Two Weeks Learning to be a Vet

I meant to write this when my students left at the end of January. Then I broke my foot and got distracted.

For 2 weeks in January I was the trip leader for another student group. Unlike over the summer, this group was pre-vet. All of the students want to go to veterinary school someday. You’d be correct in thinking I know nothing about veterinary medicine. Dogs are cute, cats are tolerable, but I wouldn’t call myself a passionate animal lover. I have nothing to offer in the classroom, but I can keep students healthy (mostly) and happy, keep them from getting lost (stop laughing dad), and share what I’ve learned about Thailand so far.

We spent the first week at Animal Rescue Kingdom (ARK), a dog shelter just outside Chiang Mai. The students learned about dog medicine, so I learned about dog medicine too. Good thing I like dogs Great thing I’m not super squeamish. Blood and guts are ok, but I don’t like creepy crawlies. I felt a bit better when I learned fleas and ticks don’t generally jump from dogs to people. Rabies though, rabies is scary. Did you know that the only way to say with 100% certainty that an animal or person has rabies, is to cut out its brain. Some signs that a person or animal has rabies are that they like biting everyone and everything, and they are afraid of water. I learned so much at ARK!

Here are some things I learned:
I learned about dog and cat anatomy, fleas, ticks, tapeworms, and mites. I learned about syringes and drawing blood. I learned how to give a dog a physical exam and I listened to a dog’s heartbeat with a stethoscope. I learned a special technique for putting on sterile gloves. And I now know how to scrub in for surgery.

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We visited a village nearby with a litter of puppies. I helped weigh and vaccinate a puppy, and gave her a flea bath. She was so, so, so, so little and fluffy and wiggly. I named her wine deng, which means red wine. It was the first Thai word that popped into my head.

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I also watched some spay and neuter surgeries. That’s not something I ever thought I would say. It was pretty cool actually. My students gave me a pig heart to hold before they started dissecting it.

All things I never thought I’d ever need or want to know or see.

Most of my coworkers and the other students over the summer either were vets, or were in vet school, or were hoping to go to vet school soon. From what I’ve heard vet school is really competitive getting in, and even harder once you’re there. I recently learned that veterinarians have the highest rate of suicide compared to other occupations. Being a veterinarian is hard work. You need a special passion for animals that not everyone has. And still people ask vets why they’re not “real” doctors. So if you don’t treat people you’re less of a doctor? At least people can tell you where it hurts. And people are less likely to bite you just for trying to help. The vets I’ve met are pretty incredible.

We spent week 2 at Elephant Nature Park. This was my 6th week at ENP. Baby Dok Rak is getting so big. When I said hi to Memphis the dog he licked my face. I’ve decided that means he remembers me. Silly, senile, lovable, dope.

In case you’re wondering, hanging out with elephants doesn’t get less exciting.

I watched a beautiful sunrise the first morning. Since it’s not rainy season this time the sky is clearer, which meant great star gazing!

This time at ENP was different. I went on vet rounds with the students. I spent a lot of time at the dog clinic. There are over 400 dogs at ENP. My favorite part was spending time with the 70 dogs that were rescued from a puppy mill the week before. Most of these dogs are miniatures. We went into the pen and there are itty bitty pup running around yapping like crazy. Normally, I’m not a fan of little dogs, but it was hard not to love these little ones. We spent a good amount of time herding them. We had to catch them to give them medicine. They may be small but they move fast, and there isn’t enough of them to grab onto.

I bonded with one in particular. Her name is Chianti. Yes, I know, there seems to be a theme with wine and dogs, but I did not name her Chianti. I think she is some kind of shih tzu. She has a tuft of hair right above her eyes that sticks out like feathers, which can be styled like a mohawk. Once I caught her, I had to hold her for a while until it was her turn for medicine. She seemed quite content in my arms. Or, she had resigned herself to her fate. Either way, we’re pals now.

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When I went on rounds with the elephant vet we didn’t just check on the elephants. We went to see the horses, a goat, and a baby water buffalo too. There are some elephants with wounds on their feet that need to be cleaned every day. Even though Thailand made logging illegal in the ’80s, logging continues near the border with Burma. The use of elephants to pull the logs out of the jungle also continues. After years of conflict along the border, there are a lot of landmines out there. Several elephants at ENP have injuries from stepping on landmines while being forced to work in the illegal logging industry. I looked on while the students cleaned and medicated these wounds for our elefriends. The elephants didn’t seem to mind as long as we didn’t run out of watermelon.

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Even though I spent a good amount of time during these 2 weeks feeling useless because I know nothing about veterinary medicine, I had a good time. I learned a lot, got to share what I do know with some very lovely students, and caught up with my elephant friends at ENP.

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