterinary support. Many smaller NGOs don’t have veterinary staff and are only able to offer sterilizations and treatments when volunteer vets and nurses are visiting. WVS is acting as a platform to connect these volunteers who’d like to offer help and charities in desperate need of this help.