A vet student’s perspective: Animals Are My Therapy

INTRODUCTION

After following Barkind Mad Vet for a while, I was keen to reach out to Victoria to contribute to Animals are my therapy.

In the meantime of writing her personal story to share on here, Victoria has shared the wider perspective as a vet student on her blog. 

So here is part one of Victoria’s Animals are my therapy story.

BARKING MAD VET BLOG POST:

Following last week’s blog, I have started working on a much more personal post surrounding the title ‘Animals Are My Therapy’, on a blog published by an amazing pre-vet student with a special message to share.

My animal therapy story has been one of the hardest things I’ve written so far, mainly because after sitting with a blank piece of paper, I didn’t know where to start! I quickly realised that animals have shaped my personality and now my career choices in countless ways. Although I can’t think of a specific significant event, being surrounded by animals has grown to be what makes me feel at home.

I could now go off on a tangent with several anecdotes and memories, but I want to focus on the bigger picture; I know for a fact that I am not the only person who finds comfort and strength through a four-legged friend (or a feathered friend!) and this is my major motivation for training as a vet.

The obvious role of a vet is the one most people see: a general practitioner in the consulting room with them, trying to cure their dog’s recent stomach upset or treat his painful leg. However, if you look a bit closer, you see the vet taking time to explain what’s wrong with the pet, describing different treatment options, going through positives and negatives, being patient, and helping the owner make a decision. When you can help an owner leave the vets feeling reassured and confident that they’ve made the right decision, it is just as important and just as rewarding as treating their pet.

Working as a vet on a farm is quite different to working with dogs and cats; whilst farmers do passionately care about their livestock, a vet has to be more aware of the business element of the decisions a farmer has to make. As you’ll know if you’re read some of my other blogs, I spend a lot of my time on farms when I’m back home in the North East and I know how much a farmer wants to help his stock. There is no better feeling than when a vet helps you design a treatment plan which allows the cow or sheep or pig to be treated within you budget! Alongside being their livelihood, farm animals are quite often the pride and joy of their owners, who have been working hard to build up their pedigree for generations; this explains the disastrous consequences the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 when so many farmers faced severe depression and even suicide after losing their stock.

So, as a vet, vet nurse, vet student, nursing student, or an aspiring veterinary professional, it’s super important to remember what an amazing job the profession is doing in working to make sure that humans can keep their animals in the best possible conditions, and keep their four legged friends by their side for as long as possible. Keep going everyone, you’re doing great!

If I’ve not quite convinced you how much animals mean to humans, or if you just want to read some amazing animal therapy stories, check out the ‘Animals Are My Therapy’ tab of Mammalsandmicroscopes: an amazing set of stories put together by an awesome soon-to-be vet student! Well done Heidi, your message is super special and very very important!

FOLLOW VICTORIA

BLOG: Barking Mad Vet

FACEBOOK: Barking Mad

Animals for academic anxiety

ANIMALS FOR ACADEMIC ANXIETY

MY STORY

From the beginning of primary school, or I have been told as far back as nursery, I had difficulties settling in. Every task I completed had to be a replica of the image I created in my head. So, imagine the dread and anxiety little Heidi experienced when she was faced with tests at the young age of 7.

Over the years, I have developed a phobia of exams. Stemmed from low self-esteem and a fear of failure, failure being anything below 100%. Studying became obsessive and compulsive, if I did not complete 12 hours a day then I was a nervous wreck. Ironically, for the past three years, even attempting exams sent my brain into complete meltdown and crisis mode. Believing that a life of 99% results is a life not worth living.

The reality of rigorously controlling something is that it takes a three hundred and sixty degrees turn before beginning to control you. Society deems a 24 hour scheduled life as perfection, I know first-hand how rigid thinking and the need for productivity is in fact a hindrance. Let us praise the “go with the flow” attitude in academia, and those learning through exam mock failures. This is how we must face difficulties in life, rather than working so intensely to avoid the what-ifs.

Only after hypnotherapy and animal therapy can I even say the word EXAM, so now I can shout EXAMS at the top of my voice without fear of irrational curses that will doom me to failure.

I am not lagging behind my high school class, I am on Heidi’s academic journey. The Heidi journey has been full of adventures and life lessons along the way, it is only beginning.

Facing academic anxiety head-on is a huge leap forward on my journey. This journey will change my life, not because of grades that I will achieve or how many hours of work experience I will clock up.
I am escaping from that rat race.

“Once we face our fear, once we treat our anxiety itself as a thing, we can then choose otherwise. Instead of filling the unknown in our minds with expectations of the tragic, we can choose to fill the void with a different expectation – the expectation of adventure.”

