Dr Brook Kelly from Queensland, Australia has left her furry friend “Periwinkles” at home, and is spending the next two weeks volunteering alongside fellow veterinarian Meg Bichard.
Her visit to Rarotonga marks the first time the 25-year-old has travelled outside of Australia, and she is happy to be volunteering at Esther Honey.
“It’s been great so far, I have only been here for a few days, but I basically hit the ground running. There is always so much to do here.
“In my first two days here, we performed about six de-sexing operations.
She said the most satisfying aspect of her volunteer work so far had actually been the number of de-sexing operations she had done.
“Give me as many de-sexings as possible is my mind-set,” she said, laughing.
“I enjoy performing the surgery, and it’s probably one of the most important things that can be done for any dog in a situation where they might get pregnant or get into fights with male dogs. So it’s nice to be able to limit the amount of (ownerless) dogs that are roaming around the island.”
When asked if she was surprised at the amount of dogs that freely roam Rarotonga, Kelly said she had heard from friends who had previously visited the Cook Islands that the high number of dogs on the island was an issue.
“The dog situation on the island is not well controlled, to say the least. But I did have a fair idea of the status of the animals here, so I wasn’t too surprised.
“I have found the culture very different, something that I guess in a way threw me for a loop, but in a good way.
“I guess I am still adjusting to that whole “island time” mentality.
“Back home (Australia) everyone wants something and they want it now. Here, everyone is pretty willing to take what they can get, will fit in with your timing and are really appreciative,which is nice,” Kelly said.
The young vet graduated from the university of Queensland in 2014. She then worked in a busy clinic in the coastal mining town of Gladstone.
This is where Kelly not only tended to dogs and cats, but also worked with turtles and dolphins.
“There was a turtle rehab facility nearby, because it’s at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. So whenever they had something that needed x-rays or blood work, they would come to us. So that was pretty cool.
“We regularly got to treat turtles that ate coral and bits of reef and plastic got stuck in their throast, so it was very different.
“We would see green sea turtles and leatherbacks, and sometimes we would get called out for dolphins as well.
“When I’m working in Noosa, we treat animals such as snakes.
“We do have our dogs and our cats, but we also have our wildlife, and it’s Australia so there’s quite a range.”.
Kelly said that she had found the difficult part of being a vet was dealing with the animals’ owners, not the animals.
“Aggressive animal, fine. Aggressive owner, not okay.
“It is quite hard when you know you can help a pet but the owner doesn’t want you to. It’s not so much a problem here, where the attitude really is if you can help animals, then do. But in Australia I have come across situations where I have been able to help animals and the owners have refused.
“This really comes down to cost, personal beliefs and religious beliefs – like some people won’t have their pets put to sleep, even if they obviously need to be. Then we are not able to go ahead with treatment.
“The other biggest issue is when people don’t want to euthanise animals.
“For example, Buddhists will not euthanise because it is against their religion.
“But most people will meet you halfway and at least go for pain relief and care until the animals pass away naturally.
“But we have also (encountered) people who don’t believe you. That’s a big one. There’s a natural distrust of vets in Australia.
“Most of the time owners and their animals are lovely but there is the odd few who go, “No, you are just trying to get my money.’
However, Kelly says that is not a problem in Rarotonga and she adds that Esther Honey is well trusted by the community.
“The best part of being a veterinarian would have to be the puppies,” she said.
“When you get a big litter in, it’s just great - everyone is super-happy and loves it. Nothing beats a puppy cuddle!”
She anticipates her next two weeks will be extremely busy, but the proud Aussie looks forward to future visits to the Cook Islands, and eagerly awaits the next litter of puppies to visit Esther Honey.