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Welcoming A (Not So) Tiny Girl Into This World

“I hope it’s going to be tonight, or tomorrow night.”

That’s what I kept on telling people whenever they asked when Ratu, the pregnant Sumatran rhino, would give birth. Based on calculation from Ratu’s gestation period of Andatu (Ratu’s first calf), she was due last week but there was still no obvious sign of when she would deliver the calf, so all we could do was to wait and see, apart from ultrasound-ing her every few days.

We didn’t sleep well in the last week, worried that Ratu would give birth any night and I had spent some nights going to bed at 2 a.m and waking up at 6.30 a.m only to monitor her condition. However, last week I had a hunch that she would give birth later that night so I took a nap. It was also an educated guess because she showed some behavioral change. So I took a two-hour nap hoping to see a Sumatran rhino calf that night, but unfortunately the pregnant mother changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby inside for a little bit more. That night, I couldn’t sleep and stayed awake watching a rhino sleep soundly through the night. Tricky girl!

Days went by, she was getting more and more restless, and so were we! We were hoping every single day that the calf would be born that night. I communicated with her and did a couple of BodyTalk sessions, only to find out that she did not feel safe with bright lights surrounding her forested enclosure (there were a couple of floodlights installed). I tried to address this issue but some of the staff insisted that the lights were needed. A couple of BodyTalk sessions really calmed her down though, and addressed some of her stress resulted from human’s fear.

Then yesterday, I got another hunch. This one was merely a hunch and there was no educated guess. I successfully took a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon (a piece of cake if you haven’t had enough sleep in the last 6 days) and thought if Ratu was not going to give birth that night or the following morning, I’d spend another sleepless night watching her sleeping and wallowing in the mud – the last thing I wanted to do that night. Well, it was around midnight and Ratu seemed to be restless and sleeping less, so I thought that was a good sign … before she slept again and there was no sign of labor (again! She tricked me twice, that girl!). I waited and waited and waited for almost 3 hours, and she was still sleeping. I started feeling frustrated because of the floodlights, I did not know why but I guess that was a mirror of Ratu’s frustration that I felt. At 3 a.m I was getting sleepy and finally decided to give up, but before going to bed I uploaded a silly picture/status on my Instagram, showing how frustrated I am waiting for Ratu’s calf every night.

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Just after the picture was uploaded, Ratu decided to wake up and walked around her enclosure. I decided to wait a little bit more, but she went behind a big tree and stayed there. It was dark (probably the darkest site where she could avoid the floodlights) and I could not see a thing. I was about to give up again when I heard report that her water broke and there were signs of first stage labor! I was so excited and all the sleepiness suddenly evaporated into thin air!

No words can describe how precious the moments are. From the moment when the calf’s hind legs emerged (it was posterior longitudinal presentation, video here), followed by her small body and head covered in hair, to the moment she started to stand up, fell, stood up again, until finally made her first few steps in this world!! Nature is incredibly amazing, especially when we see an animal birth, they just knew what to do from the very second they are born into this world, without being told or taught by anyone of what they should do. They just knew instinctively. Ratu did not touch her calf for the first couple of hours, and I guessed it was to encourage the calf to stand up and walk towards her to suckle. If she had approached the calf, the calf would not have tried to stand up and walk while it was vital for the calf to use her muscles immediately.

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Within less than an hour, the calf really did her best at standing up on her four feet for the first time. It took her less than an an hour and a half to start taking small baby steps, and within 3 hours after birth she had already started suckling. It was funny to see her sniffing Ratu’s belly randomly searching for the teats, not sure where to locate them.

Kudos to the new vet team at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary! Read more about the birth on IRF’s official press release here.

adinda suckle

So adorable.

So amazing.

So priceless.

Thank you Mother Earth. I hope we, the minority of humans, can continue to preserve the nature while the majority of us are destroying it, even though we are all guilty for that.

PS. I haven’t slept all night as I’m typing this post. Forgive me for a boring-and-not-so-lively story and awful grammar, but I do hope you enjoy the story 🙂

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The first wefie! I don’t want to disturb the 3 hours old calf so in this case a CCTV wefie works fine as well 🙂

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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.

santisook cat shelter

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.

santisook medical

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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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.

beach

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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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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9 Things Every Vet Will Experience

A while ago I posted some experiences being a wildlife vet. I think it’s unfair if I exclude the experiences working at small animal practices. So today I’m sharing my experiences from small animal vet point of view. Here are 9 things you’ll likely experience if you’re a vet:

1. You accidentally mix patient’s name and owner’s name. Yes, it’s a very common mistake that every one of us do. Sometimes the pet’s name is easy to recognize as an animal name, such as Brownie, Fluffy, Princess, but most of times their names are very similar to someone’s names, such as Troy, Alice, Simon, etc.

2. You are not a pervert but you touch animal bums hundreds times a week, thousands times a month. Ewww… I know it sounds gross but admit it, taking your patient’s temperature is one of the most common exam you have to do on a daily (if not hourly) basis.

rabbit butt

Come touch my cute butt! Source: pinterest.com

3. At first you might tremble when you do your first ever surgery, but as your skill improves after tens or hundreds of surgery, you now have a new hobby. Your itchy hands can’t stay away from scalpel and a day without surgery becomes a boring day.

