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A Perspective Changed

submission by Deidra Metzler of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine

When travelling to South Africa as a veterinary student, one might anticipate being awed by the unique wildlife, different veterinary medical techniques and a foreign cultural environment.  While planning my trip to South Africa with EcoLife Expeditions I was expecting just that.  I witnessed game capture techniques from a helicopter, raced to relocate anesthetized zebra and antelope, observed a large variety of wildlife, and consumed an assortment of new foods.  What I was not expecting was to have a single day in an impoverished community completely change my perspective on my future career and life plans.

 One of the dogs from the community

Dr. Reneè van Rheede van Oudtshoorn is the primary veterinarian working for Vets for Change South Africa, and I had the incredible opportunity to experience what she does first hand.  She works closely with her outstanding team of volunteers to promote animal population control, humane education, rabies elimination and veterinary student training in impoverished and rural regions of South Africa.  The team spends many hours a week sterilizing, vaccinating and educating.  They lead communities by setting excellent examples with their target audience being the children of the community. 


Providing low cost or free services to communities in need has always been an area of interest to me within veterinary medicine.  However, the methods that Dr. Reneè and her team utilize through Vets for Change South Africa shed new light on my interests.  Instead of simply providing vaccinations and sterilization in a clinic available to the communities, they reach out to areas in need and provide services in the homes of the pet owners.  This approach alleviates complications of transportation, promotes owner and pet comfort, and even increases awareness and education by having their team present in the community.  Additionally, it helps promote success with limited resources.  For example, they promote the use of local herbs as insect repellents, or the use of running lines instead of a short lead tie up or free roaming pet.

 Vets for Change team, EcoLife group, and the sponsored children’s daycare. Dr. Reneè is in the center with the orange hat.

Dr. Reneè heavily emphasized the importance of working with the communities, not just in them, to achieve a common goal.  Dr. Reneè helped me understand that there has to be give and take in terms of services rendered and payments received within these projects.  She spoke of an instance where a child understood the importance of sterilizing his dog, but the most payment he could offer was a few pieces of candy.  While this may not be a traditional method of payment, Dr. Reneè performed the procedure highlighting this instance as a moment of working within the means of the community to achieve the overall goal.  She also helped me see that the children of the community are the strongest assets to the success of Vets for Change projects.  Without a strong influence on the children in the community, there would be very little progress in promoting the goals of sterilization, vaccination and humane education.  When taught at a young age, these important concepts are carried into adulthood and are taught to others in the community throughout the duration of their lives.


In addition to all the phenomenal veterinary work that Dr. Reneè and her team accomplish in Vets for Change, they also sponsor a community daycare, provide food and teaching tools for children, and medical care for a young girl with Cerebral Palsy.  I was able to witness Dr. Reneè’s compassion for the children of the daycare first hand when she greeted them with hugs and kisses during our visit.  I also experienced her extreme gratitude upon our group delivering bags of donations for the daycare made by the students of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.

 Children from the community.

The Vets for Change South Africa team goes above and beyond what an ordinary veterinary team might do in similar circumstances.  I feel honored to have played a small role in one of their community projects as well as help deliver donated items to the community daycare they sponsor.  Dr. Reneè has shown me that I don’t have to limit myself to exclusively veterinary work once I’m done with school.  I now have more confidence that I can incorporate more than one interest into my future career, and hopefully it will involve a line of community service similar to what she is currently performing.


Well played, Lynsee Melchee from University of Illinois...



by Kanyon McLean - The Ohio State University

This past summer I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand to practice veterinary medicine with elephants and native wildlife. I was very impressed by the standard of care the animals received despite obvious discrepancies in resources compared to The United States. It IS possible to provide quality care despite not having the most up-to-date machinery! The veterinarians I worked with embodied the idea that sincere love and passion for our fauna can overcome any lack of tangible resource.  

"Hey, can I see your camera for a second?"... Bing Mi wanted to test her skills at photography!

The Asian culture is very in tune with the earth. Medicinal herbs are frequently fed to the elephants. Looking at the variety of flora on the table, I wouldn’t even know where to begin- which plants do what? But the Thai vets, mahouts, and technicians- they all knew: “Eat this for upset stomach. Eat this for dry skin. Eat this for bone strength.”

Sing Com taking a bottle from her devoted mahout.