ANIMALS ALLEVIATE ANXIETY 

Hypnotherapy is not an option for everyone, I am fortunate to be receptive to this form of therapy. However, animals have the ability to put us in a state of relaxation, they are hypnotherapists in their own right. Animals also help us to eradicate unnecessary anxiety and negative emotions, because remaining calm improve our focus and concentration on the task at hand.

So here are 3 ways that animals alleviate exam anxiety. 

1. SELF CARE

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Other how-to-overcome-exam-anxiety posts will tell you to have a quality sleep, to eat wholesome and nutritious brain food, to take regular breaks outside.

I understand just how difficult this can be, especially when your self-worth has hit rock bottom. This is where animals can help:
Care for your pet whilst caring for yourself.

You are your dog’s world. You feed them, you take them to the toilet, you make their tail wags. With any animal we have responsibilities away from the tasks that are gluing us to our books.

They encourage us to get outside and take a wander in the great outdoors. I shared the benefits of the outdoors here

2. THE BEST STUDY BUDDIES

Get yourself a furry study-buddy. (Hopefully your dog won’t eat your homework).

During a particularly difficult depressive episode, a litter of puppies literally saved my life. I was reassured that everything had happened for a reason, that Esme the pup was sent to be my companion.

After sneaking Esme upstairs in my dressing gown, she would sit in my knee whilst I studied in bed. Easing the overwhelming fears of studying and exams, when life was already pretty much unbearable, my little pup was the best buddy. 

They divert our attention from the never-ending spiral of worry. From feeling uneasy and anxious, our study buddies help us feel calm and concentrated. 

3. ALTERNATIVE ACHIEVEMENTS

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“Caring for animals gives you a sense of achievement that is not a graded % or measured in kilograms, but wagging tails and kisses.” – my ANIMALS ARE MY THERAPY post.

Check out my “Animals are my therapy” post to read how animals helped my self-esteem, in more detail. 

Animals continue to motivate me on my journey, to overcome the obstacles with pride, and to shout it from the rooftop so that other people can benefit too.

Heidi x

A how to guide. Veterinary placements abroad.

“IF YOUR DREAMS DON’T SCARE YOU, THEY AREN’T BIG ENOUGH.”

After asking for blog post inspiration on my instagram account , here is a
HOW TO GUIDE: Getting work experience placements abroad.

(With the help of some incredible instagrammers in the online veterinary community.)

Securing placements at our local small animal practices can feel hard enough. Conducting a google survey of the local area to ensure that your email proposals have the highest chance of success, the worry of lacking previous experience to outcompete other aspiring vets, refreshing your email inbox in the hope that a response will magically appear.

So how on earth do you begin searching for placements abroad?

STEPHANIE’S STORY:

THE BEGINNING:

When I initially looked into overseas placements, I did not look for the location. Instead, I looked for placements with the animals I wanted to work with

I remember googling ‘elephant volunteering’, or ‘working with seals’.

It is good to note that there is a whole bunch of programs and websites that run specific programs for vets and vet students. This is so that you get all the information you want about your placement and the animals in regards to the veterinary industry surrounding them. Rather than solely gaining the understanding given to the general public volunteering.

GOOD CONTACTS:

To name a few locations that I know running these would be:
Elephant Nature Park
Wild Inside Vet Volunteers
Worldwide Veterinary Service
Globe Trotting Veterinary
and many more!

Doing this meant that I could do what I wanted to do with animals and worry about the location and getting there later

THE OBSTACLE:

The main issue with overseas placements is money.

So unless you are flushed with cash, I am not, it takes a lot of planning and saving.

I booked my placement in Thailand a year and a half in advance, and I was looking into it two years before the placement. All so that I had enough money for a deposit.

Having a budget and saving for your overseas placement will be worth it!

FOR AUSTRALIAN STUDENTS:

If you are lucky enough to live in Australia (or other locations), the government will actually loan you money to go on 2 overseas placement trips through university. This loan is then added to your HCES university debt and is paid back through tax when you reach the income threshold to pay back your normal university debt.
Here in Australia this is called OS-help –  I wish I knew about it before my trip to Thailand!

DO YOU RESEARCH:

The most important thing is to look into all options when wanting to do an overseas placement.

You could believe that you have an amazing placement lined up in Africa to take care of the animals, only to find out that it is only so other customers can poach them.

Do your research!

Talk to fellow students and see where they have gone. Seek out recommendations. Remember to check to see if the university can help with funding or scholarships for this.

HAVE FUN!:

But most of all have fun and enjoy it while it lasts.

