Australian veterinarian Dr Debbie Delahunty had wanted to volunteer for Vets Beyond Borders for a long time but couldn’t get time away from her young family and business. Now her children have grown up and her clinic is in good hands with experienced vets, which meant she could finally get to help animals in third world countries!
The vet of 31 years recently made her inaugural volunteer trip to Botswana, where she spent a month at the Maun Animal Welfare Society’s (MAWS) veterinary clinic vaccinating and desexing dogs to help reduce rabies transmission for the animal and human populations, and the impact of stray dogs on wildlife.
Having travelled to Kenya and Tanzania previously and fallen in love with the African continent, “the opportunity to volunteer, utilise my skills as well as see some of the incredible African wildlife was a match made in heaven for me!” said Dr Delahunty.
She described her time in Botswana as incredible and yet challenging at times.
“It was also one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I worked with a great team at MAWS who were all dedicated and passionate about what they do,” she said.
When Dr Delahunty first arrived in Maun, the clinic was in the midst of an outbreak of Canine Distemper, which sadly also has a severe impact on the African Wild Dog population.
“After seeing first-hand the horrible nature of Canine Distemper it has reinforced how lucky we are in Australia to rarely see this disease any more due to the efficacy of vaccines,” she said.
Dr Delahunty said in Botswana she had to learn how to adapt to the heat, to a new culture, a new team of people, to different pet owners, to not having fancy equipment available and diseases she had never diagnosed before.
“Initially this was quite tough but once I settled in, I loved every minute of it. I did not want to leave and really hope I get the opportunity to go back again!” she said.
At the MAWS clinic, Dr Delahunty focused on vaccinating and sterilising dogs and helped to nurse the many hospitalised cases with distemper, parvovirus, injuries from dog fights and car accidents, and those undergoing treatment for transmissible venereal tumour. Sadly, many distemper dogs did not survive.
“I performed approximately 70 surgeries in the three weeks I worked at MAWS. The sterilised animals will have a much better quality of life than if they were constantly breeding and I feel good knowing I have helped in that way,” she said.
Several dogs in hospital were also healthy and waiting to be adopted. The MAWS team would conduct home inspections of people who wanted to adopt dogs to make sure they were suitable.
On some days, Dr Delahunty would do home visits for sick patients or a vaccination community outreach. Her most memorable experience involved doing an outreach to the Boro River community where the MAWS team set up an operating theatre under a tree and villagers brought their pets for vaccination and sterilization.
“There were cows and donkeys looking on from behind as well as curious human onlookers! It was quite a different experience and surprisingly relaxing!” she said.
“The Botswana are very happy, friendly people and very grateful for the service provided to them.”
VBB and MAWS are doing a lot to raise animal welfare in developing countries, she added.
“VBB is a fantastic way for vets in Australia to connect with overseas projects which they might otherwise not know about. It is also nice to know there is an organisation able to provide support or assistance as needed,” she said.
Dr Delahunty said volunteering helps people learn and grow in ways they would not expect.
“I cannot recommend volunteering highly enough. Not only do you get to see a different part of the world from a local perspective, but you will grow as a person and a clinician by stretching your limits and boundaries,” she said.
“I thought I was pretty adaptable, but I was really challenged in the beginning and had to stop and realise that I had to change myself or I was in for a tough month. I did that and loved the rest of my time. I learned about diseases I do not get to see in Australia. I met people who I hope will stay friends for life. I worked very hard but had a wonderful time doing so. I have fallen even more in love with Africa and its people and animals.”