SPCA New Zealand

World Veterinary Day - A glance at life as an SPCA vet

23 April 2021
World Veterinary Day - A glance at life as an SPCA vet

The gloves and vet cap are on, stethoscope at the ready, and a plethora of medications prepared. No two days are quite the same for an SPCA Veterinarian.

SPCA has teams of vets and vet nurses in hospital units in our larger SPCA Centres across the country, as well as many vet clinics supporting our smaller SPCA Centres. Our vets play a vital role in helping animals who are sick and injured.

In honour of World Veterinary Day on Saturday April 24, we’re taking you behind the scenes and introducing you to three SPCA vets who are committed to helping animals in need.

Annalisa Pope – Head of Veterinary Services at SPCA’s Christchurch Centre

Can you tell us about your role and what is involved?

No two days are the same in any veterinary job, but a specific day for me might go; Check incoming animals transferred from the after-hours clinic, do scheduled ‘foster’ appointments, perform surgeries, assess and treat incoming animals and emergency cases brought in by the ambulance (these animals need to be assessed immediately), and check and treat cases throughout the centre. There are important meetings scattered throughout my day which can involve consulting/discussing cases with other team managers, and setting/discussing protocols for the centre. I also take care of all the extra things the vet clinic needs to be able to continue functioning as a well-oiled and efficient machine, and that my team of vets and nurses have their needs and concerns met.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Not being able to fix everything! Some terrible ailments/injuries just cannot be fixed, and the only possible treatment is euthanasia, which is an emotionally charged event for everyone involved. This is the hardest part of being a vet, but also a very important part of how we are able to help an animal by relieving its pain and suffering.

It is also frustrating not being able to get the appropriate justice an animal deserves after a person has treated them despicably. There are so many shocking cases where animals have been so badly mistreated at the hands of people. But sadly, we have to act within the law, and prosecutions often aren’t in the best interest of the animal, or SPCA. But, being able to treat these neglected or abused animals, and nurse them back to health is an incredible part of the job. It shows the true resilience of animals and that with human intervention, they are able to thrive when given the chance in a caring environment.

Another very difficult part of my job is not adopting all the animals!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?

‘Shelter-life’ is very different to general veterinary practice – so I would recommend researching shelter-medicine, volunteering in a shelter, and just generally getting involved in this facet first.

But in general, expect the unexpected! Every single day is different, and even after 14 years practising as a vet, I still regularly see cases I have never come across before, and need to study up on rarer diseases or surgeries before being able to diagnose and treat effectively in a way that is best for the patient (and for its future owner).

Also, shelter-vet-life involves a huge number of animals needing consulting and surgery, exponentially more than in general practice. So, hone in on your efficiency, your problem-solving skills, and try to be inventive with how you can treat an animal best on a budget.

What do you wish the public knew about what you do?

We take euthanasia very seriously and it’s always the last option. We do what we truly feel is best for the animal, and if it can be treated, with a good prognosis for a happy future in a new forever home, we will do whatever we can do to make that happen.

The SPCA is here for the vulnerable animals so we can’t just accept all animals the general public finds. We have limited capacity and at certain times of the year we can only accept those that really need the help – those that are sick and injured. Also, SPCA is unfortunately very limited in what they can do within the confines of the law.

Something that would make our role so much easier too, is if all animal owners microchipped their pets, and updated their details when they changed, we could reunite so many more animals with their humans.

Aoife Cannon – Head Veterinarian at SPCA’s Auckland Centre

Can you tell us about your role and what is involved?

I lead the vet team here at the Auckland Centre as we provide veterinary care for Auckland’s stray sick, injured and vulnerable animals. We also support the Auckland SPCA Inspectorate team in providing veterinary care for animals that are the victims of abuse.

What is your favourite part of your job?

It is very easy to find satisfaction in the work we do. I think if I have to pick a favourite part, it would be getting to work with the amazing people at Auckland SPCA. We have a great team here and I am forever impressed at the levels of dedication and selflessness shown by the staff and volunteers alike. Like many workplaces, this has been a particularly challenging year and we have all been pushed to the brink at times. In spite of there is never a shortage of friendly faces and kindness to be found for those who need it.

What is one memory that will always stand out to you?

One memory that really sticks with me is showing up to work on Christmas Day and having volunteers and staff who were not rostered on showing up as they would any normal day. When I asked what they were doing, they replied they wouldn’t rather be anywhere else or simply they knew they were needed. This really moved me and it shows the never-ending commitment to the animals from our wonderful staff and volunteers.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?

I am one of those incredibly lucky few that can honestly say I am doing the job I dreamed of when I was five years old playing with a toy stethoscope and setting up “Snail Hospitals” in my garden. However, while I may have found my calling it really is not for everybody. Its challenging, mentally and physically. Sadly, a high proportion of vets are now leaving the profession within the first five years after qualifying. I think most people would find it surprising that a huge part of the job is dealing with people not animals. Also, while there is some kitten cuddling every now and then most of the patients we deal with are sick, in pain and scared. A love for animals is a must but it is not enough. It also is not a career to pursue if you want to get rich. That said if you can stick it out it can be incredibly rewarding.

What do you wish the public knew about what you do?

I think the public often don’t realise the huge emotional strain put on our staff everyday. While we are lucky to see amazing success stories and animal transformations and this is what keeps us going, we also regularly deal with cases of unimaginable cruelty and suffering. All too often I find myself shocked by the aggressive manner in which our reception staff are treated by members of the public in person and over the phone. I wish people could see how hard these people work and how much passion they put into their job. I understand that often these members of public are stressed or frustrated but I would ask everyone to please “Be Kind” as we are all doing the best we can.

One common misconception I see from the public is that because we have only a small number of animals up for adoption at times, we must not be busy. What people don't see is that behind the scenes, we have hundreds of sick and injured animals all year round being cared for tirelessly by our nurses, animal care staff and volunteers that often take weeks or months of care to be adoption ready.

Sylvia Whiting – Veterinarian at SPCA’s Wellington Centre

Can you tell me about your role and what is involved?

A typical day involves assessing the animals who arrive at the Centre, deciding on the appropriate treatment and plan for them, then carrying out these treatments and plans. Depending on the needs of the animal they may require anything from basic flea and worm treatment to quite a complicated surgery. As vets we are constantly checking the animals in our care to ensure they are responding to treatment and trying to give them the best possible outcome.

As well as the work we do with the shelter animals, here at our Wellington Centre we are also unique and have the resource and facilities to run a private practice where we also see client animals and provide them with veterinary treatment.

What is the hardest part of your job?

We do our best for the animals and sometimes that means making the difficult decision to end their suffering and it can be very emotionally draining to deal with the grief of everyone involved. The bond between an animal and its humans are really strong. But I am also grateful that we have this ability to take away an animal's suffering. In a lot of cases, it really is the best outcome for the animal – as hard and heartbreaking as it can be.

What is one memory that will always stand out to you?

It’s hard to pick just one, there are lots of strong memories from my first year, some good and some bad. A really happy one is my first protective custody case, where a dog was rescued by SPCA from her owners. When this dog came to us, she was so skinny and emaciated, and her owners had not been providing her with enough food. She was a lovely dog who was in SPCA’s care for a while and when she finally came back to the Centre to be adopted, I almost didn't recognise her - she looked so good!

What do you wish the public knew about what you do?

I wish they could see just how full and busy our hospital is, especially at this time of year, then maybe people would understand we do the best we can with the resources and time we have. Everyone I work with is so hardworking and passionate about what they do. The hours and dedication that staff, volunteers and fosters put into this organisation is amazing.

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