I have always loved animals. As a baby I reached out to any cat or dog that was willing to let me pet them. As a toddler I was inseparable from my grandma’s golden retriever named Mischty. I wrote a thousand and one letters to my parents until I was granted permission to get my first pet. When I was old enough to become aware of the fact that one day I would grow up and have a job, I quickly decided that I would be an animal doctor. At some point I realized that an animal doctor is actually a veterinarian, and so at the age of five, my developing one-track mind decided on my first major life goal.
Fast forward many years, and many animal-related experiences, and I found myself graduating from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. I was lucky enough to join Central Veterinary Services, where I had spent so many years volunteering first and then working as a hospital assistant and veterinary student. The next couple of years were a bit of a blur and a grind, as can be expected in your first few years out of school. Once things settled, as much as they could in this ever-changing career, I started to step back and think about my goals. My main goal for so long had to become a veterinarian. Check. My next goal was to become an excellent veterinarian. This is always a work in progress, and will continue to be my career-long goal. But I started to realize that I wanted to use my expertise and enthusiasm to give back to the community. I wanted to give back to the animals and to the people who consider these animals family. It was shortly after this that I found myself responding to an email from Save A Dog Network as they were looking for a volunteer veterinarian to help them deliver veterinary care to remote communities in Manitoba.
Fast forward a few more years, and I have had the distinct honour to travel to many remote communities in Manitoba, some only accessible by airplane, winter road or ferry. I have been invited into communities with open arms, sometimes as the first veterinarian to ever set foot in their town or reserve. I have spayed and neutered dogs and cats in gymnasiums and rec halls. I have travelled from home to home, each time being invited in with offers of warmth and camaraderie, as I do house calls for those who cannot attend the community events. The experiences have brought about the expected – sick dogs saved, orphaned puppies delivered into foster care, vaccines administered. And the unexpected – invitations into the inner circle of Manitoba communities and long-lasting friendships.
This was it. This was what I was looking for when I went to vet school. As I left the realm of “new graduate”, I found a new level of comfort and confidence that allowed me to explore my passion for veterinary volunteerism further. I started involving myself in project after project, including becoming a board member of the Winnipeg, Humane Society, travelling with Save a Dog Network for remote clinics, Community Veterinary Outreach, Cat Advocacy Rescue and Education surgery events, and the Hudson Bay Quest to name a few. I have even branched out, and in an effort to attempt to take a “holiday”, I have travelled once yearly to Mexico for a five day long spay and neuter campaign with Isla Animals. I call it a “Spay-cation.” My husband calls it ……something else, and happily volunteers alongside me.
One comment that I hear from my fellow veterinarians, co-workers, friends and clients (aside from them saying I am both ambitious and crazy in the same sentence), is that they didn’t know so many opportunities exist and they don’t know how to get involved. This really got me thinking. There must be more people out there that had the same urge as I did. That spark and drive to get out there and lend a hand, in any way that you can. So aside from my usual approach of texting my friends and colleagues when I am need of volunteers, and posting the events to Facebook and Instagram, I have decided to take a new approach. This will be the first of a series of blog posts that I hope may inspire enthusiasm and action in its readers. I hope to broaden your horizons and open your eyes to opportunities that took me years to accidently stumble upon. I want to remove any barriers to volunteerism that I can by simply making it known how accessible these opportunities can be for you and anyone you know to help out. And though we need veterinarians and vet techs, I am also looking at my clients because we need you too! There’s a volunteer position for everyone.
My goal was always to become a vet. My life-long goal is to become an excellent vet. And in the meantime, my veterinary volunteerism is helping me to achieve my life-long goal. I hope you will join me on the journey.
Written by Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman