Theatre nurse Hannah Orme, along with her colleague, vet Maria Serrano Revuelta, were the first of three pairs of staff from YourVets Wythall to help the charity Vets Beyond Borders with a neutering programme for dogs in India
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How did you get involved?
YourVets organised for three vets and three nurses to go to the Vets Beyond Borders (VBB) project in India as part of the SARAH initiative (Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health programme). The practice selected and paid for the six of us – vets and nurses – as part of its reward scheme for recognising good work over the past year.
VBB is an Australian charity that aims to reduce the stray dog population and work towards eliminating rabies in the northern Indian province of Sikkim. This involves neutering and vaccinating street dogs and feral dogs. Without the charity's work, thousands of stray dogs would be left to die of disease or rounded up and culled.
What are the teams doing in India?
Rabies vaccinations are routinely given to the street dogs that are caught and neutered, and the local people who own pets are encouraged to have them vaccinated too. Thanks to the work of the teams, Sikkim could be free from rabies in two years and, if so, it will become the first state in India to be rabies-free.
How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in the Peak District and went to Hartpury College, Gloucestershire, graduating with a BSc Hons in Veterinary Nursing and the RCVS Veterinary Nursing diploma in 2006. From there I joined the Stechford Clinic of YourVets, where I gained the A1 assessor certificate and was promoted to theatre nurse. I transferred to Wythall in January 2008 and have since gained my clinical coaching and my SQP qualifications. I am currently training two students at YourVets Wythall. I recently gained a certificate in advanced feline friendly nursing and have just embarked on the diploma in advanced veterinary nursing.
Tell us about the trip?
The journey involved three planes and a four-and-a-half hour ride in a Jeep. We spent two weeks in Gangtok. Day-to-day tasks included checking on the in-patients and helping out with morning consultations. After consultations were finished, we helped with the day's operations. Maria had to get to grips with carrying out flank bitch spays, but she picked it up quickly. Surgery mainly consisted of neutering the street dogs that had been caught by the veterinary helpers. They were brilliant at handling and restraining the dogs and prepping them. We took blood samples from the adult dogs, which were tested for rabies at a laboratory. After lunch we continued neutering and, finally, checked the in-patients and administered any necessary treatment before leaving for the day. We worked Monday to Friday and used the weekends to explore. This included trips to the Himalayan zoological park, three monasteries and some lovely local waterfalls.
Why was the trip important?
Before VBB set up in Sikkim, mass shooting of street dogs was used to reduce the population, but local people asked that more humane methods be used instead.
To date, 725,000 dog and cat sterilisations have taken place, and 90,000 rabies vaccinations have been given to dogs, cats, goats and cows. These efforts have led to a reduction in human and animal deaths due to rabies. Through public awareness and education, the SARAH programme has encouraged local people to adopt local street dogs and, as a result, many of the local dogs are routinely vaccinated, which helps reduce rabies and other zoonotic diseases. Furthermore, Sikkim can be used as a model for setting up similar projects in other states in India. VBB works in partnership with the government of Sikkim and the Fondation Brigitte Bardot to enable this successful project. This state-wide animal birth control/anti-rabies programme is fully funded, but it requires the generous and dedicated work of volunteer veterinarians and veterinary nurses to allow it to continue.
Would you do it again?
I would love to go again; not only for my own personal life experience, but also because it's a fantastic cause. It was a great way to use my vet nursing skills to benefit the local community and their animals.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering volunteering on a similar project?
Go with an open mind and a big heart. The local people clearly care deeply about the street dogs and their own pets, but euthanasia is something of a taboo; it can be difficult to see animals suffer for longer than they would in the UK. However, the people only want the best for these dogs and that in itself is lovely to see. It was a fantastic two weeks, but I would advise people to go for as long as their workplace will allow.
What's the best piece of advice you were given before you went?
Take a head torch. This was definitely a great piece of advice. Power cuts were frequent. Some lasted a couple of hours, while others went on all day. Having our torches made operating with limited light much easier. I'm sure they would also be extremely useful at the camps further into the mountains.
We were told to go with an open mind. Thinlay Butia of SARAH said: ‘Don't rush’ and this was definitely true!
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I became a bit of a local celebrity because of my blond hair. Local people asked to have their photograph taken with me and I was even filmed in shops. Maria found this very amusing.
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