North Richmond Veterinary Hospital volunteers in India for Vets Beyond Borders

LIKE all good vets, Trish Keating tries not to get too attached to her patients, but she found this particularly challenging while volunteering in India with Australian charity Vets Beyond Borders (VBB).

Ms Keating, a senior vet nurse at North Richmond Veterinary Hospital on Bells Line of Road, recently returned from her second trip with VBB, where she volunteered in the northeast Indian state of Sikkim.

There, she spent two months assisting local vets on cases and providing supportive care at the Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health Program (SARAH) hospital at Gangtok.

In an environment where there was a lack of basic resources and medications for animals that needed desexing, vaccinations and various treatments and surgeries, Ms Keating didn't have the same tools at her disposal as she did at home.

"I tried not to, but I got attached to five different dogs, and every one of them died. You have to try to look at it critically, and do the best you can," Ms Keating told the Gazette.

VBB is an international, Australian-based charity that helps to improve the lives of animals and humans in developing countries, through providing training, experienced veterinarians and support staff, and running community awareness programs.

In the SARAH hospital, Ms Keating helped with whatever was thrown her way - from assisting vets with restraint and treatment, daily wound cleaning and re-dressing, and administering medications, to training veterinary surgeon interns on aseptic and sterile techniques, packing kits, folding swabs, and setting up for the day's surgeries.

She also assisted in field camps, performing sterilisation and management of assorted minor surgical procedures (i.e. dog fight wounds, minor tumour removals), monitoring patient anaesthetics/recoveries and removing ticks.

Ms Keating said the SARAH hospital - a welfare hospital - treated a large number of "street dogs" and also provided vet support to financially disadvantaged community members.

"[We treated] a lot of trauma [cases], animals hit by cars, dog fight attacks, cruelty cases, and sadly these animals would often be left on the street for days," she said.

"Sometimes by the time we saw them they were in a disgusting, distressing state. We saw a lot of things that would have been better off seen to when they happened."

What would be her message to Hawkesbury pet owners? "Be thankful that you live in Australia," she said.

She also appealed to locals to make sure they can afford a pet - including ongoing vet bills - before bringing one into their home.

"If you can't afford the vet, you don't deserve the pet," Ms Keating said.

"I believe a lot of people jump to euthanasia as a solution too quickly [when they can't afford their pet's treatment]. We [as vets] don't like doing that [euthanasing pets], and places like [North Richmond Veterinary Hospital] carry a real lot of bad debt because people can't pay us."

She said too many pet-owners adopted a "wait and see" attitude, which could be life-threatening for their pet.

"If they have a problem with their animal, even just ring up and get some phone advice, because tumours grow, and an animal that's been vomiting for three days is likely to be suffering from severe dehydration," she said.

"A lot of the time it comes down to pet owners not having the money [for treatment]."

Ms Keating said being around so many street dogs in Sikkim - where they were part of the community and the area's ecology - gave her a new appreciation for the inherent social nature of dogs.

"If you have just one dog in a backyard it's a lonely existence for that dog. You got it for company, so you've got to make sure you spend time with it," she said.

Ms Keating thanked her manager at North Richmond Veterinary Hospital, Karen Hedberg, for supporting her trips with Vets Beyond Borders.

"I've never had any problem getting time off work, and she has also donated packets of sutures and long-acting antibiotics at her own expense, which I appreciate," she said.

Find out more about VBB and make donations at www.vetsbeyondborders.org.

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