Dr Andrew Rich, a UK vet specialising in Veterinary Pathology, has been a long term supporter of the WVS and our sister charity Mission Rabies. Having just come back from ITC Thailand, we caught up with him to find out all about it!
Most vets, vet nurses, students, technicians and animal care professionals will, at some point in their training and careers, have uttered the altruistic words: “I want to help animals all over the world!” These days, with the increasing awareness of the impact that veterinary professionals can have on international animal health under the global term of One Health, right now is the best time to get involved and to make that difference that we all strive to do!
The WVS International Training Centre in Thailand is based in the beautiful region of Chiang Mai, the Northern Capital of the country. On site, there is a lecture room, an operating theatre with six surgical tables, adjacent pre-operative and post-operative kennels, a surgical preparation area, a main administrative office and also an excellent pool for relaxing in after a solid day’s work. The backdrop to the centre, is the mesmerising Doi Suthep, a breath-taking mountain on top of which is the truly beautiful Thai Buddhist Temple of Elder Monks, which casts its watchful eye over the whole area of Chiang Mai.
The charismatic WVS team make all of the volunteer vets who lend their teaching expertise and all of the course participants feel right at home in Thailand.
The two week course is an incredible chance to develop surgical techniques for animal birth control, with opportunities to assist with the work at the dog shelter next door. This gives the course participants an eye-opening and very educational insight into shelter medicine and the essential work that is done treating street dogs and other animals in Thailand. Additionally, there are multiple lectures throughout the course which allow you learn about how animal birth control programmes work (including their difficulties and their successes), wound management, rabies control and many more interesting topics! You may also get the opportunity to receive lectures from the volunteer vets in topics such as Welfare of Working Equids, Careers Advice covering multiple opportunities, Management of Canine Osteoarthritis and Veterinary Forensic Pathology!
After adorning your DEET mosquito spray, suncream and your very dashing light blue WVS scrub tops and black WVS bandanas, the day begins! After a quick briefing, half of the surgical group would go to round to inspect the wounds and pain score each patient operated on the day before whilst the other half prepare their first surgical patient for the operating theatre. Once in the operating theatre, the team that were on rounds take over the anaesthesia whilst their partners spay or castrate their patient, under the guidance of an international veterinary volunteer or one of the ITC’s own veterinary surgeons. It is a very well-oiled system!
At least two surgeries would be completed per pair in the morning before going for lunch, which I must say has to be the best lunch menu of any charity trip you could choose…even as a vegetarian, Thai food never leaves you wanting! Pad thai, Khao soi, Massaman curry…happy days indeed!
Day by day you gain confidence and great experience as each surgery can throw up its own surprises! For example, my most memorable patient has to be one beautiful female Border Collie-cross on whom I performed an ovariohysterectomy (spay). The surgery itself went very well in that there were no complications; consequently she was my most “efficient” spay. However, during the procedure and more notably on post-operative recovery, she demonstrated continuous involuntary spasmodic jerky contractions of groups of muscles. These muscle contractions increased when she had fully recovered from anaesthesia but did not further increase in severity afterwards. Additionally she appeared to withdraw into the darker area of the post-op kennels as though she was sensitive to light and she showed a reduced degree of co-ordination. Her background was later provided to us by a Buddhist monk who knew her and her canine companions from the temple from where she was picked up – she was one of three dogs local to the temple. The other two passed away a few months ago for an undiagnosed reason; however, before they died they demonstrated respiratory signs and bloody diarrhoea. In the absence of other clinical signs and considering the history provided, one clear differential diagnosis came to light for this collie: Canine Distemper Virus.
In a bitter-sweet manner, I am glad to say that this was the first time that I had seen a case of Canine Distemper. However, I was incredibly sad to see this horrendous disease in such a beautiful dog. Canine Distemper is regularly fatal and very contagious, and is not just confined to dogs, with cats, ferrets, pandas, large cats and other canids having the potential to carry or contract this disease. These diseases, Canine Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus and of course, Rabies, are 100% preventable.
Alongside the exciting clinical work, there are so many things about Thailand you will adore! The weekend after your first week is the perfect opportunity to visit Chiang Mai with everything it has to offer from the Night Bizarre with its superb array of performances, delicious street food, gift stalls and massage stalls to the local bars and also the opportunity to climb up the Doi Suthep mountain to the Thai Buddhist Temple with its breath-taking view of Chiang Mai. There is something for everyone who visits!
If you are a vet student, graduate, or even a more qualified vet that wants to gain that experience to become a brilliant surgeon, by encountering those tricky surgeries under the great instruction of very experienced vets, then I cannot encourage you enough to go to WVS ITC Thailand. A huge benefit about doing this project, besides the surgery itself, is that you get to see the incredible work being done by WVS. You get to help animals that would otherwise have no treatment and you get to be part of the international community that is working together to tackle devastating diseases such as rabies. This kind of work is what many of us got into the veterinary profession for – to help animals in need. WVS ITC Thailand is one of the many opportunities that WVS offers to vet students vets and vet nurses who wish to help animals in need – so please have a look at everything there is to offer, get inspired, get excited and get involved!