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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.