Beasts of Burden

Still working away at parasitology. Not only are there about a thousand various types of creepy crawlers to be able to recognize and explain the life cycle of, it seems that every other word used to describe these things is in a foreign language. For example, one can identify a certain species by the fact that the ‘scolex has lappets’. If I knew where the scolex was and what lappets looked like, I’d be set!

The first two years of vet school are mostly spent in a classroom. One must know the foundations of all sorts of subjects in physiology, anatomy, and pathology before being able to apply them to real life situations. Unfortunately, it also makes for a dry first two years, and it’s important to find other activities in vet school to get involved in. I’m not much one for planning Winter Galas or sitting on student body committees, but the student group of Global Vets was definitely a program I knew I wanted to be involved it.

Global Vets was started by two veterinary students at the Ontario Veterinary College in 1997 who were interested in volunteering in underserviced communities in India. It is now a student run organization that allows veterinary students to travel abroad to volunteer their time in various projects related to animal health and welfare, agricultural development and ecosystem health.

When I was younger, I had the opportunity to visit Cuba many times with my family for vacation. But instead of spending my time by the pool or snorkeling, I would spend hours with the working horses of the island. Most resorts have horses for trail riding, and horses are always used as cheap transport of goods and people. What shocked me even as a child was the poor body condition and terrible sores so many of them had from ill-fitting tack. Unable to afford proper food or equipment for their horses, locals did what they could with what they had – the horses grazed on scrub and wore bits made out of bicycle chains. I’d often sneak down in the evenings to where the resort horses were tied, treating their saddle sores with the aloe my mother had brought for sunburns and feeding them most of my dinner. It took some convincing, but eventually they learned that banana, pineapple and even French fries were quite tasty!

I never forgot the images of those hard working horses, but over the years learned that extra bananas were not the easy fix to their problems. In impoverished countries, there is neither the access to proper food or the money to pay for it, and often peoples’ livelihood depends on these horses putting in a full workday no matter what their condition. But so many of the medical issues with these horses have simple solutions; more food, more water and owner education.

For my project with Global Vets, I sought out an area in which there was a large population of working equids and no means to treat them. This summer, I will be headed to Egypt, where the tiny, rutted and winding streets prevent all but horse and donkey carriages as transportation in some cities. There is little food or money to dedicate to these working animals, let alone appropriate veterinary and hoof care. Armed with donated veterinary supplies and our experience, we will do our best to make their lives a little better, just as they do their best everyday with little food, hot sun and heavy loads.

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