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Volunteers' Stories


Daniela Frei's Review of her Veterinary Work Experience placement in South Africa



Veterinary Work Experience at the Animal Welfare Society in Knysna, South Africa

First day of my adventure is almost over and I’m still stuck at the airport of my homecountry. Well, I did catch the last flight leaving the airport in the evening, so thank God and what a start! ... My next flight was a national one to George Airport. George Airport is very small. It’s really just a airplane runway with a building next to it.
Please make a shopping list during your flight, because Sharon will take you speed shopping after giving you a lift from the airport to Knysna :-)

Knysna was quite different then I expected. It has this beautiful green forest, mountains and the weather is not just sunny. Weather can change quite fast around here so you get to see sun, wind, rain, cold and warm weather. As I was here there was even frost on the grass. People here have a saying: don't you like the weather, then wait 10 minutes! And it changes really quickly.

My Internship in Knysna started the next day. At 7:45 Sharon picked all the volunteers staying in Knysna up to drop them off at their placements. So time to get up depends a bit on how many volunteers you have, and where their placements are.
Staying here with other volunteers is quite fun. Because just hanging around by yourself is just not that fun. And on top of that you get to meet some other people from all over the world.

You stay at this reallly big house with a big kitchen and living room. They got an alarm system, so you will be safe.

You have to cook for yourself, or if you're not that great a cooker, just go a few blocks down and you will find KFC, Pizza, Fish and a lot of Fastfood or you can go out and have an evening meal at the restaurants. They are really good and quite cheep.

A normal day in my Internship:
Work starts around 8:30. Then you will first take a look after hospital patients. Who needs treetment, maybe some bandage needs to be changed. Take a look after patients so that you know how everybody is doing, who has been eating and what has happened during the night.

About 9 o’clock is time for consults. If there are no consults you either go on working with hospital patients or you always have a bit time to read or ask questions, if you want to know more about anything that happened lately or any sicknesses you're not sure.

Around 10 to 10:30 until 12:30 you do neuters and spays. Michelle, the vet, is really fast in doing this stuff. So I was really slow compared to her. In the beginning I was quite stressed out by this but eventually you get the hang of it. Because you do this every day. So you will be very good trained in doing neutures and spays when you will be finished with your internship.

Then it’s lunch break. The staff and the people working with the strays normally just eat in between. The vet normally goes home to eat.

I was always sitting with the staff in the kitchen or with the people working with strays at lunchbreak chatting with them. This way you get a lot of inside on life and on the work their doing here.

After lunch break working starts again at around 13:30 with caring after hospital patients and often with new patients inspectors brought in.

At 14:00 consults are back on. Consults consist often of vaccinations and deworming. You also have to tell a lot of owners all about having a dog, because most people don’t know anything about that.

At around 15:30 you start with euthanize animals. Mostly it’s between three and six animals per day, and you hardly never get a day where you don’t have to euthanize an animal.

At 16:00 work is finished. And it is really finished. I remember my time working in other veterinary practices and it was never finished if you should be finished at 4 o’clock.

What will you see during your stay here.
You will have to do a lot of vaccinations, deworming, neuters and spays.
You will see a lot of Babesia canis as well as Babesia felis, Parvovirosis, Mange, ticks and flees.
You will see car-accidents, dogbites, fleshwounds.
You will perhaps see amputations, laparatomy, eye-removal or other surgical interventions.
You will treat dogs and cats.
And lots more.

It is really scary to see how little people here know about dogs and cats. Almost everybody here has a dog. But mostly the people just have them as guard dogs or even worse as fighting dogs. When I walked through the streets I got barked at every house, because everybody has a dog in their home. When you go to the part of the village that is the poorer part of Knysna you will have a lot of dogs just wandering around in the streets.

They just want to have puppies to make some money, to show the children how it looks like or because they are cute. And they don’t know that it takes a lot of time, money and passion to raise puppies. And that it takes a good food, vaccination and good teaching to raise a puppy properly.

