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With the season of giving upon us, many people are reaching out to help those less fortunate. Members of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) do this throughout the year by volunteering their time knowledge in developing countries and impoverished parts of the United States.

These trips, with the mission of helping those in less fortunate situations, go hand in hand with the One Health concept of human and animal health being interconnected. WVMA Member, Dr. Judy Batker has volunteered on many mission trips to other countries and within the U.S.

"The animals treated, whether they be food animals or equine are often heavily depended on by the family," she says. "They are often their only source of income or transportation. Studies have been done showing the health of families directly correlates with the health of their livestock and equids."

There are several organizations in the U.S. that involve veterinary medical work including Christian Veterinary Mission, World Vets, Equitarian Initiative, and Vida. Each of these organizations vary with their goals, but the work they perform and the roles volunteers have.

Many organizations have roles for non-veterinarians, but space may be limited to those within the veterinary medical field due to limited transportation in the countries limited.

"Vehicles often need to be "rented" and this is one of the bigger expenses for many of the projects," says Dr. Batker. "Everyone in the vehicle needs to be very useful to the project's goals."

Whether you are interested in helping companion animals, food animals or equine, Dr. Batker believes volunteering in developing countries can be a life changing experience and recommends that anyone interested in participating in a trip should talk with someone who has volunteered before.

"Using one's knowledge and abilities on individual animals that are depended on so heavily by a family is powerful," she says. "Being able to perform lifesaving surgeries or procedures is extremely rewarding, especially knowing that in many cases these procedures would have never been possible without you."

According to Dr. Batker, educating the local veterinarian is one of the best ways to have a lasting impact on the area.

"Making a sustainable, positive impact is so important," she says. "Since many volunteer trips are only a week, it is sometimes difficult to make sustainable impacts. Collaborating with "in country" veterinarians or other leaders is of paramount importance."

Beyond the reward of teaching people and seeing progress in communities, Dr. Batker finds building relationships and friendships with local people to be very gratifying.

Volunteer veterinary work can also be beneficial to the veterinarian's local community by hosting fundraisers to raise awareness while offering people a way to be involved.

"Clients greatly enjoy hearing about this work and often want to donate to the project and support the work of their veterinarian," she says. "Many people are unaware of the great monetary importance of individual animals to impoverished families. They are often passionate and creative about finding ways to help a project reach its goals."

Many veterinarians also volunteer to help after natural disasters and play an important role helping affected areas to recover.

"Volunteering is a richly rewarding service for the veterinarian taking part as well as a great opportunity to "give back" to the animals we care for," Dr. Batker states.

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Madison, WI 53718
Phone: (608) 257-3665
Fax: (608) 257-8989
Email: wvma@wvma.org

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