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Volunteer experience #1: Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, Chiang Mai

Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation focuses on rescuing stray dogs and cats, and spaying/neutering any dogs and cats they can find, including ones in remote villages where the villagers cannot afford vet bills. It is also the only cat shelter in Chiang Mai and maybe even the only one in Northern Thailand. They adopt dumped and sick pets, and up to this date they have sheltered over 600 dogs and 100 cats. It is located inside a housing complex about 40 km north of Chiang Mai downtown, far from everywhere but everything was provided in the house.

The owner is friendly and would take us for meals, grocery shopping, or just hang out in a coffee shop on our day off. Meals and accommodation are provided in exchange of donation. Meals are mostly local food (white rice or sticky rice, with a few dishes for sharing) but you can also buy groceries and store them in the provided fridge.

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The cat shelter, big and clean. The cats seem happy, don’t they? 🙂

How to get there: Flight to Chiang Mai, then from the airport it’s still another 1 hour car ride. I was already in Chiang Mai so it was easier to go to their place. You can take a yellow taxi/song thaew from the city, but if you’re going straight from the airport it’s better to arrange your own transport, such as airport taxi or charter a red taxi/song thaew. It is also possible to ask the foundation to pick you up. They may be or may not be able to pick you up depending on their schedule.

The accommodation: upstair facilities for volunteer in a modern house, next to their cat shelter. Nice room with attached bathroom, aircon, and ceiling fan. There’s a communal area with shared fridge, hot water kettle, TV, DVD player, and some other basic stuff. Very nice accommodation.

The food: Meals are provided downstairs, most of them are local Thai food. You will sit on the floor and share the dishes with their staff. If you cannot eat local food, western food can be arranged too but you will have to pay for it, or stock up on bread and instant noodles. For vegetarians, it’s possible to ask for vegetable dishes only so they can prepare it. It’s best to say that you want to eat only vegetables instead of saying “no meat”, because sometimes they still put fish or seafood as they are not considered as ‘meat’. For vegans it’s a bit more difficult because they still don’t understand the vegan concept and still use fish sauce, shrimp paste, oyster sauce, etc in the dishes.

The medical facilities: Let’s be honest here. The facilities were VERY basic. You’ll operate on a wooden table, outdoor, with non sterile examination gloves, with no drip because I.V cathether and I.V fluid were considered too expensive. If you’re lucky someone can help you with I.V injection for top up dose, but don’t expect too much. There was nothing sterile, all tools were sterilized by alcohol and iodine solution. I donated a sterilizer but it arrived after my volunteer period ended, so I don’t know if they use it or not. If you volunteer or know someone who volunteers there, it would be nice to have some updates about it.

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This was the surgery site at one of their dog shelters. That table was where I spayed and neutered the bitches and dogs.

The activities: treat the resident cats and dogs, perform health checks when necessary, treat rescued/dumped pet that they often get, spay/neuter dogs and cats in villages – sometimes in a nearby village and sometimes in another shelter which was 10 hour car ride away from them! They are very dedicated in controlling the stray dogs/cats population and if you have the same mission, this is the right place for you to volunteer.

What I enjoyed: when there is no surgeries or treatment, you’ll be taken to the countryside to see the local life, enjoy the mountain view, soak in a hot spring, see the Chiang Mai city, try Thai tea and Thai coffee, visit local temples, shop in local markets, and most importantly just relax. The founder will make sure that you are comfortable and are enjoying your stay.

What I dislike:

  1. You’ll probably be the only person with medical knowledge (unless there’s another volunteering vet) so there’s nobody to back up your opinion if they say you mess up, even though their reasons do not make sense scientifically. I heard them complaining about a cat died weeks before I arrived, blaming the vet and assuming that the cat died of brain damage 5 days after spay because the vet’s hands were not sterile when she spayed the cat.
  2. No gratitude and appreciation of what you do. I speak Thai and understood the conversations they had, even when they were talking about me and other volunteers. What they said in English in front of you and what they said in Thai were completely different. Don’t trust their sweet words. I also understood when the villagers said “Thank you very much, this is for the vet” while handing over some fresh produce from their backyard or other souvenirs, but everything disappeared so I and other volunteers never received anything.
  3. Okay this one is a bit personal. Before leaving the shelter, I donated a new sterilizer, an imported one as it was difficult to find a portable sterilizer in Thailand. It arrived after I left, unfortunately they forgot to tell me they had received the sterilizer, then they forgot to take pictures, and then they forgot to send the pictures to me. It took them over a month to send a single picture as you can see below. Well, I hope they don’t forget that they have a sterilizer now and hopefully they will remember to use it for future surgeries.santisook gratitude1
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What they promised vs what they actually did. They promised a thank you letter in the picture, but it seemed like they can’t be bothered typing proper messages after receiving their gift.