They treat mange with some sort of car oil, so I saw little puppies just covered in oil, and you can’t get it out easily. There was one kid just hitting his dog in the consultation and thought it would be funny. Dogs are chained to a post witch just a cord.

That’s also a big part of Animal Walfare. You have to make them aware of vaccinations, deworm raising and treating of their dogs. And really they do a wonderful job at KAWS.

KAWS is not just a animal hospital. One day I went with one of the inspectors. It is really a part of this project to see how the community and the people should work together. Shame I couldnt do a day with behavioral analysis, because the trainer was ill.

Assessing dogs is a big part of the work in the adoption part. So if you're interested in that they do really an amazing work and you learn a lot.

You can also go to Knysna vet or another animal clinic. Normally its just one day but you can stay longer if you like. Knysna vet is like we expect a clinic to be. I really recommend People to join the Knysna vet team, they also take in a lot of interns during the year so they are used to it and they look well after you and explain everything really nicely.

If you stay longer I'm sure you could also stay there for severel weeks at Knysna vet. Or if you are interested in specific wild animals, there is a lot of volunteer work to do for them as well, so you get a closer inside. (This will probably not be specific veterinary stuff) If you decide to stay for a long time, you should really look at all the places around you. Travellers will surely assist you, but you have to make your own plan.

Be aware that you can be a part of a lot. If you are really interested you can join a lot of different activities or insights. One day for example I went to sing with a gospel choir or to play and draw with children of the community.

What's special about the clinic at KAWS is, that there is few equipments and medicaments. The only thing available is a microscop. No blood analysis, no x-ray nothing. So if you want to prepare, think about how you could analyse every sickness with a microscope.

Treating animals will not be as fancy as in privat practice, because everything is limited to money.

They really depend on donations, equipments as well as medicaments. My time before travelling was to short to organize, but if you can bring some old medicaments or equipments from your clinic or from a known clinic they will be most gratefull. (Of course you have to check with international laws for that).

The propably biggest problem in the beginning was the language. I was quite sure my English is not that bad, and I can talk quite good. But when your working with animals and medicine etc. you have to be exact. And there were many times I did some things wrong because of the tiny differences in englisch vocabulary.

For example it took me like three weeks before I really understood the difference between neuture and spay, because as a German Speaking Person I’m used to the word castration, but I did not understand that you can’t use that word here, and that there is a difference between neuture and spay.

I couldnt speak Afrikaans. I noticed that I can quite good follow a conversation in Afrikaans so that I know what they are talking about because a lot of words are similar to German or Englisch. But you really dont have to be able to speak Afrikaans or Khosa or any other african language. I mean if you do, you get probably much more inside sight. If you're in town almost evrybody can speak englisch, while working at KAWS half the people coming with their pets talking afrikaans, but a lot of them will be able to speak with you basic englisch. And the vet can speak afrikaans, so you dont have to talk with them if you can't speak afrikaans.

Free time:
On your free time you can really do a lot. Go to Nature reserves, see animals, go on boat trips, go to markets, join the night live ... The most amazing thing to do is a horseback safari! You get so close to the wild animals. The elephant sanctuary was wonderful too.

People are really friendly. They like talking to you and getting to know you.

If you're coming around the first days of July you will see the famous Oyster Festival. Don't panic if you don't like Oysters, there's a lot going on, so Oysters are really a small part of the Festival. But then it is crowded with people and tere's a lot you can do and see or just listen to South African music.

Everybody from back home was asking me about spiders and moskitos and stuff. But really I saw one spider and some bees, that's about it. Maybe it's different in summertime, but while I was there there was no problems with tiny animals (maybe they knew what I could do to them :-)

Now I'm leaving Knysna to go traveling all over the southern part of Africa. It's sad because you have met a lot of people and seen a lot of places. But you can always come back :-)

If I offended someone, people or Africa itself, I apologize. Now I know better and will teach the Europeans African Livestyle as much as I got to know it.

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

List of ALL PROJECTS in South Africa
INTERNSHIPS in South Africa

In the garden of the volunteer house