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Global issues put a new perspective on working life
  1. Josep Subirana

Abstract

Having worked in general practice, Josep Subirana decided to broaden his experience in animal welfare and get involved in international development. Since then, he has worked across the world helping charities, universities and organisations with animal welfare issues

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FOR some, being a vet is not what they imagined when they graduated. Our clients judge us as being fulfilled professionals pursuing a vocation. They read James Herriot, watch TV and think we are lucky to be paid to care for animals. It can therefore be difficult to explain how hard being a vet in Europe can be. Stress, the frustration of limited resources, working long hours, dealing with clients and limited opportunities for career progression are all things that can put a lot of pressure on us.

But being a vet also offers many possibilities and, having explored them, there is always the option of returning to practice, refreshed, if you wish to do so, which is what happened to me. I got tired of the routine of practice in Catalonia and decided to investigate different horizons. Exploring my interest in animal welfare, I discovered that as animals depend on humans, it is possible to help them, their owners, society, and the environment they live in.

From veterinary practice to animal welfare . . . and back

In 2001, I decided to specialise in equine dentistry and studied with the American School of Equine Dentistry. As a qualified equine dentist, I moved to Lincolnshire to a mixed practice, and from there to an equine practice in Surrey.

Back in Catalonia in 2007, I undertook some postgraduate studies and then spent three months in the Pacific (Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands) volunteering with animal protection societies. It was an eye-opening experience. I visited some places and islands that had never seen a vet before and felt I was really helping people and animals. Working in developing countries was refreshing and challenging at the same time. It can make you feel genuinely useful to animals and their owners without so many external pressures.

After this experience, I decided to engage more deeply with animal welfare. In 2010, I completed an MSc in applied animal behaviour and welfare with Edinburgh university, through scholarships from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.

Examining a horse's teeth in Guatemala

Having completed my masters degree, I joined the equine welfare charity, the Brooke, as a veterinary trainer and mentor. The ability to speak a number of languages helps a lot when you're working internationally. I speak four languages, and this broadened the number of countries I could support. Working for the Brooke also allowed me to join the dots between human development and animal health and welfare. Motivated by this experience, I completed a certificate in international development through distance learning. Having done so, an opportunity arose to work for the Royal Court of Affairs in Oman as an equine nutritionist. During the year I was there, I tried my best to improve animal welfare, especially for retired horses, in terms of their living conditions as well as developing new facilities dedicated to their needs.

Being a vet also means you can work close to home if you need to. For personal reasons, I am now back working in private practice in Catalonia, but with a new perspective on life. I continue to work as a consultant in animal welfare for organisations such as World Horse Welfare, which is currently exploring innovative welfare interventions all over the globe.

Working animals play an important role in supporting livelihoods, but more often than not they experience poor welfare. There is definitely a lot to do. International equine charities go a long way towards raising awareness of welfare issues, while striving to improve the lives of working equids. As a consultant, I use my skills to make a difference, focusing on improving animal welfare through education. I aim to help organisations achieve lasting benefits in terms of animal welfare and health. This can be done at different levels. As part of my consultancy work, I carry out clinical audits of veterinary practices, health systems and local service providers. I train and mentor staff in animal welfare issues and carry out analyses of husbandry practices. I also work with the staff of small organisations and universities and government staff, monitoring, evaluating and developing animal welfare strategies.

For me, life also means looking at the bigger picture in terms of the way we relate to animals, to the planet, and ultimately to each other.

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