In the second part of my three part blog about South Africa I am going to explain my second two weeks of my five week venture in the Eastern Cape. These last two weeks were some of the most fulfilling and eye opening days of my life. Learning and helping and experiencing things I would have never done otherwise. I did IV injections in dogs and prepped them for spaying and neutering as well as treat them for ticks and fleas and emaciation (more or less starvation), treated livestock including sheep, goats, and cows that needed hoof trimmings or antibiotics or anything in between, and one of the most fulfilling things I did was teaching township kids about proper animal care.
These two weeks gave me a lot of experience with animals in a way that isn’t really possible in the states. This is because in these townships and villages in South Africa, vets don’t really exist, at least where we were. So students like me come and do what we can to treat the animals when and where possible. We get direct hands-on work with these animals and there isn’t any fluffing it. You are in these places that sometimes don’t have electricity or running water in their homes, which are typically just one room shacks built with very rudimentary materials like sheets of metal (these are villages). Townships have running water and electricity but are still small houses and the people there typically don’t make very much money, let alone money to take care of their animals by a vet. So this program does this work for free, the students pay for the medication through program fees, allowing these animals to be treated and better nourished.
Like I said above, one of the things I got to do was treat livestock. On days that we did this we would arrive early before the villagers let out their animals to graze so that we wouldn’t be left to chase them out in an open field. We always brought a veterinarians toolkit, full of medical supplies including antibiotics, clippers, immune system boosters, and a variety of other equipment so we could be prepared for anything. Typically, however, it was very procedural. A group of five of us or so would walk into a pen of 20-30 goats or sheep, chase them until we got one, laid them on their side, injected them with an immune system booster through an intramuscular (IM) injection, clipped their hooves, and sprayed their hooves for ticks and fleas. Basic but important work for the animals since it prevented death and sickness and diseases that could hurt the quality of living in the herd. In a day we would do anywhere from 50-200 animals like this, walking around to different families and doing our work on their livestock. Cattle were similar but we never did anything with hooves.
Sometimes we would have people who lived in these villages that knew us well and would gather information from village families that needed our assistance in particular cases. In one case, a family had a cow that had an enormous abscess on its right shoulder. Once the cow was eventually laid on the ground for us to approach properly we opened it and cleaned it (it was disgusting and smelled of rotten eggs). Imagine a pimple the size of a teenagers fist… Things like that, even if they were gross, were also really cool. How many people get to do that kind of thing? Even in the states, if you are aspiring to be a vet, getting the ability to do something like that is impossible. We also got to artificially inseminate pigs, again, something I would have never imagined I would get to do elsewhere.
Aside from the livestock was my favorite part of these two weeks, the dogs. Obviously dogs are amazing everywhere you go. But these dogs especially are something else. They are typically kind, playful, friendly, but almost always on the verge of starving or covered in fleas and ticks that could make them sick with things like heartwater (a neurological disease spread by ticks commonly found in the area). It was depressing to watch but warming to know that what we did could make a difference. In the townships and villages we would gather puppies and dogs for frequent tick baths and inspections, deworming so the puppies don’t get mange, like the one I am trying to kiss for example). But probably one of the best experiences with the dogs I had was through simple spaying and neutering of dogs. This was the most hands on veterinary work we got to do. We prepped dogs for procedures, meaning we injected them through IV injections of sedatives, shaved and cleaned the operating area, and observed the surgeries as well as observing the dogs afterwards to make sure they wake up okay (pictured below). IV injections are intimidating as well as exhilarating to do, I got to do two in total on the dogs. I loved doing this because it was important for the overall livelihood of dogs in the villages. The less that were breeding, the better. It was really fun and captivating work that I learned a lot from just in a few days worth of work.
Not only did we treat the dogs, but we also taught the kids in the areas about proper care of their dogs. Because of the lack of knowledge and culture differences in some of these areas that don’t have proper schooling, many kids and adults don’t know how to properly care for their pets. My group had the opportunity to talk to a group of kids ranging from 4 years to 14 years old. We made posters and showed examples of proper animal care. After our talk, I asked if the kids had any questions. And the first question that a kid asked was “How can we help this dog?” and he pointed to an emaciated dog (starving to the point where you can see the bones, look it up, it is pretty disturbing, but unfortunately a common occurrence around there). It was one of the most memorable and unforgettable moments in my life. A sudden rush of hope and optimism and love swooped over me. We taught and reiterated proper care and techniques to all the kids to help save the dog, and they instantly started at work. They got some food and water from the soup kitchen, and checked for ticks and fleas on his body. It showed how much the people wanted to help, but how they just didn’t know what to do to help, and if they had any more questions, they would come and ask us when we came back (we were at that township often). It was a very emotional afternoon after that for me to say the least.
This was the basics of those two weeks. Some days were very similar to one another, others were different. We did dissections on corpses, we went to vet clinics, we went to reptile enclosures and much more, but the community work was more important and fulfilling to me than anything else. It was amazing to see differences in animals and the sincerity in people for what we did for their animals and families. Without a doubt it was the most rewarding work I have done in my life thus far, and I can’t wait to do more like it. The next blog will be about all of the touristy and ‘after work’ activities that I did!
(Also! LSA Opportunity Hub did a photo shoot of me and interviewed me, its here! https://lsa.umich.edu/opportunityhub/news-events/all-news/search-news/internship-season-is-here/michael-rader.html)