Some people like to spend their vacation time touring famous cities, camping and hiking, or sitting on a beach. But that's not how Dr. Jennifer Brown, a clinical assistant professor of surgery at Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center likes to spend her free time.
Brown would much rather travel to remote areas, where veterinary services are scarce — or even completely unavailable — and donate her professional skills so that the lives of the local animal and human populations are improved.
Most recently, Brown traveled to Requeña, Peru, which is in the Peruvian Amazon, to join seven other volunteers involved with Veterinary Ventures, an organization that schedules and arranges spay/neuter campaigns in developing countries. During this, her third trip with the group, she performed neuters and spays on almost 200 dogs and cats in a place where no veterinarian resides.
Joining her on the trip was fellow equine medical center employee Claire Summers, who works as an operating room technician.
The trip took place last February, and as Brown describes it, “our ‘clinic’ was set up in a school classroom, because it was their summer and school was not in session at the time. We used whatever materials and resources we could, which was not much.”
“It was like a M.A.S.H. (mobile army surgical hospital) unit,” she added. “It was pretty primitive, but it was effective; we had all we needed to get the job done.”
The volunteer group brought all of its own medical supplies, including a gas anesthesia unit. “We got this piece of equipment at cost and left it there for the Peruvian vets we worked with to use in the future,” Brown said.
The local population in Requeña, working with Brown and her fellow volunteers, assisted in the spay/neuter effort by providing extra manpower and some supplies. “Many of the area residents helped us and the local dog catcher by ‘rounding up’ a lot of our patients,” Brown explained. “They would go out to the market and into the streets to catch strays and bring them to us in the clinic.”
Brown became involved with Veterinary Ventures after Hurricane Katrina, which created an urgent need for emergency veterinary care. “This is my opportunity to give back,” Brown explained. “It gives me a good feeling to use my vacation to contribute something, to make a difference. It’s not horse-related; it’s a departure from the usual for me, but I love it.
“I actually see this as being a bit selfish,” she added. “It’s just a great way to do something worthwhile — to do something that helps others. I get at least as much out of this as I give.”
Brown’s previous trips working with Veterinary Ventures took her to American Samoa. She says she is planning another journey in October of this year, which will take her to the Yucatan in Mexico. “It’s challenging,” she noted, “but so rewarding.”