This month’s blog comes from Alex, one of the clinical team of vets.
One of the things The Donkey Sanctuary is keen to promote is education about looking after donkeys at all levels from owners, farriers, equine dentists, vet students and vets in practice. So a lot of our time here in the vet department is taken up with organising and doing all this training.
All throughout the year we have vet students coming to “see practice” with us. This is an essential part of being a student as they are required to get at least 36 weeks of hands-on experience outside of university. Students love coming here and we are normally booked up 2 years in advance! At first they are blown away by the novelty of meeting so many donkeys, and then we start to introduce them to aspects of donkey medicine and surgery that they might not meet at vet school. Vet students have to be carefully regulated and can only do limited procedures with one of the vets in attendance to ensure the animal’s well being at all times. Donkeys can make very good patients for students as they tend to be calm and install confidence in their trainees. We feel that it is really important the students know what to do when faced by a sick donkey so we try to expose them to lots of different cases, as well as allowing them to spend time with the nurses, farriers and equine dentists. For many students being allowed “hands-on” time is so valuable in order for all the theoretical learning to make sense.
The vets also travel to most of the vet schools offering teaching to final year students in lectures or small groups - donkeys don’t get much coverage on the normal syllabus so we fill in the extras and provide handouts, books and a friendly source of advice after they qualify. We also lecture at farrier colleges around the country, ensuring all the newly qualified farriers know the differences between donkey and horse feet and why it is important to not treat them in the same way.
For the last few years we have also been running Junior Vet Days for wannabe vets aged 11-15; here we encourage children/teenagers to consider a career as a vet and show them some of interesting things and the reality of this choice - its often cold, dirty and plain hard work needing a strong stomach!
I have just come back from a great trip running a donkey course in Saarlouis, Germany, for 20 vets from Germany, France and Belgium - thank goodness they all spoke English! Fortunately for us one of our vets, Elena, is Spanish so she has run courses for us in Spain in previous years. There seems to be a growing interest in donkeys in Europe alongside our work in several countries there. This year we will be teaching in Holland in the autumn and have hosted quite a few vets and students from Italy, France, Belgium and Germany recently. In terms of learning it’s not all one way - we often find that we discover new things by having such a cosmopolitan vet department - in Europe donkeys might be used to produce milk , or work in agriculture and our visiting vets are happy to share their knowledge with us.
The Donkey Sanctuary also works with other professional organisations such as the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), to try to promote donkey welfare and pass on donkey information to vets - this can be quite a daunting thing, last year the BVA held a big event in London Olympia which we spoke at - a far cry from Devon! It certainly helps that we are passionate about donkeys and want to share that passion with the rest of our colleagues.