by Sarah Clark
Sarah Gabrielle Fales and Laura-Anne Kutryk became friends while attending the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon (Canada) where they were roommates. While they were students they volunteered together in Uganda as part of a Vets Without Borders-Canada project, and after graduating in 2011 they have been travel buddies ever since. Sarah has been working as a small animal locum veterinarian in British Colombia and Laura-Anne has been working in mixed practice in Alberta. Sarah and Laura-Anne were thrilled to reunite for another adventure, having heard about the Todos Santos campaign through Sarah’s contact at Vets Without Borders-Canada.
This was Sarah and Laura-Anne’s first year in Todos Santos, but they are no strangers to international veterinary work! In addition to the project in Uganda while they were students, Laura-Anne went with Vets Without Borders-Canada in February (the month prior to the Todos Santos trip!) to work with small scale dairy farmers and help improve their productivity. Having decided recently to leave her position in rural Alberta, Laura explained, “I’ve been excited to use my training and education to explore some different opportunities. I’ve always been excited to do international veterinary work so this was a perfect opportunity for me.”
Sarah and Laura-Anne were both responsible for a number of activities in Todos Santos including surgeries (spay/neuter), working in the recovery ward, conducting physical exams, and providing vaccinations. But beyond caring for the animals, both women highlighted the connections they made with the Todos Santos community members who brought their animals to the clinic. As Laura-Anne explained, “What I’ve enjoyed most is the interaction with the people. Despite my lack of Spanish you still get such a positive interaction with the people and the children, and seeing how much they appreciate what we’re doing. They’ve been so interactive with us, that’s been really rewarding.” Sarah echoes, “You come for the dogs and cats and you end up loving the local people, especially the kids because they are amazing, everyone is so grateful.”
Sarah described a particularly impactful experience with one of the Todos Santos families: “My very last surgery yesterday and probably my last one for the project was on an older female dog, one of 3 owned by a family that had been hanging around during the week, the kids had also been hanging around the clinic. So when the family brought their dog in they were very excited, they were watching the surgery, and afterward when the dog was recovering the woman thanked us and blessed us and gave me a big hug, the kids came up and gave me a big hug. Seeing the gratitude from the local people makes you feel like you are making a difference and to know that they appreciate us coming here… That was really rewarding, I went home with a big smile on my face.”
Both veterinarians were pushed outside their comfort zone in terms of providing veterinary care in such adverse circumstances, but they felt that it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. In Laura-Anne’s words, “I think the whole aspect of doing surgery and practicing veterinary medicine in this type of setting where you don’t have all the equipment and tools that you’re used to, that’s a challenge, learning to adapt. Doing surgery in less than ideal situations. Using different anesthetic protocols. It’s been a challenge for everyone, but it’s been good to learn new ways of doing things and realize that you can work in these kinds of situations and still get the same results.”
Sarah and Laura-Anne were both inspired by the GAAP’s focus on including and empowering local people in the veterinary campaign. They both wish to return to Todos Santos to provide the much-needed services, but they understand the long term goal of self-sufficiency. As Laura-Anne describes, “I would really love to continue to be involved with this project in Todos Santos until they are able to have it run locally and have it more self sustainable. It’s been such a rewarding experience and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to help out in a project like this or get involved in doing international veterinary work.”
Sarah added, “I would love to come back to Todos Santos. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in doing a project like this… It’s a well organized, really great project with a really great team and I would highly recommend that other people come… It’s bittersweet to look at being here the last day, the sun is shining and it feels sad to leave, especially the kids, but that’s a good reason to come back.”