Vets Beyond Borders help to save lives one animal at a time
Dr David Gray has been to India seven times with Vets Beyond Borders. (Supplied: Vets Beyond Borders)
Sydney vet David Gray has cared for his fair share of animals, but it was while on a mission to the Himalayas that he got to treat his first yak.
“Yaks are indigenous to the Himalayas and you occasionally see one that has been hit along the road,” he said.
“I treated it with antibiotics and treated the open wound.”
Dr Gray is the director of Vets Beyond Borders, the animal equivalent of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
The charity was founded by a group of veterinarians in 2003. It recruits volunteers to go to developing countries and vaccinate and desex animals, as well as train local vets and welfare groups.
A team visited Nepal following the 2015 earthquake and treated hundreds of wounded animals.
Humane population reduction
Dr Gray was most recently in Ladakh in northern India for three weeks where his team desexed and vaccinated around 200 dogs.
Their aim was to improve animal welfare and humanely reduce populations.
“It’s stressful having to catch the street dogs — others do that,” he said.
“Then it’s fairly intensive where you anaesthetise the dog, desex them, vaccinate them for rabies then release them back where you got them.
“Overall, the experience is very rewarding, knowing you are assisting these dogs which have a terrible life normally.”
As the town is located near the mountains, winter was particularly hard for wild donkeys due to a lack of food.
Dr Gray has treated many donkey foals suffering from dehydration and starvation.
Belief in reincarnation affects animal care
Dr Gray said it was important for welfare workers to be aware of cultural values and attitudes, particularly a community’s respect for certain animals.
Vets have previously treated goats and cows in Hindu communities, where cows are sacred.
While Western vets were accustomed to euthanasing animals that were injured or could not be cared for, the Buddhist and Hindu communities Vets Beyond Borders worked in had been “quite hostile” to the idea.
“Here [in Australia], the attitude has developed — animals have become a bit of a disposable item — but the Hindus and Buddhists find that idea quite hard to deal with.
“They believe in reincarnation.”
Training local vets
Educating local communities and vets is also a focus for the charity.
Wollongong vet Luke Michele visited the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in November for his first trip with the organisation.
He said the education standard for veterinary medicine in the country was low compared to Australia; the oldest vet he met was only aged in their 20s.
Educating local vets about vaccinations and limiting animal populations is a major focus for the charity. (Supplied: Vets Beyond Borders)
“There were some parts that were a bit confronting,” Dr Michele said.
“But there were aspects that we were surprised with like the clinic was quite a good standard.
“We were able to do a blood transfusion on a dog that had been poisoned there.
“To show them how to do that was great. They had never done one before.”
In addition to educating the vets, teaching locals about early intervention when their pet was sick was also key to helping the animals.
Encouraging vaccinations was important as rabies and parvovirus are widespread in the country.
Rabies is a deadly disease and one bite from an infected dog can be fatal.
Vets Beyond Borders also partners with organisations in Botswana, Samoa, Sardinia, Thailand and Vanuatu.