Recommended length of stay: 1-3 weeks.

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Bring your own basic medical tools and references such as stethoscope and medical books.
  • It’s recommended to donate sterile gloves, swabs, drapes, I.V catheters, I.V fluids and giving sets if you have extra to spare.
  • Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent!
  • Come with an open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit 🙂

 

Up next: Volunteering with Naucrates Turtle Conservation Project in Koh Phra Thong, Thailand.

Read more about my experience in volunteering while traveling here.

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Introduction to Using Essential Oil for Animals

What is Essential Oil?

Essential oils are aromatic, naturally occurring chemical components of plants that are usually extracted by distillation. Thorough lab testing of these chemical constituents has led to an understanding of their benefits, and in recent years, interest in therapeutically blended essential oils for animals has increased.

Every batch of a medical drug must by law be identical to the batch that preceded it. Plants, on the other hand, adapt and change with the tiniest variable in their environment, for example, a change in the water supply. So essential oils, created from ever-adapting plants, never reach a point where pathogens become resistant to them. They stay at least one step ahead – which makes them much smarter than anything we can create in a laboratory.”

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The Benefits of Essential Oil

Essential oil is one of my favorite treatment method and here are a few reasons why:

  • it works on physical level to easy the physical symptoms

  • it affects the animals at the cellular level

  • it works on the emotional and psychologic level

  • it helps behavior modification

Their uses include blends for increasing appetite; boosting the immune system; combating fatigue; and dealing with puppy teething, ear cleaning, bad breath, colds and congestion, separation anxiety, and many more. Application methods range from soaps and shampoos to salves and sprays.

Most essential oils have been found to confer benefits of one kind or another—among them, anti-infectious (antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial), sedative, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), immunostimulant and expectorant.

Using Essential Oil For Your Animal Companion

One of the expert vets in using essential oil, Dr. Melissa Shelton, DVM, stated she was cautious when she first introduced essential oil for her pet cats. She watched them closely and she did countless blood and urine test to make sure the cats stayed healthy and that there was no toxicity caused by the oils. Over time she felt confident of using essential oil for pets and now she has been using this modality in her practice for many years.

In a survey sent to members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, 15 respondents reported significant use of essential oil in their practices, and in quite disparate ways (Keith, Elizabeth Rowan. 2010. “Essential Oil Use in Canine Veterinary Medicine.” Dissertation, South Dakota State University (click here for the abstract).

holiztic vet essential oils.jpg

I am aware that there is some controversy in using essential oil for animals, especially for cats. Some complications have been reported as well, but we cannot conclude that essential oil is dangerous without knowing the details of the oils used, especially when there are research which state that essential oil causes significant health change in animals. There are many factors that can cause problems from essential oil usage, some very common ones are the quality of the oil and the amount of the oil applied. Make sure you only pick medical grade oil and use only a small amount diluted in carrier oil because animal’s sense of smelling is more sensitive than human’s.

Using cheap but poor grade essential oil will likely cause more health problems than curing the animals. Just like any other health related products, you want to pick one which has the best quality for the best result and if any problem occurs it is fair to say that the brand is not of the best ones. For example: canned food. If your pet becomes sick to a poor quality canned pet food, we cannot outlaw all canned food , but we have to find better quality.

For essential oil, make sure you pick a brand that has medical-grade oils, because you want to use the oils for medicating your pets. Otherwise, non medical grade oils may not show any health improvement when used for your pets. As another general rule of thumb: find information about the essential oils and animals from a reputable source.

Upcoming next: DOs and DONTs when applying essential oil for your pets.

Stay tuned! Don’t miss any post, you’re only one click away from subscribing to Holiztic Vet blog 🙂

 

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Traveling secret: Revealed!

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent the last year traveling and volunteering in Thailand. This has raised some questions asked by people, well, actually most of my friends, about how much money I earned in the past, how much saving I had, and how much I spent. They assumed I must be either very rich for not having a job yet still enjoying vacation, or exceptionally stingy to survive a whole year travel with no income.

