Trip review: independent pre-vet volunteering with Animals Fiji

fiji-1The previous clinic/shelter location of Animals Fiji in Nadi

 

If you were to ask me for a suggestion on where to volunteer internationally, Animals Fiji would be a top pick. While it is a long flight from the US, the welcoming atmosphere, great staff, hands-on tasks suited to any skill level, and excellent work being done makes Animals Fiji a perfect place to spend your volunteer time as a pre-vet or vet student. I did a quick three-day visit to Animals Fiji at the beginning of a two week winter vacation, and I wish I had been able to extend my trip and spend more time with the clinic. This is one of several organizations I found simply by Googling, “[country] animal shelter.” I also fell in love with a blind kitten at Animals Fiji and adopted her.

Official pitch

“Since its doors opened 2 years ago, the Nadi Clinic has treated approximately 6,500 sick and injured animals, rehomed 960 abandoned pets and has de-sexed around 2,300 cats and dogs. Over this time it has established several outreach programs, where teams of volunteers are funded to travel to remote communities to control animal populations and to assist injured animals. These programs alone have reached over 20 communities and have led to 600 animals being de-sexed… The clinic plays a vital role in ensuring the health of Fijians and their animals.”

Read more on animalsfiji.org or their frequently-updated Facebook page.

Costs, basic information, and housing

There is no cost to volunteer with Animals Fiji, although donations are greatly appreciated. There are lots of inexpensive hostels in the Nadi area, and supermarkets so you can cook your own food to save money. (Or, you can go upmarket and stay in a fancy resort.) Nadi is the city where most international flights arrive in Fiji, so you don’t have to travel far to reach your volunteering location. I stayed at one of the hostels on the water, but there is plenty of cheap accommodation in Nadi town, too. (There is a new second Animals Fiji clinic location in Savusavu on Fiji’s second-largest island, but I don’t know that area personally.)

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A freshly-spayed kitten with an ear tattoo to mark her as sterilized (“de-sexed”)

 

Other volunteers

My three days at Animals Fiji overlapped with a visiting group of Australian vet students, a new vet grad from the UK, and a pre-vet student from Europe. Animals Fiji doesn’t always have so many volunteers, but it was Christmas break. (You may want to email and see if there is a time when your help would be the most appreciated, or when they expect others if you want to work in a group.) As an American pre-vet student, I enjoyed talking to students from around the world about the process of becoming a vet in different countries, and was quite jealous that the Australian vet students didn’t need to take physics or organic chemistry.

Cultural immersion factor

Great! You will be working directly with Animals Fiji clients, and since English is the national language, you can actually volunteer abroad and work on your client communication skills. (I’ve written previously about an important lesson I learned during these interactions.) Being able to directly work with clients while taking patient histories was great, since most of my volunteer experience at home is at an animal shelter where I rarely interact with the public.

It was interesting to learn that in Fiji, there is a cultural bias against female dogs, who are seen as “bad dogs” in a vague sense. Most of the surrendered puppies were girls because people had already found homes for their boy puppies.

Vacation factor

You can have as much or as little vacation as you like! Fiji is an amazing country with a lot to do, especially if you are a diver or into sitting on the beach. A word of warning: Nadi is a busy port town on Fiji’s main and most populated island, and as such, the ocean waters and beaches aren’t clear and beautiful like a postcard.  If you’re looking for gorgeous vacation areas for relaxing after your volunteer work, there are plenty of lovely smaller islands to choose from that are accessible by ferry. For being such an “exotic” location to an American like me, there was a good amount of tourist infrastructure, since Fiji is basically the Caribbean of Australia.

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The front entrance to the old Animals Fiji Nadi clinic location

 

Typical work day

The Nadi clinic is open from 8:30am-5:00pm on weekdays, and 8:30am-1:00pm on Saturdays. The staff included local vet assistants/kennel hands, New Zealander vet Dr Angus Black, vet nurse (vet tech) Sue, and clinic manager Casey, as well as a rotating group of volunteers. While we couldn’t save every patient, the overall clinic atmosphere was friendly, relaxed, and welcoming. We did a few surgeries per day, and I was able to scrub in on one complicated spay to hold tools for Dr Black. In the mornings, we started with cleaning and feeding the 50-70 (often free-roaming) shelter animals. Throughout the day, clients would drop in for exams, vaccines, preventative medications, emergency care, and sterilizations. As volunteers we would take patient histories and rotate around between the front of the clinic and caring for animals in the back and in surgery. The clinic was quite clean and well-organized, and the standards of cleanliness in the operating room were high. There were a number of young dogs and puppies with parvo and all the bloody diarrhea mess that comes with the disease, but some of them recovered. With patients that were brought in by the public, ailments were often complicated by having not been brought in sooner.

Types of animals

Mainly dogs and cats, although Animals Fiji also occasionally treats horses, chickens, and wild birds that get brought in.

Most memorable case

Ticks were a major problem on the island, and we lost two dog patients to horrible tick infestations in my three days at the clinic. I can now say that I am an expert de-ticker, though. The saddest case while I was at Animals Fiji was a dog covered in thousands of ticks. It felt disrespectful to photograph my patient as he lay dying, but you can see in the photo the bowl of ticks I pulled off of just one part of the poor dog’s face. The large ticks were over a centimeter long!

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Ticks galore!

 

What I’d do differently if I went again

I only wish I had more time at Animals Fiji. If I could do all my adventures over again, I would skip wasting my money on VIDA and spend that time and money instead at Animals Fiji. I think I would have learned more, and had a lot more fun. Like Ayuda Guatemala, there’s really nothing bad to say about Animals Fiji.

Overall, the trip was a good fit for you if…

* You want the freedom and flexibility that comes with independent volunteering
* You want to help a small organization that focuses on long-term change
* You want to work on client communication skills and you only speak English
* You want to (possibly) work alongside other students from around the world
* You want to work in a friendly team of expats, visitors, and locals
* You want some practice with hands-on/vet tech skills that you’re developing
* You want to be a part of a country’s only provider of proper veterinary care

And the trip was not best fit if…

* You don’t want to plan your own housing and travel logistics
* You don’t want to pay $1000+ for your airfare
* You want a program that guarantees to teach you new skills

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Dr Black and Sue prepping a dog for surgery, where the leg tie is made of reused materials
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