Don’t let anyone put you off by saying “are you really going to go by yourself” because f*** yeah it is amazing!

 

HEIDI’S STORY:

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Another question was about money. 
With travel expenses, increased living costs, loss of working days (not an exhaustive list!). How can you afford to go on a placement abroad? 

FINLAND

I couldn’t in 2017, when I worked on a husky farm in Finland.

Although my journey to that placement is unique, it is proof that life can may just throw one at you. My first “proper” work experience placement opened the door to work in Finland. After a summer of volunteering in 2016, I was gifted a token to flights for 2017 in order to take on the challenge of husky farm life.

SWITZERLAND

Getting to Switzerland was a different story – Cheap flights.

I am currently packing for my next journey to Switzerland this February, £50 return with easyJet. Animals need care 365 days a year, but every place has its “off peak” month/s. A bonus is taking holiday pay off work for said placement. 

The answer to your flight problems:
sky scanner

“ALL THAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THAT IT IS POSSIBLE.”

Put your wellies on

I often recognise that animals provide us with the key to unlock our front door on the days the all-consuming demoralising cloud of depression would leave us feeling trapped. Our four-legged companions can remove the barrier of fog in our minds, and lead us to the great outdoors.
Animals are my therapy.

Many of the benefits of animal therapy stem from the healing powers of being outside.

The outdoors are also my therapy.

So, what do I gain from the outdoors?

1. GRATITUDE

I cannot measure the profound feeling I experience when hiking in the Swiss mountains. Instead of attempting to quantify my success and productivity, I wholeheartedly appreciate the little things in life when enchanted by nature. The things that are free of charge from sunrise to sunrise. 

We are surrounded by it, and is not a fleeting time period of our life. It’s an escape, a refuge, a safe haven. Imagine nature as the secure foundation of our lives, strip back everything else, and you can continue to experience gratitude for being alive.

2. MINDFULNESS

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When the extra things in life can feel overwhelming, the basic foundations of nature ground us. You can simply “be”, surrounded by sights that make you grateful for the life you live. Stop and be captivated, there is no experience likewise. 

Mindfulness involves the other 4 senses too. Allow yourself to touch, taste, hear, smell, and see the natural environments without judgement.

Slow down. Switch off of your inner critic. Sense the wonders of life.

3. STRESS RELIEF

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Nature provides an easy escape from the academic rat race. The change of scenery from four walls and a pile of revision, to picturesque open spaces is an immense stress reliever.

The outdoors offer a chance to gain practical skills, to add another string to your bow whilst learning outdoors. Sequentially, this reduces the stake and mental intensity of textbook learning. 

4. EXPLORATION

Whilst others are being sheep, be the goat that takes the mountain sides.

Whether the outdoor offers you increased spontaneity is in the form of taking your muddy dog on a new route, or hiking in the sweltering heat abroad, always be a goat.

It is easy to be tempted to go off track, to explore new areas, to meet new people. 

Why is the outdoors therapy to you?

Veterinary work experience: Past, Present, Future

Past -> Present -> Future

Shock horror- attempting to take a more “go with the flow” approach to life in 2019 means I have no work experience booked.

Fortunately, the past few years of hard work have set a solid foundation for another exciting year of placements, to continue to immerse myself into the vet life.

Before committing to posting a monthly overview of my work experience placements in 2019, I thought that it would be helpful to share my past experience.

PAST

DOG DOYCARE CENTRE

(No photos, so here’s a cute photo with Stanley!)

BLACKPOOL ZOO KEEPER: ACADEMY STUDENT 

(Every Sunday for 3 months)

Just giving a tortoise a bath… as you do

KNOWSLEY SAFARI PARK: ACADEMY STUDENT

(1 week)

Feeling tall

SMALL ANIMAL VETERINARY PRACTICE (1)

(1 week)

Small animal surgery confidentiality = cute Maisie to fill the gap

DAIRY FARM / PETTING FARM

(1 week)

Moooove along

SMALL ANIMAL VETERINARY PRACTICE (2)

(1 week)

Here’s another space-filler! I have cared for 3 litters of pups at home.

EQUINE STUD FARM

(Every Sunday for 2 months)

Poop husbandry… how to handle + accurately do F.E.Cs

GENETICS DAIRY FARM

(Accumulated 5 random days)

Being 5ft 3 puts you right in the firing line.

HILL FARM

(1 day)

EQUINE VETERINARY PRACTICE

(10 days)

(Photo is actually from stud farm placement, vet confidentiality!)