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To answer the questions: I was paid below vet salary standard and followed NGO’s low salary standard, my saving was not big, and on average I spent about $400/month for the last year. This amount had included everything from visas and visa runs (yes visas and flights were not provided and I had to pay from my own pocket) to entertainment and leisure such as drinks and diving. True, I’m not a big fan of drinking and partying, so probably more money was spent for diving than drinking.

I didn’t stay at Couchsurfing hosts, neither traveled the backpacker style, nor cut my expenses as lowest as possible. So now the question is: how did I survive with such low expenses, less than $15 a day? If you’re thinking that I robbed someone’s treasure, sorry to disappoint you. It’s not true.

Some of you travelers might have noticed that the one of the biggest expenses in traveling is accommodation and food. So if you somehow manage to cut those expenses you can save a great deal for your traveling. Now here’s my little secret to avoid those expenses: volunteer where your skill is appreciated and get free accommodation (even better with free kitchen), and sometimes free transportation or meals, in return of doing high-skilled work. Because I’m an animal lover and a vet, I’m going to talk about volunteering with animals from a vet’s point of view; and when I said “skill” it means a specialized skill where people have to spend years of studying and years of experience to master the skill.

It is rare to see free accommodation offered to people who have no special skill, in exchange for general work such as cleaning the cages and feeding the animals. Almost everyone can do those. To be honest I’m getting sick of hearing travelers asking “Do you know where I can get free visa, stay for free, and get free meals in exchange of doing some work?” basically asking for a free holiday. Let me tell you the answer: it’s almost impossible to find such place. Before someone tries to find a place where they can get sponsored holiday they should ask themselves what kind of skill can they offer? General helping is not considered as a specialized skill.

liz renae bloodless surgeries

Even if you have a special skill and are experienced, some places still require you to pay for the whole volunteer experience. (Again, we’re talking about volunteering with animals here, so) this is usually the case if you want to volunteer at wildlife rescue centers. For stray dogs and cats it is easier to stay for free in exchange to your skill. Why? Because not everyone can experience working with wildlife but anyone can interact with cats and dogs any day they want. Another reason is because it needs special permit to keep wildlife, while anyone can have any number of dogs and cats anywhere they want. Fair enough?

So in the next upcoming weeks/months, I’ll share my volunteer experience and include as much helpful details as I can. You can also comment below if you have questions about volunteering with animals or share your experience to let me and the readers know. Here’s another little secret: next I’ll reveal my experience volunteering with Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in Chiang Mai. Stay tuned and don’t miss the story 🙂

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Motivation needed!

Motivation needed!

Okay as you can see I haven’t been updating my blog for a few months now. There are a few reasons to this:

1. I quit my job, then traveled and volunteered abroad, mostly in Thailand, and yes I read your mind, there will be some blog posts related to my volunteering experience coming ‘soon’.

2. I’m back in my right-brained hobbies: making paper art, writing calligraphy, coloring the now-trending-adult-coloring book (yes I’m one of those people who color, so?).

3. I need motivation! There are already a few posts that are almost ready to post but my motivation is currently very dry and I cannot be bothered finishing them.

Okay I’m not going to lie, the last reason as well as laziness are probably my main problems right now. So fellow bloggers and writers out there, please help me keep motivated and tell me:

What keeps you motivated in updating your site even when you are busy and when your mind is distracted?

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Pattaya Field Surgery Trip

This is just the short version. The full story, day-by-day details, and more pictures of the trip can be viewed here.

On September 25, 2015 I went from Chiang Mai to Pattaya to volunteer with Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation and do free spay/neuter clinics for stray dogs and cats. 900 km covered in 15 hours car ride! I know it was such a long tiring trip, but you know, I can’t say no when it comes to helping animals. And after a hot shower, finally it was time to sleep. We had a queue stray dogs and cats to neuter the next day. Oh dear….

The next morning, we started quite late because we were so tired from the previous day’s long trip. Thanks to Neo from Pattaya Animal Coalition (PAC), the one who organized for this field spay and neuter program, for being so understanding and let us sleep an hour longer before a long surgery day!

