It’s a dog’s life
Vet nurse Kate Taylor has a great affection for dogs, and also enjoys travelling the globe – so what better way to marry the two than join Vets Beyond Borders and have an unforgettable experience in Cambodia?
By Victoria McGuin
Kate Taylor loves animals – dogs in particular. Working as a locum vet nurse in Palmwoods and other hinterland practices throughout the month, she also works for Smartpups three days a week, and became a dog trainer five years ago.
“I had been doing vet nursing for 13 years and enjoyed animal behaviour more than physiology, so I began with puppy pre-school classes and from there it was a natural progression,” Kate smiled.
Recently, Kenilworth-based Kate had the opportunity to travel with Vets Beyond Borders to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she worked for PAWS, volunteering her vet nursing skills. The experience was one Kate will never forget.
“You have to be either a vet nurse, or a vet to volunteer with Vets Beyond Borders. They have partnerships in different countries and you put your order of preference,” explained Kate. “Cambodia was somewhere I was very interested in visiting.”
The work was immediate and intensive at the Vet clinic. “We focussed on de-sexing and rabies vaccinations for cats and dogs, but mainly dogs. We also did school visits, helping educate kids about approaching dogs.
“There is some resistance in the community to de-sexing, as there is a feeling that the dogs should have freedom, but with one dog to three Cambodians and rabies being a big problem, it is vital the message gets through.”
The Cambodian people seem to care a great deal about animals, and Kate explained that even the street dogs seemed to be owned by people who live in the street.
“It’s an amazing place, with amazing people. The city is crowded and congested, but there is no road rage. The Cambodians, who have been through terrible atrocities, act with kindness and patience. They have a siesta between 12 and 2pm, due to their French heritage, so maybe this makes them more relaxed!”
The clinic offers free treatments on Mondays and for the rest of the week, people pay what they can afford. “There is a great honesty system here, Cambodians are very honourable people. Some pay with money, others a bag of mangoes, one even repainted the waiting room!”
Kate showed me pictures from the trip, and I saw queues of people on scooters with dogs. “PAWS runs a free vaccination clinic, and we would drive for several hours to different communities to do this, which could keep us busy for up to two days,” Kate shared.
“People worked out it was easier to create a scooter drive-thru, as more dogs could be vaccinated at a quicker speed.”
Another photograph showed a dog in a tiny makeshift wheelchair. “A local high school made this wheelchair, as they are so expensive to buy from the United States. A teacher and the students make the chairs out of cheap, plastic parts. By the end of the week, this dog was running down the street chasing a cat!” laughed Kate.
It’s clear this was an incredible experience for Kate, and she shared more photographs of some of the stunning places she visited in her downtime, such as Siem Reap with the magnificent Angkor Wat temple.
“The work was confronting and hard,” Kate shared. “There were no machines, so I was monitoring anaesthetic with a stethoscope and a watch. It was very testing for my nursing skills, but also very rewarding.
“Because of this intense work, my weekends off were a good time to regather and regroup, and I was lucky my apartment had mod cons and a pool in the complex.”
Food was something Kate liked to be adventurous with, both on her weekend jaunts and at the clinic itself. “Every day, we would roll out the bamboo mats and cook would bring out traditional food to share, such as crickets, snails, frog legs, chicken broth…”
Kate saw the look on my face and laughed. “Most things were cooked in a broth with rice. I enjoyed that every day, and then had a simple meal of fried rice in the evenings.”
Despite being home for a couple of months now, Kate still has the clinic and the dogs she befriended, treated and trained on her mind.
“I’ve been organising some specially made boots for a disabled dog that drags its back feet. A company in Ireland makes them, and I’m paying for them to be made and sent over. I was sure there was something I could do to help.”
Kate showed me a few more images of her training the Cambodian dogs. “I trained Roxy to be an ambassador dog, to show tricks and teach people how to safely approach a dog.
“I had to learn the language to train the dogs, and I taught them the basics – sit, come when called, lie and wait, shake hands, high fives. Some of these trained dogs have now been adopted,” Kate smiled. “It’s news like this that makes it all worthwhile.”
Vets Beyond Borders is an Australian-based, not-for-profit, incorporated organisation established by veterinary volunteers in 2003. Vets Beyond Borders co-ordinates and runs veterinary based animal welfare and public health programmes in developing communities of the Asia and Pacific region. To find out more, donate or volunteer, please visit: vetsbeyondborders.org
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