BEEF FARM

(1 day)

A work of art – my first calf eartag

LARGE ANIMAL VETERINARY PRACTICE (1) – GOAT SPECIALIST 

(1 week, staying away from home)





A random goat photo – I have lots of those! Vet confidentiality.

WILD BIRD HOSPITAL

(1 day a week for 4 months)

A very countryside photo

HEDGEHOG HOSPITAL

(1 day a week for 4 months)

Always making friends on placement

ABATTOIR (SLAUGHTER HOUSE)

(1 day) 

Exposure and education

LAMBING (2500 EWES)

(10 days, living on farm)

Yes, I pulled these guys out

LARGE SCALE GOAT MEAT FARM (Wales)

Living on farm. Total: 5 weeks in vet work exp. 5 day week maths!

(10 days during kidding
1 week in summer
1 week in winter)

Dream kidding team

LARGE ANIMAL VETERINARY PRACTICE (2)

(2 x 1 week placements = 2 week total)

An important aspiring goat vet milestone.
TAKING BLOOD.

HUSKY FARM IN FINLAND

(7 weeks)

Monitoring anaesthesia and stitching. When there is no vet nurses in the remote practice.

SWITZERLAND WORK AWAY WITH GOATS

(6 weeks)

Goats love me too

GOAT DAIRY FARM

A goat rotary parlour… AMAZING.

ULTRASOUND SCANNING LIVESTOCK

Early days for understanding the images, it is a learning process. Practice makes perfect.

ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION COURSE 

Waiting for the POP, if you know you know.

EDUCATIONAL FARM

(2 years)

Every child should learn about goats

PRESENT

Placement hosts have become second families, work experience has truly changed my life and shaped who I am today.

As 2018 drew to a close, I was over the moon to secure a full time position working in a kennels/cattery/stables. Full time work experience!

Outside of kennel assistant work:

GCSE tutoring
Learning to drive
Goat keeping

Work experience
Studying
ENJOYING LIFE
Travelling

I have a week in Switzerland booked, and hopefully a 2 day course at a local commercial goat farm soon. 

FUTURE

I would like to post a monthly work experience summary on my blog

Gain experience in a laboratory

Attend more courses

Spread the “Animals are my therapy” word

Here is to a wonderful 2019, with its ups and downs.

Heidi.

Switzerland part 4: Weekend break

Second family in Switzerland 

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Switzerland feels like home, the mountains make my heart happy.

After spending a summer in Switzerland, Vera (my host) became my adopted Swiss mother and the goats felt like my own. A 2 hour flight from Manchester to Basel is a great excuse for returning to my happy place for a long weekend. 

It was like I had never been away. Arriving at 12AM, I was greeted by Vera at the door and followed my Heidi signs to this: 

This is a reinforcement of everything happening for a reason. The mutual love of goats brought us together, but I never expected to feel like family.  

I will always endeavour to stay with locals on my future travels, to be immersed into the different cultures, and to avoid the tourist traps.
Hotel tourists sometimes miss out on the authentic experiences, often the most interesting experiences. (Although I can appreciate that this is not everyone’s cup of tea).

Time will pass and seasons will come and go

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Experiencing Interlaken in the Autumn is a whole new experience. You no longer have to play “the floor is lava”. The blanket of fallen leaves on pathways is a new hiking challenge, not the intense sun rays. (Time is also running out for the important branch collections for the goats!)

2 ladies jogging beside the river with goats is something you do not see every day!

Every mountaintop is within reach if you just keep climbing

Unlike England, escaping from the grey weather requires a simple excursion. Hop onto a bus up into the mountains, just 6 franks from Interlaken to Beatenberg. Fog sea, or fog soup (Nebelsuppe), depending on how you perhaps perceive this phenomenon. 

England could take a leaf out of Switzerland’s book when it comes to public transport. Always on time. Even if there is a period of time between connections, I am either captivated by the surrounding nature or amused by the locals’ animals. 

I gained a new perspective of Niederhorn. Instead of gliding above it during a 2 hour tandem paraglide, I took a cablecar and hiked back to the tourist centre of Beatenberg. The Swiss mountains never fail to take my breath away. 

Awe-inspiring. 

Feeling overwhelmed by the mountains, I sat and cried. It was a cathartic moment. In these moments, “being” is enough. Any extra is a bonus. I am trying to go forward without expecting anything from the world, no longer feeling like a victim. I can be miserable feeling constantly unproductive and unfulfilled OR I can embrace my journey for what it is because life is not a race. No expectations = no failures, just great effort to achieve great things (whatever they may be). Switzerland feels like home, I feel content in the mountains. An unpaved path brought me here, it was not part of a strategic life plan.

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