Mahouts are my heroes. Men dedicated to the constant care and well being of the elephants. One of the most touching unions I experienced was between the two mahouts caring for "Bing Mi" and "Sing Com", a mother and baby elephant, respectively, living at the Thailand Elephant Conservation Center. Mother and baby each have one mahout, as is customary, but I was in awe to discover that ever since Sing Com was born, both mahouts have been living in the little shack right next to the elephant enclosure so as to care for the elephants at all hours of the day and night. Sing Com’s mahout showed me his feeding log, documenting every time Sing Com has been given a bottle since birth. The daily dedication the mahouts bestow upon the elephants is heartwarming, and the connection between mahout and elephant is palpable.

Bing Mi and Sing Com, mother and baby elephant respectively. Sing Com was still too young to eat hard food like bamboo or sugar cane, but that didn't stop her from trying to take mom's food!

I was incredibly blessed to be in Thailand for Visakha Puja, the celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of the Lord Buddha. I walked with the Thai people around the temple, candle in hand, silently witnessing the tangible love the people felt towards their Lord Buddha. From this experience, I took away how closely tied the Thai people are to harmony and peace. I felt a part of something bigger than myself, and looking back, standing in front of the temple, I realize that moment was preemptive of feelings I'd experience in the weeks ahead, working with the mahouts and elephants. It isn't about personal gain when working with these animals. It's about what these magnificent creatures represent for the entire community, and as a community we must protect them.

An elephant skeleton Elephant and his mahout



2016 IVEC Scholarship!!


Haw? Gee? HUH?! An Education in Sled Dog Medicine

By Alexandra Ripperger - University of Minnesota

            A pivotal moment in my veterinary medicine education happened sneakily in January 2015, at a casual “Canine Club” lunch meeting. Dr. Gregg Phillips was giving a talk on sled dogs and the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth, MN. Over the course of the hour, Dr. Philips explained the unique physiological characteristics of sled dogs that make them one of the most elite animal athletes in the world. I had no sled dog experience, but being a collegiate athlete and life-long dog lover, this special subset of canine sports medicine blew me away. Sled dogs can run for ridiculously long distances, at a blistering pace, in subzero temperatures, with minimal recovery time, before doing it all over again. I had to see these animals in action. I signed up to volunteer with pre-race vet checks at not only the Beargrease, but also the City of Loppet Skijoring and Dogsled Race. Both these races provided an incredible introduction to sled dog medicine, dog handling, and race protocol.

Then, my two classmates, Lara Stephens-Brown and Kalli Doenges, and I were offered the opportunity to volunteer at the CopperDog 150 Sled Dog Race in Calumet, Michigan. We spent four days there, not only helping with pre-race vet checks and checkpoint exams, but also attending four lectures by Dr. Michael Davis, a world-renowned sled dog physiologist. Dr. Davis presented astounding facts. For example, no one has ever been able to find the VO2max of a sled dog- it isn’t possible to keep the study room cold enough to mimic race temperatures without the treadmills breaking. And although sled dogs use up an expected amount of their glycogen stores during the first day of racing, by the fourth day, they have replenished the stores back to the original amount! That is the equivalent of a person doing a triathlon for four days in a row and ending with the same glycogen concentration as when they started. Moral of the story? Sled dogs are fatigue-proof.

After our trip, Lara, Kalli, and I decided that although our university had an established Canine Club, sled dog medicine was a unique subset that warranted its own group. Our executive board now devotes extra time and effort to secure volunteer access at various races across the Midwest for our club members. In addition to volunteering at races, we recently hosted an orthopedic wet lab allowing students to practice their physical exam and orthopedic evaluation skills on actual sled dogs. We also regularly bring in sled dog veterinarians for lunch lectures. Finally, it has been a slow process, but our club is anxiously waiting to hear back from the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (I.S.D.V.M.A) regarding our club being its first student chapter. We hope this designation will demonstrate our commitment to sled dog medicine and provide our club with further networking opportunities.

Like me, our club president Lara Stephens-Brown had little prior sled dog experience before last year. She says, “attending the CopperDog was hands-down one of the best parts of my first year in vet school. It was hard work, but so educational. After working the CopperDog and a couple other sled dog races in the Midwest, I'm excited to continue learning about these fantastic athletes in my second year and beyond. I didn't know I would fall in love with this sport and the people that keep it going as much as I have, but I definitely credit attending the CopperDog as the tipping point for me!”

As far as Lara, Kalli, and I know, the University of Minnesota Sled Dog Medicine Club is the only club of its kind in the United States. It is amazing how one lunch lecture opened up a whole new aspect of veterinary medicine to us, and now sled dog medicine is one of our passions. We are thrilled with and grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from the sled dog community. If any other veterinary students are interested in sled dog medicine and would like to get more information, we would love to talk you! Please feel free to contact us at