4. When you see an animal with big protruding vein suddenly your mind says “What an easy vein to catheterize!” and when you see intact stray male dogs or cats your mind says “I’m gonna cut your balls!” I know for non vet readers it sounds crazy but trust me, it’s very normal for vets to say those things.

horse jugular vein

5. You become a detective, in some way. When you ask questions to your client regarding their pet’s health, don’t expect them to tell you the truth 100%. Instead, expect to play some detective game to see what they actually do to their pets.

6. You spend at least 6 years in vet school but ironically in your client’s mind your advice sometimes means nothing compared to those who come from pet shop owner. Moreover, your knowledge will be compared to Google, a LOT. Unfortunately a lot of misleading information is easily accessible from Google nowadays. Someone from engineer background writes an article about their own experience regarding their pet’s health and somehow it becomes a reference for your client to say your method is wrong.

vet vs cashier

7. You want the animals to be healthy, thus you are happy to see healthy animals, but hey life is a paradox. I know every vet has a favorite case and somehow you are glad to see an animal suffering from it. I have a friend who loves squeezing abscess and every time she has a patient who suffers from it she always exclaims happily “Yes, I love abscess!” I honestly don’t know which can make her happier: to see the animal heals quickly or to squeeze the pus every day for a month.

8. You are compassionate towards animals but have to be heartless sometimes. You love all your patients, but there are times when you have to put them in a deep peaceful sleep to end their pain. To say it personally, this is my weakest point.

9. There are quiet days, there are busy days. When you have no patients and have no work left to do, you complain about how boring your job is. Somehow someone hears you and within 3 minutes sends an emergency to your clinic. When you are busy scrubbing your hands for emergency surgery, another emergency comes in. Be careful of what you wish for.

Does anyone have interesting vet-related experience that you think we should know? It doesn’t matter if you are an experienced vet, a fresh graduated vet or even a future vet, you are more than welcome to share your experience by commenting below.

being a vet liz

 

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Freshly pressed! Freshly attacked!

So after two years working with peafowls finally today I got my FIRST peacock attack. Really? Can they attack? Of course! All animals have defense mechanism. With this particular peacock, he flew and kicked me in the air! Though I did not do anything to the peacock today, somehow he hated me and attacked me, not only once but twice!

Peacock attack.jpg

Even after the second attack he still made the third and fourth attempt to attack me. Maybe he hated my shirt color, maybe he knew I’m a vet, maybe he knew I would inject one of his friends, or maybe it was just breeding season aggressiveness.

As a bonus for reading this post, here’s a video of me, but without my face in it, checking and injecting a sick peacock. Enjoy!

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Off Day = Bear Surgery Day

It’s been a week since I gave training for police officers during my off day. I thought this week I could finally relax and have some me-time for one whole day but apparently I was wrong. One of the bears at our rescue center was badly injured and needed immediate treatment. So how could I say no when a bear was in great pain?

Thanks God the storm had stopped the night before so we could start the surgery in a sunny morning. It had been a while since I last did field surgery. Even though field surgery is not an ideal situation for surgery because of the lack of cleanliness and sterility, but I kind of missed it. I like the whole process is shone by the sun instead of surgery lamp. I like when the cool breeze blows instead of air conditioner. I enjoy the view of grass and trees and flowers in the background instead of cold surgery room wall. Overall, I feel more relaxed when I do surgery in the field than in the surgery room.

outdoor bear surgery

I’m not going into the details of the surgery. Long story short, the bear was darted successfully but it took a second anaesthetic dose to knock her down completely because I underestimated her body weight (Dear bear, it’s a compliment. I think you are slim but sorry, the truth is painful, you are fatter than I thought).

Once everything was set, I examined the wounds carefully. Her right hand was not too bad. There was only one cut that needed a few stitches. I examined her left paw and inhaled deeply. One of her fingers was exposed and I could see broken bone sticking out. I said sorry to the bear because I had to amputate the finger. I imagined the whole nasty process of debridement and amputation that I had to do, and silently asked myself, “Why did I become a wildlife vet?”

Dorsal part of the bear's paw. Trust me you don't wanna see the ventral part.

Ventral part of the bear’s paw. Trust me you don’t wanna see the dorsal part.

During the whole process two people almost passed out. One almost fainted because he saw blood and flesh and bone. The other one felt dizzy because it had passed our lunch time but the surgery was still ongoing. I was hungry and tired too, but of course I couldn’t stop halfway. Again, at that point I asked myself “Why did I become a vet?”

As I was bandaging the bear’s paws, I felt so relieved and happy at the same time that I had saved this bear today. As I saw the bear waking up from her deep sleep, I smiled to myself and answered my own question “Because I want to see the animals healthy and happy.”

bitey surgery

Another off day is gone as I’m typing this post, but I’m glad that I lost it for a good cause. Get well soon my dear Bitey. Now that you’re awake it’s time for me to sleep.