By Sophia Ricco
When looking for a study abroad program to fill her summer with, Kaitlyn Sage knew she wanted to explore her passion of working with animals first hand in a vastly different culture.
It was when she stumbled upon Loop Abroad, a program that sends young adults age 14 to 30 to work in animal science, marine biology, and veterinary programs in other countries, that she found an experience that would meet all her needs.
Sage chose to apply for a two-week volunteer opportunity at their clinics in Thailand and was selected to go with a small team that was sent abroad. There she spent one week working at an elephant sanctuary and her second week at a dog shelter.
“I think it’s a great way to expand your knowledge of different practices,” Sage said. “Vet medicine is slightly different in Thailand than it is in the United States and it’s nice to be able to appreciate and accept the differences and similarities.”
In Thailand, elephants are native and run wild, unlike in the United States where elephants can only be found in a zoo. However, many elephants have been captured, beaten, and broken for the country’s entertainment and trekking industries. The elephant sanctuary works to help these animals who have been mistreated and allowed Sage to interact with elephants in a way she had never been able to before.
“It was very interesting to see all the elephants they had at the nature park because many had injuries they had sustained working or living in horrible conditions,” Sage said. “We saw elephants with dislocated limbs and elephants whose feet were blown off because of landmines. It was really sad but it was also eye opening to see how animals are treated around the world.”
Something that was emphasized within the program was the hands on experience students gain in the clinics. Not only were they observing veterinarians diagnose and treat the elephants, but they were also able to aid the creatures.
“We got to do elephant vet rounds where we would take care of them,” Sage said. “I got to flush wounds, wrap and unwrap elephants feet that had been damaged, trim their nails on their feet and remove infections.”
Not only are veterinary practices different in Thailand, but their philosophy of life is vastly different due to the Buddhist religion. When volunteering at the elephant sanctuary, Sage experienced a vegetarian lifestyle that influenced her to remain vegetarian after returning to the United States. Also, she never had to witness an animal be put down because the veterinarians do not euthanize.
“In Thailand they don’t believe in taking any life,” Sage said. “They think that the gods have control over this.”
When Sage went to the dog shelter in her second week, she performed four different types of surgeries. She learned how to work with anesthesia and was able to spay and neuter the animals. Although, there was veterinarians there to assist them, the students were able to do the whole surgery.
“It just solidified to me that I can do it and this is what I love to do,” Sage said. “Although we were doing surgeries and causing a little bit of pain to the animal, we knew it was for a good cause. It was really rewarding to see them wake up and be healthy again.”