An animal science student spent a month in Thailand gaining hands-on experience working with veterinarians and helping animals that ranged from exotic jungle creatures to domestic cats.
Nicole Killigrew traveled to Thailand with a small team from Loop Abroad, a Boston-based program that gives high school and college students a chance to explore global issues and possible careers in conservation.
“My sister studied abroad for a semester and loved it,” Killigrew says. “So I did some research on study-abroad programs for pre-vet students, and came across Loop. I had never been to Southeast Asia, so I thought Thailand would be perfect. That is where Loop operates from, so it just seemed right.”
Killigrew wanted to get hands-on experience and learn different ways of practicing veterinary medicine from the veterinarian assigned to her group and the Thai veterinarians and vet techs.
Her team spent a week giving volunteer care at a dog shelter in Chiang Mai. The shelter is home to more than 100 dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten or abused. The dogs can be adopted or stay in the shelter for the rest of their lives.
The students provided checkups and cleanings, diagnosed and treated ear and eye problems, took blood samples and tested them, administered vaccines, cleaned and treated wounds and helped with sterilization surgeries. The students got to do daily eye treatments to about 25 dogs, administer fluids, and assist Thai veterinarians by restraining animals.
“We learned about some of the different parasites that can affect dogs and cats — the signs, symptoms and treatment — how to use fecal floats and slides to look for parasites, how to place IV catheters and how to draw blood,” Killigrew says.
Along the way, the students also got to experience Thai culture.
“The people are very kind and respectful. Most Thai people practice Buddhism, so we learned about a new religion and got to practice their ways of meditation,” Killigrew says.
The team then spent one week at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand to work with the animals and learn about animal rescue and conservation. The park is home to more than 60 elephants who have been rescued from trekking, logging or forced breeding programs. Many of them were abused and suffer from chronic injuries.
Volunteers from all over the world come to care, feed and bathe the elephants and learn about their conditions alongside a veterinarian. They also care for rabbits, water buffalo, and other animals that call the park home.
Killigrew and two of her teammates chose to stay on for another two weeks at the elephant park after their team had completed its stay.
“I traveled so far to get to Thailand, why not make the most of it and do all that I can while I’m there, because who knows when I’ll be going back?” she says. “It also gave me an opportunity to give more. There’s a lot that needs to be done at the Elephant Nature Park.”
Before the trip, Killigrew had questioned whether she could complete another year of undergraduate studies and four more for veterinary school.
“But I know this is what I want to do now,” she says. “It may not be easy, but I believe I can do it. I have a passion for animal healthcare, and I want to pursue it more than ever now.”