Jack Reece planned to spend six months on a volunteer experience with Help In Suffering in Jaipur. Ten years later he is still there, making a difference through the Animal Birth Control programme that helps control rabies through vaccination and neutering of street dogs. He was presented with the BVA's first Trevor Blackburn award in 2006.
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How did you come to work for Help in Suffering?
I ended up spending so much time in India completely by accident. I was fed up with TB testing and dreary accommodation in large animal practice, so I volunteered for the first overseas job I saw in Veterinary Record that appealed to me. I wanted to travel, but also do something useful. I came for six months, which became a year, then two, and I have never yet quite managed to get back to the UK.
How did you get to where you are today?
I hit the peak of the Herriot bubble and not being awfully clever had trouble getting into vet school, despite seeing a great deal of practice and getting a lot of support from that practice and my school. I did a biology degree at York, then worked in agriculture, and was finally accepted by Liverpool. I had always imagined I would end up as a partner in a mixed practice in a small rural town; ending up working in rabies control in India has come as a bit of a surprise.
How do you spend a typical day?
Mornings are spent involved in the administration and practical aspects of our rabies/street dog control programme, which often includes spaying 10 to 12 street dogs. Afternoons are more varied. I may work on the scientific aspects of the rabies programme, or be collecting a brain sample from a suspect rabid animal. Some afternoons I will be involved in case discussions with colleagues, and treating anything from horses with tetanus, rescued owls with fractures, sick camels or electrocuted monkeys. Sometimes afternoons will find me felling a tree in our compound or dealing with blocked drains. Increasingly I'm tied, reluctantly, to a computer trying to raise funds for the charity or doing other similar secretarial administrative duties, which I hate.
What do you like about your job?
The variety, my colleagues, the bizarre unpredictability of life here. The training we do is rewarding. The look of satisfaction on a colleague's or vet student's face when they have spayed their first dog is wonderful.
What do you not like?
India is a long way from my family, who I miss greatly; and it's hard not to feel estranged from friends as they become partners, have families etc, and progress professionally while I'm here. Not receiving a proper salary for working in this field is an increasing bore. There are so few practical worthwhile jobs overseas these days that pay a proper salary.
Why is your job important?
Twenty thousand people die of rabies every year in India. Street dogs are the main vector and rabies will not be controlled in man unless it is controlled in the dogs, yet very little is known about the biology of free-living street dogs. Our work shows that it is possible to control street dog populations humanely, efficiently and effectively; also, by training other organisations throughout south Asia, our work helps to reduce the toll of this disease. Veterinary surgeons have an important role to play in public health by producing information about the biology of street dogs and rabies, and perhaps helping to control the disease.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Don't do it to get rich, but go ahead if you want to do something different from dealing with pets and their owners.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Churchill's advice – ‘never give in, never, never, never . . . ’.
What was your proudest moment?
Without doubt qualifying with my parents watching.
And your most embarrassing?
Going for tea with one of our technicians, only to realise too late that the purpose of the invitation was to allow me a viewing of a young girl as a prospective wife, and to allow the poor girl's mother to view me as a prospective son-in-law in an Indian arranged marriage; and then having to get out of the situation with my limited Hindi.
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