A wave of compassion

Article

In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, Dr. Kerry Levin did the almost unthinkable?she put her solo practice, North State Animal Hospital in Ukiah, Calif., on hold and ventured across the world to volunteer. Armed with a passport, some past veterinary experience in third-world countries, and a desire to help, she traveled alone to Sri Lanka in February.

In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, Dr. Kerry Levin did the almost unthinkable—she put her solo practice, North State Animal Hospital in Ukiah, Calif., on hold and ventured across the world to volunteer. Armed with a passport, some past veterinary experience in third-world countries, and a desire to help, she traveled alone to Sri Lanka in February.

"I told a few clients, changed my phone message, and hired an assistant to come into the office once a week to fill prescriptions or forward records," Dr. Levin says. And with that, Dr. Levin went into the unknown for three weeks.

"My work varied as I moved to different areas among volunteer teams. Half the time we vaccinated dogs and treated mange and internal parasites. Vaccination was the driving force, since Sri Lanka has the second-highest rate of rabies in humans in the world. The country also has a large stray dog population, that was, until now, highly unvaccinated.

"The government had threatened to poison stray dogs, and after the tsunami, that pressure increased. Dogs survived where their owners didn't, and with people crammed into tents, there was a higher chance of contracting rabies."

The minister of health was asked to delay the killings if 10,000 dogs could be vaccinated by March. Having a fondness for animals, he agreed. Vaccinated dogs received a red collar, saving them from death. In the first week and a half Dr. Levin was there, 2,000 dogs were treated, and by the deadline, more than 10,000 dogs had been vaccinated.

"I also joined groups doing field spays and neuters. We used a room in the library as a surgery unit and treated 40 to 50 dogs a day. A third were pets, but we also treated strays. They were spayed or neutered, treated for mange, vaccinated, and released. It was a bit crude, but not too bad."

As for her practice? "I lost a lot of income," says Dr. Levin. "Clients who got my answering machine were maybe frustrated, but they understood and thanked me for my work. If I lost clients, they probably weren't my better ones anyway."

What Dr. Levin lost in income, she says she made up for in perspective. "The experience made me more accepting. How can you get upset about something small when you know how little people can survive with elsewhere?"

The trip also illustrated people's love for animals, regardless of their circumstances, Dr. Levin says. "For some, their families had died and all they had left was their pets. They were so appreciative of what we were doing."

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