Face to Face: A vision of hope

10515280_1012122145481790_153767686388117046_oA chance encounter as a student sparked a compassionate plan in Sam Kovac

One day back in 2009, having just enjoyed a family lunch in Woolloomooloo, Sam Kovac was walking back to his car when he came across a homeless man with a cattle dog. The cattle dog was coughing so badly it was having difficulty breathing, and Kovac – then a veterinary student – stopped to ask whether the man had taken the animal to a vet. He said he had been to two veterinary clinics, but that because of his appearance and the vets’ assumption that he had no money to pay for treatment, no one was willing to examine his dog.

Meeting the homeless man and his cattle dog proved to be a lifechanging experience for Kovac, who began thinking about companion animals of homeless people of Sydney. He realised companion animals of underprivileged owners were no less loved than other pets, but the lack of funds to obtain or pursue treatment for their animals placed financially disadvantaged owners in an awful position: they felt that had to bargain over the life or death of their pet. Continue reading Face to Face: A vision of hope

Face to Face: Cindy Karsten, shelter veterinarian

Cindy Karsten2It’s not uncommon to miss the company of animals when travelling. But a severe case of “dogsickness” changed the career direction of forest scientist Cynthia (Cindy) Karsten.

“I went to work in Montana with the AmeriCorps program Montana Conservation Corps, travelled a lot with the job and couldn’t have a dog,” she said. “Thus I started volunteering at the local shelter”.

“My first impression was that it seemed broken – animals come in, if they aren’t reclaimed or adopted, they’re euthanised – simply because they ended up in the shelter. This sparked my interest in shelters.”

Karsten and her partner (now husband) moved to Alaska to work as bike guides, but she continued to be involved with homeless animals.

“I decided to go to vet school – so after three years we moved to Anchorage so that I could take some classes that I needed to apply to vet school.”

Karsten spent the next two years working at a veterinary specialist clinic while volunteering with a rescue group. In 2006, she was accepted into veterinary school in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I had thought that I would go to vet school and then would work in a shelter. However, Sandra Newbury, who was with UC Davis at the time, was living in Madison and working with vet students so opened my eyes to the possibilities in terms of working with shelters.”

Fast forward almost a decade and Cindy Karsten, DVM, is one of a growing number of veterinarians specialising in Shelter Medicine. In June 2014, the American Veterinary Medical Association granted provisional recognition to the Shelter Medicine Practice specialty within the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Continue reading Face to Face: Cindy Karsten, shelter veterinarian

Face to Face: James Stone – At peace under a blanket of stars

Crevase selfieFor most of us, missing a plane can be anything from a minor inconvenience to a major disaster. But when Tasmanian veterinarian James Stone’s homebound flight from Antarctica was cancelled, he was overjoyed: he got to stay for an extra week on the frozen landmass that has captured his imagination and his heart. Stone was in Antarctica completing an elective component of a Masters in Marine and Antarctic Science, living and working at New Zealand’s Scott Base during the summer of 2014-2015 and camping – yes, camping – on the ice of the Ross Ice Shelf for a week over Christmas. It was an experience, Stone said, that was “worth it just for the flight down to the ice: Antarctica from the air, even from the cramped confines of a US Military Hercules aircraft is a sight never to be forgotten”.

Stone’s trip to Antarctica was his second to the icy continent, having first made his journey south as a tourist after completing an undergraduate degree in Antarctic Science at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) in 2014. “It was amazing,” Stone said of his three week expedition to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. “The scenery, the wildlife, the remoteness, nothing was a disappointment – not even the huge seas of the Drake Passage.” It was also a great way to celebrate finishing his degree, having stumbled across the UTAS Antarctic Science program purely by chance several years beforehand when he spotted an advertisement for the degree in an Australian Geographic magazine while holidaying on Lord Howe Island.

Hailing originally from Somerset in England’s West Country, Stone has always had an avid interest in science. He excelled in biology at school and studied veterinary science at the University of Liverpool after his school careers adviser persuaded him to apply for the course on the basis that it would provide great training in a broad range of science subjects. “I was never one of these kids who wanted to be a vet from age four because they loved animals; I was more interested in the science side of the job,” Stone said. He was also a keen Scuba diver during high school, and would have pursued marine zoology as a career had he not been accepted into veterinary science the first time around. Continue reading Face to Face: James Stone – At peace under a blanket of stars

Making a mark on Macquarie Island: Meg’s Story

Picture Graeme Freeman

Picture Graeme Freeman

“Let’s do it – I will write again after I battle through the seals to the gym and back!” Such was Meg McKeown’s response when first contacted about writing about her work with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) on Macquarie Island. A former veterinarian who has retrained as a medical doctor, McKeown is currently employed by the AAD as the doctor servicing Macquarie Island Station, known to the small number of inhabitants as ‘Macca’.

During winter, the human population of the island amounts to little more than a dozen, while in summer the island can accommodate as many as forty people. As McKeown’s comment suggests, however, the vast majority of the island’s other inhabitants include various types of seals, sea lions, petrels, albatross and penguins, many of which use Macquarie Island as a breeding ground.

Located in the Southern Ocean about halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, Macquarie Island is about as remote as it gets. The island is 34 kilometres long and five kilometres wide, and its climatic conditions are moderated by the surrounding seas, Continue reading Making a mark on Macquarie Island: Meg’s Story

Canines, caring and community

Mary Jan and Steve in the ute2Veterinarian Jan Allen has had a varied career, working around Australia and the South Pacific, but it is her work in Indigenous communities which she has found most rewarding.

Allen is currently the One Health Program Manager for Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC). The organisation is a national, non-profit charity founded to improve the health and welfare of companion animals in communities where access to veterinary care may be limited to absent.

Allen grew up in Kempsey with family on a dairy farm before moving to Nelson Bay then to Sydney (Harbord) where she went to high school to ensure she got a good education.

“I was applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship for a Bachelor of Education but Dad said I might as well try to get into veterinary science,” she recalled. “It was a big surprise to me when I got in.”

After graduating in 1976, Allen took a six-week “apprenticeship” at the RSPCA’s Yagoona shelter before taking a mixed practice position in Tasmania.

“They shouted me a flight down for an interview which really impressed me,” she said. “They really needed vets. The caseload was trotters, smallies, greyhounds and wildlife – a bit of everything.” Continue reading Canines, caring and community