Volunteering in India inspired me to become a vet

Posted on July 04, 2016

Steph with dogs at WAG, GoaJust over 4 years ago, a combined love of animals and travel landed me in Goa, India. My plan was to help feed stray dogs, do some travelling, then return home to continue with my non-veterinary related career.

I decided to volunteer with Welfare for Animals in Goa (WAG) and within just 2 weeks, I realised my true life purpose was to become a vet. When I returned to London, I did everything I could to get into vet school so I could achieve my ultimate goal of being a charity vet in India.

Witnessing the extent of suffering that many animals endure in India was simply unacceptable to me. I was so deeply touched by the efforts of WAG to alleviate animal suffering whilst working towards long term goals of improving animal welfare throughout Goa.

My role at Welfare for Animals in Goa

Since my first trip, I have returned to WAG 5 times and been fortunate to get involved in a number of WAG’s initiatives, including:

Animal Birth Control (ABC) programmes

Steph treating a dog at WAG, GoaABC programmes are core to WAG’s work and I love being a part of them. I am involved in the strategic planning for humanely catching stray dogs and cats, assisting the vet with sterilisations, caring for the animals post-operation and then ensuring their safe and appropriate release. The work does not always go as smoothly as planned, particularly as some animals have their own ideas, but luckily with good teamwork and dedication we often get there in the end.

Rescuing injured and abandoned animals

On my first visit to WAG I helped the team rescue cats and dogs, however since then I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the rescue and care of many other species including cows, snakes, goats, horses, camels, turkeys, chickens, owls and civet cats. I often get upset at the terrible state of some of the animals and feel such disbelief at how certain injuries arise, however this makes me more determined and driven to promote the messages of WAG and improve animal welfare in India.

Rehoming rescued animals

Steph treating a cow at WAG, GoaI also help to ensure rescued animals are adopted to suitable, loving families. This is so rewarding as it not only saves the life of the animal, but also brings a new lease of life to many families who thrive on having a human-animal bond. Many adoptions are with local families who would not otherwise be able to afford a pet, but with the support of the charity, both the community and the animals’ lives are enriched.

A safe haven for cows

With an increasing population of street cattle, and a lack of government support and veterinary intervention for these animals, WAG has now opened a cow shelter housing 25 cows! Working with cows is magical. They can be very loving and also rather cheeky, but a lack of appropriate resources makes treating cows rather challenging in Goa. I am now working with the charity on a project to design a small cattle clinic to enhance treatment facilities whilst ensuring the safety of both people and cows.

Returning to Goa for EMS

An array of animal at WAG, GoaThis summer I will be back volunteering with WAG and also doing EMS in the clinic so that I can combine volunteering with enhancing my clinical and practical skills. WAG is still a small charity and relies heavily on donations and support in order to carry out its daily tasks.

BVA runs a book aid scheme which distributes donated veterinary books to charities and institutes abroad. On this trip I shall be taking some of these books with me to WAG, which will help them greatly as they currently have no clinical books. I imagine these will be welcomed with open arms!

BVA has also awarded me a student travel grant to complete a project in collaboration with WAG, focusing on enhancing animal welfare and the human-animal bond in a local village in Goa.

Fulfilling my dream to become a vet

Steph with a cow at WAG, GoaI have such gratitude for the opportunities that I have had which has lead me to a challenging yet rewarding position with regards to what I want to be doing in life. As a mature student, changing careers is not easy for many reasons, but I will never look back.

I am currently studying at the Royal Veterinary College where I have access to some of the best veterinary education, which will enable me to travel to developing countries and work with charities to enhance the welfare of animals. I feel deeply fulfilled with this line of work that is not only a career choice but a lifestyle choice that I am very passionate about.

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Steph PanayiotouWritten by Stephanie Panayiotou

BVA member and veterinary student at RVC

Stephanie changed careers in her late twenties in order to become a vet. Going into her 4th year at the RVC, Stephanie is more than half way through her training and between studies she travels frequently to India to partake in animal charity work. In addition to her commitment to enhancing animal welfare particularly in developing countries, Stephanie is also passionate about the integration of complementary medicine with conventional medicine with a focus on a preventative and holistic approach where possible.