We sterilized the tools by using Glutaraldehyde, which is known to be toxic, but is within our budget to spay and neuter over 300 stray animals. We used pet pads as disposable drapes. As you can see from the pictures, even the drugs we use are very basic too. For example, Nembutal is a dangerous drug which is no longer used to anesthetize animals but it’s commonly used to euthanize them.

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Surgical tools soaked in a solution of glutaraldehyde.

Disposable drape, cut from a pet pad.

Disposable drape, cut from a pet pad.


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Today’s site was a hidden animal shelter outside Pattaya. With two vets did the surgeries, who are an Australian vet and me, we managed to spay 9 female dogs and 3 male dogs in 6 hours of our first day. Subtotal: 12. Total: 12.

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Dr Renae from Australia is doing spay.

I was just starting the first spay of that day.

I’m just starting the first spay of that day.

The next day we did surgeries at a beautiful countryside house, which also serves as an animal shelter. The shelter houses at least 300 dogs,100 cats, and 1 cow.

Dr Renae and I are doing spay on the second day of the trip.

Dr Renae and I are doing spay on the second day of the trip.

The surgery started around 11 a.m and ended around 6 p.m. 2nd day: 9 male dogs and 13 bitches. Subtotal: 22. Total: 34.

On our third day, we did surgeries in an ordinary house located within a small village. I heard people came since 6 a.m in the morning to queue for the surgeries. It makes me happy to see how people care about the animals and want to get them fixed, even though they don’t have money. It’s probably my main reason why I volunteer to do these free spay and neuter clinics.

Namfon from Santisook is talking to villagers and pet owners, arranging the queue for surgeries.

Namfon from Santisook is talking to villagers and pet owners, arranging the queue for surgeries.

Dr Renae is doing the first spay of that day.

Dr Renae is doing the first spay of that day.

The 3rd day was the highlight of the trip! We did nearly 12 hours of surgeries, finished at 9.27 p.m and managed to neuter 3 male dogs, 10 bitches, 11 toms, 13 queens! Subtotal: 36. Total: 70.

On our 4th day we went to a Thai navy base. I’m glad to see that the government also contribute and show their care for stray dogs in this country. Just by seeing their hospital it gave me a big smile in the morning.

Finally, a better vet hospital facilities.

Finally, a better vet hospital facilities.

Everyone at the military base seemed to be curious of what we were doing and would like to watch closely. This, however, made me nervous and I felt that if I had done something wrong, they would have punished me for it!

Can you see my nervous face for being watched closely by the military staff? LOL.

Can you see my nervous face for being watched closely by the military staff? LOL.

4th day: 23 dogs and 1 bitch. Subtotal: 24. Total: 96.

The next day, we continued to neuter all dogs at the navy base. We did all the male dogs that day and wanted to continue by spaying all the bitches. Unfortunately, they did not mark the spayed bitches and mix all the spayed and intact bitches together. It is almost impossible for us to check the bitches one by one and try to find which one is spayed and which one is not.

Now let’s talk about the importance of ear notch. Every spayed females, be it dogs, cats, or other animal species, should be marked with ear notch or tattoo when they are spayed. This way we can distinguish them from the intacts and it makes a vet job a lot easier in the future.

Those lucky boys to have this cute vet scrubbed their balls with tender loving care (before cutting them off!).

Those lucky boys to have this cute vet scrubbed their balls with tender loving care (before cutting them off!).

5th day: 26 dogs and 3 bitches. Subtotal: 29. Total: 125.

On our last day, we decided to go back to the first day’s site and neuter all the cats and a few remaining intact dogs.

We had plenty of time today and I did some of the prep before surgeries.

We had plenty of time today and I did some of the prep before surgeries.

6th day: 4 bitches, 5 queens, and 10 toms. Subtotal: 19. Total: 144.

This was the last day of my trip. My back was paining terribly, my fingers have blisters from using scissors, artery clamps, and needle holders, my fingertips and fingernails were brown from touching glutaraldehyde. It was a tiring trip, but thinking about 2 vets, each did 46 hours of surgeries and neutered 144 animals altogether in 6 days, it gave me a feeling of accomplishment!

Here is a group shot for the full team! From left to right: Dr Vincent, Dr Liz, Dr Renae, Namfon, May (restaurant owner who treated us free dinner that night), Neo from PAC, Tong, Atinuch, and a staff from May's restaurant.

