Ray Butcher has been a partner in the Wylie Veterinary Centre, Upminster, for more than 30 years, and has seen its evolution from a family mixed practice to a large companion animal hospital. He is a past-president of BSAVA and FECAVA, a veterinary adviser to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and a board member of the Alliance for Rabies Control and the Blue Dog Trust.
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Following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, you led a fact-finding team for WSPA to Banda Aceh, Indonesia; did that influence the projects you have got involved with since?
The current events in Japan have brought back all the memories of Banda Aceh. My experiences illustrated how fragile life is, and yet what resilience people have to cope with overwhelming tragedy. The challenge is not simply to replace damaged houses and infrastructure, but to rebuild communities, with all the complex interrelationships that entails, including their need for animals for economic and emotional reasons. I hope the appreciation of this human-animal bond has influenced my thinking from that time.
How did you get involved with the Alliance for Rabies Control and the Blue Dog project?
My work with WSPA in India and the Far East is involved mainly with promoting humane methods of dog population management. This is a real challenge in areas where rabies is endemic, and it became clear to me that it is impossible to consider human health and animal health in isolation. Solutions have to address the concerns of all stakeholders, and I believe my involvement in the Alliance for Rabies Control helps to give it a wider perspective. I think such a concept is also important back home in the clinic. As veterinarians we are no longer involved solely with animal health and welfare, but should consider animals in the context of the family and community. I am therefore proud to be associated with the Blue Dog, a programme to reduce the risk of dog bites in young children.
Describe some of the activities that your work with WSPA involved you in.
I have been involved in field work and a number of ‘undercover’ animal welfare projects. In the long term, however, welfare will improve only if local people take ownership of their own problems, and so our main role must be to teach and motivate people to develop the skills to achieve this.
What do you like about your job?
I very much like the variety and the chance to meet many interesting people, and have been humbled by the passion and commitment shown by many of those I have met. I enjoy travelling, but also appreciate coming home to the stability of my family, my clinic and the uncertainties of being a West Ham supporter.
What do you not like?
Having seen extreme poverty and suffering, I sometimes find the celebrity and materialistic culture in the UK a little false and frustrating.
Why is your job important?
Given that I believe that it is not possible to consider human health and animal health separately, I feel that our role as veterinarians is to promote humanity in the broadest sense. There are so many problems in the world today, so that can only be a good thing.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Lots of different people making a little difference can add up to big changes. Politics often seems to get in the way of working in harmony with others. However, it is my experience that ordinary people of different religions and cultures share many of the same hopes and aspirations. My advice is therefore to travel and meet people – identify areas of common interest and work together on those; in time, the differences become less of an issue. You are only here once, so follow your dream, be happy and be optimistic that you can make a difference.⇓
What was your proudest moment?
This is very difficult, as I have been fortunate to have received many awards during my career. Possibly the two most memorable were, first, being asked to be president of BSAVA (the first time my name had been linked to such illustrious company), and then receiving the WSAVA award for service to the profession (an Essex boy receiving world renown was quite something!).
… and your most embarrassing?
Sadly, too many to mention! My prime role as a father has been to embarrass my daughter (and incidentally my wife), and over the years I appear to have achieved this with ease.
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