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Dreadlocks shaved for Cook Islands’ only vet clinic

Thursday 28 September 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Local, National


Dreadlocks shaved for Cook Islands’ only vet clinic
Australian veterinarian Rob Atkinson, of Canberra, has donated AU$3232 (NZ$3465) to Te Are Manu Vet Clinic. SUPPLIED/23092740

An Australian veterinarian who volunteered in the Cook Islands 13 years ago has shaved off his dreadlocks to raise more than $3000 for the island nation’s only vet clinic.

Rob Atkinson, of Canberra, stopped by Te Are Manu Vet Clinic in Arorangi on Saturday to donate his 74 dreadlocks and AU$3232 (NZ$3465), during his first trip to the Cook Islands since his three-week stint volunteering as a veterinarian for the defunct Esther Honey Foundation in 2010.

“My hair’s a bit shorter and my head’s a lot colder,” Atkinson joked.

Te Are Manu medical director Dr Michael Baer said while a decision had not yet been made on how the donation would be spent, it was the equivalent of 60 desexing operations.

“It’s impossible to quantify how valuable this donation is,” Baer said.

“We’re going to be putting a lot of thought and effort into how we’re going to use that money for maximum benefit.”

Atkinson had raised the money through the GoFundMe website, with 53 people contributing.

Baer knew Atkinson and his wife – who is also a veterinarian, the couple having volunteered in the Cook Islands together – from when all three were working in Riversdale, New Zealand between 2008 and 2009.

The couple were “extremely talented vets and great people to boot”, Baer said.

Atkinson said he had his dreadlocks for 13 years.

“I was ready to cut them off, and I was trying to think of a good cause,” he said.

“One of the reasons I was keen to support them (Te Are Manu) was because without them, there would be no vet clinic here. They’re operating on a shoestring budget.

“We had already booked a holiday, and it sort of aligned.”

Baer said he knew Atkinson and his family were coming over for a holiday, but it was only a few days before his arrival that the clinic found out about the donation.

“It was a bit of a surprise to all of us, but we’re very grateful and touched that he thought of us as a worthy recipient,” he said.

“It’s a real boon for the clinic and we’re just blown away by the generosity Rob and everyone who donated has shown.”

Atkinson got his dreadlocks the same year he volunteered in the Cook Islands, an experience he said had been “great”.

“We saw fish poisonings and other cases we never would have seen back in Australia,” he said.

“I feel a connection to the Cook Islands. It was nice volunteering, it felt like a holiday but we also had a purpose and a connection with the locals.”

Atkinson, his wife, and their three daughters arrived in Rarotonga on September 19 and left on Thursday.