Veterinary hospitals around the world, especially in under-developed countries, are in desperate need of help and volunteers. I have been incredibly lucky with being able to travel in regards to veterinary medicine and animal welfare. When I was a student, I coordinated with multiple veterinary and animal organizations around the world that taught me so much about how other veterinary hospitals around the world run and their process in helping animals. If you are motivated enough, you can do what you love and enrich your life with these experiences.
Where have you volunteered?
Prior to arriving in Costa Rica, I was looking for an internship and reached out to the owner at Rescue Center Costa Rica in Alajuela, after doing thorough research online. We discussed for weeks what I could offer them and how we could approach this as an internship, which they were willing to do. However, I got word that I was accepted to pursue an internship in Texas. I still wanted to go to Costa Rica and visit the rescue center and help their veterinary hospital, so I booked my flights.
As soon as I arrived in Costa Rica, they had a driver waiting for me, and they brought me to a facility where I bunked with multiple different people from all over the world, whom I am still close with. Because of my background in Veterinary Medicine and my CVPM (Certified Veterinary Practice Manager), I worked as a veterinary practice consultant and overseen their hospital while I was there, and I got to assist with all the animals as well.
It was hard work! It made me realize how valuable volunteers are and how bad they are needed. My time at the facility included monitoring the practice as well as waking up every two hours throughout the night to feed the baby owls and other birds, check on the baby sloths, as well as the nocturnal animals we had in. It was an incredible experience, and while it was all volunteer and unpaid work, I walked away with so much knowledge that I have been able to incorporate in my work.
Prior to my arrival in Thailand, I had organized a stay at Elephant Nature Park. I have always been fascinated with elephants, and I did thorough research on where I wanted to pursue my interest. It is extremely difficult to find ethical places in Thailand that respect elephants and don’t use them for tourism purposes.
Lek Chailert is the founder of Elephant Nature Park, and she was absolutely incredible and truly was an “elephant whisperer.” Lek was honored in Time Magazine’s Heroes of Asia and Ford Foundation’s “Hero of the Planet” in 2001, so to be able to connect with someone so extraordinary was a very special moment to me. I learned so much about her mission and the elephants she had at her facility. She had seventy elephants grazing upon her facility that she had rescued herself, and it was made clear that we were to respect them. This was something I could absolutely support.
As a large animal sports therapy student at the time, I was able to study elephants with physical injuries and design rehabilitation schedules for them.
After my time with the elephants, I wanted to do some research on sharks. I coordinated with a program in Krabi and spent a few days assisting their researchers and helping set up information sessions for tourists. I even got to swim with them!
I volunteered as an equine sports therapist for a close friend’s family operated show jumping facility in Stade, Germany. I used my resources and connections to make this happen. During my time with them, I got to assist them at horse-shows working on their sport horses beside the on-site veterinarians.
Following Germany, I used connections made through a friend back home to travel to Billund, Denmark. Through her, I was able to coordinate with her friend that had a daughter who rode at Billund Sportsrideklub. She had spoken to the manager of the facility, and he agreed to have me volunteer for a few weeks as an equine sports therapist beside their facilities veterinarian. I was asked to put on an equine sports therapy seminar and teach others the anatomy and benefits of sports therapy and why I do what I do, with multiple veterinarians working with me and supporting me.
The payback for doing volunteer work is indescribable and makes it so completely worth it. I remember my friend receiving a call from the owner at Billund Sportsrideklub. He thanked her for inviting me out and was thrilled with the results he saw in his horses from the work I was doing. This was such a proud moment for me, and I couldn’t have done it without my friends and the veterinarians that had believed in me and my passion for animal welfare and veterinary medicine.
Most memorable or touching experience?
It’s hard to pick just one!
A cool experience I had was learning how to shoot a tranquilizer gun in Costa Rica! We had a neighbor’s monkey come into the grounds and was harassing all of our animals we had on-site. It was jumping from tree to tree and agitating the sick patients, so one of the veterinarians brought three other girls and me out to the jungle to practice shooting! When we got back later, the veterinarian was able to tranquilize the monkey and safely return him home.
A more emotional experience I had was with an elephant who had feet deformities due to being chained up to her mother when she was young. Multiple different owners had abused her and her life had only known pain. I connected with her on a profound level. Even after all her suffering due to the hands of humans, she was kind and patient. She is the reason I have a deep level of respect for elephants. We should all aspire to be what she is.
How do you go about volunteering?
- Be proactive
- Do your research
- Look at reviews
Make sure it’s an ethical place that is truly there for the animals and not for monetary reasons.
Google is amazing! I also have had a lot of friends travel to areas that I planned to visit, and they told me about their negative experiences with certain companies. I avoided those and sought out facilities that were honest about ethical practices.
Another way is to reach out to facilities, even if they are not advertising! The worst thing someone can say is “no,” but I have never received anything but excitement from facilities around the world. They need help – and if you show them that you stand by what their vision is, then they will accommodate you and welcome you with open arms.
Cost of Volunteering Breakdown
Below is the cost breakdown of how much it cost me to volunteer abroad. Because you are volunteering in under-developed countries, some rely on labor and financial help. Costs do not show travel and flight expenses but solely the cost of stay at each facility.
$40/day for two weeks. Covered food and stay and I got a couple of days off to explore every week.
Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai (2017) * Keep in mind their policies and cost have changed.
$1000.00 + USD for a month. This covered food and stay.
Denmark & Germany
$0.00. My stay and food were covered for the month.
Where do you plan on volunteering next?
Right now, I have a trip planned to Belize, and I’m hoping to volunteer with a hospital for a few days!
Other places include:
Africa, for sure. I just read the Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony, as well as An African Love Story by Daphne Sheldrick. I would love to visit Lawrence Anthony’s wife in Zululand, and the Daphne Sheldrick Trust Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya.
Other places are the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, Madagascar, Greece, etc!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Kuster is a veterinary practice management professional sharing her passion and knowledge in veterinary medicine, management, and animal welfare!