Here is a group shot for the full team!
From left to right: Dr Vincent, Dr Liz, Dr Renae, Namfon, May (restaurant owner who treated us free dinner that night), Neo from PAC, Tong, Atinuch, and a staff from May’s restaurant.

We already planned for our next trip to Pattaya or surrounding area around the end of this month. Excited!

If saving animal is your passion and you want to contribute to our spay/neuter clinics, check this crowdfunding campaign and spread the words!

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We’re celebrating World Rhino Day with BIG NEWS

This is a wonderful news on a World Rhino Day! Ratu and Andalas, the rhino couple at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, my previous work place, are expecting their second baby! Yay! Congrats Ratu and Andalas for the baby, and congrats Andatu for the little brother 🙂

The International Rhino Foundation Blog

We have BIG NEWS for World Rhino Day. Join us in welcoming our newest Team Rhino recruit — a new Sumatran rhino calf!

Pictured here is Ratu’s fetus is at 117 days old. In this stage of development, the fetus is much larger than an embryo. In the lower right corner of the image, you can clearly see the calf’s head. This is a profile view, and the circular dark spot is the fetus’ eye. To the left of the eye, you can see its nose and mouth. The new calf will be the second rhino born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park. Courtesy of Yayasan Badak Indonesia. Pictured here is Ratu’s fetus is at 117 days old. In this stage of development, the fetus is much larger than an embryo. In the lower right corner of the image, you can clearly see the calf’s head. This is a profile view, and the circular dark spot is the fetus’ eye. To the left of the eye, you can see its nose and mouth. The new calf will be the second rhino born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park. Courtesy of Yayasan Badak Indonesia.

Ratu — a rhino living at Indonesia’s Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary — is pregnant with her second calf! Our new recruit is a game changer — offering hope for the survival of critically endangered Sumatran rhinos.

Ratu’s calf…

View original post 590 more words

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Welcome Home, Harry!

A mixed of emotions came into my mind as I was reading the news about relocation of Harapan (Harry), the last Sumatran rhino currently lives in Cincinnati Zoo, to his natural habitat in Indonesia.

The extinct woolly rhino, closely related to Sumatran rhino. Source: dinopedia.wikia.com

The extinct woolly rhino, closely related to Sumatran rhino. Source: dinopedia.wikia.com

Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the only extant descendant of Ice Age woolly rhinos (Coelodonta antiquitatis) which is now faced with extinction due to habitat loss with 50% of the population disappear every 10 years – a very fast pace for a species to go into extinction. In 2015 it is estimated that there are only less than 100 wild individuals of Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, in heavily fragmented populations in Sumatra and (maybe) Borneo.

Earlier this week week, it is officially announced that Sumatran rhino is declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia. This is a very devastating moment for Sumatran rhino conservationists, and pressure is now put on Indonesia’s side to continue to preserve this species.

In captivity, there are currently nine Sumatran rhinos: three in Sabah, Malaysia; one in Cincinnati, which will leave for Indonesia soon; and five in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), Indonesia. There are two males in the SRS facilities and they are both related to Harry. Andalas, the only productive male in SRS for the time being, is Harry’s older brother, and Andatu, currently still 3 year old and is not sexually mature yet, is Andalas’ son and Harry’s nephew.

Even though Harry’s homecoming brings hope for the species, the gene pool of captive Sumatran rhinos are small and they all face inbreeding unless a new male Sumatran rhino is captured – a controversial idea remembering almost 90% of over 40 Sumatran rhinos that were captured in the 1990s died within the same year. But that was in 1990s, when very little information was known how to rear Sumatran rhinos in captivity, when nobody knew what they eat and ended up giving them wrong diets. Now everything has changed. Now we know there are over 200 plant species which are edible for Sumatran rhinos. Now we know the behavior of Sumatran rhinos in the wild. Now we know the breeding cycle of the Sumatran rhinos. And until today, there have been four Sumatran rhino calves born in captivity with the help of science and research.

Bina, the only survivor from the 1990s capture. She now lives in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia.

Bina, the only survivor from the 1990s capture. She now lives in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia. Photo courtesy: Eliza Jinata/Holiztic Vet.

Another alternative to enrich the gene pool is to involve Kretam (Tam), the male Sumatran rhino in Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) in Sabah, Malaysia, in captive breeding program, but until the political issues are put aside between the nations, this is not a solution in the meantime.

We are racing with time here, and I hope any political issues can be put aside to save this primitive species from extinction.