UF shelter medicine team presents workshop in Thailand

A team from the UF Shelter Medicine Program recently traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand to participate in a One Health conference that included a lecture series aimed at delivering information and instruction on high volume, high quality spay-neuter techniques.

Field sterilization day in Thailand

Dr. Janet Sosnicki aids a trainee in performing spay-neuter surgery on an animal during a field sterilization day held during a conference Sosnicki and a team from UF shelter medicine attended in Thailand.

“In addition, we presented information on animal shelter population management, due to the interest of the Chiang Mai government in the possibility of opening a public animal shelter,” said Dr. Janet Sosnicki, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at UF, who led the team. Sosnicki also coordinates the Shelter Animal Sterilization and Population Management Clerkship at Miami Dade Animal Services, one of three shelter medicine clerkships offered by the college to enhance student learning in this area.

Other UF team members included Dr. Patty Dingman, medical director for Operation Catnip, and veterinary technician Melissa Duque.

The conference and workshop consisted of a lecture series and hands-on training for livestock veterinarians — those that perform the spay-neuter on community animals — Chiang Mai veterinary students in their clinical years, and Chiang Mai University faculty.

Several Thai based organizations, including Elephant Nature Park, Doi Saket Dog Shelter, Animal Rescue Kingdom, Wat Mae Yuk Temple and World Veterinary Services’ Thailand Team, participated in the program, Sosnicki said.

Dr. Patty Dingman in elephant sanctuary, Thailand

Dr. Patty Dingman with cats at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.

“This was literally the first time that some of these organizations met and interacted,” she said, adding that these organizations have similar missions but had never communicated up until this program.

“This was slightly surprising, because as shelter medicine professionals know, collaboration is a crucial component of successful animal sheltering,” Sosnicki said. “Along with providing surgical instruction and enhancing surgical skill set, it was great to see these initial interactions and the discussions about working together in the future.”

Around the world, stray/feral dogs and cats continue to represent a significant problem for developing nations, Sosnicki added.

“These animals pose a serious human health risk, perpetuate socioeconomic issues, create religious institution burdens, and raise animal health and welfare concerns,” she said. “It is important to recognize that the overpopulation of dogs/cats is a multifaceted problem that requires campaigns from both public health officials and veterinary professionals.”

Goals of the workshop presented by the UF team included improving surgical skills by providing hands-on surgical instruction, increasing individual surgeon productivity, providing medical protocols, offering techniques for efficient and safe animal handling and executing a successful spay/neuter event that utilized learned techniques.

Team members also visited three shelters where Sosnicki and Dingman were able to offer their expertise in shelter medicine population management in the varying settings.  In addition to two privately owned shelters, one setting was the Wat Mae Yuk Temple, which has become a sanctuary for dogs due to community members dropping off dogs there; monks of the temple have created space for these animals, although they have no formal training or sheltering education, Sosnicki said.

The conference was a rewarding experience for everyone involved, Dingman added.

“If it was possible, all veterinary students should participate in a veterinary abroad program to bring veterinary care to an underserved community beyond their backdoor and really embrace another culture,” Dingman said. “Being in a situation where you might not have the suture you want or all the resources at your fingertips challenges you as a shelter med veterinarian and can really bring out the MacGyver in you. Some people might find that stressful, but I think it helps build confidence and resilience which in turn makes for some very qualified new graduates.”

She felt that the discussions and hands-on lab left people wanting more shelter medicine opportunities.

“Sharing ideas and stories with people from different cultures gave everyone involved a new perspective on what limited resources and shelter medicine means to their community,” Dingman said. “I am looking forward to continuing the conversation with our colleagues abroad and future collaborations.”

Sosnicki said it was rewarding to see a vision she had over three years ago come to fruition, and that it was “amazing” to see the excitement and acceptance of the knowledge and expertise the UF team was delivering.

“My goal of this collaboration is to aid in creating healthier communities by teaching HQHV spay/neuter techniques, improving the lives of animals in shelters/sanctuaries and the community street dogs in Northern Thailand,” she said. “In reaching this goal, I would love to see the partnership evolve and incorporate more student participation from both Chiang Mai University and UF. There is so much to learn from one another, whether it is veterinary knowledge or techniques, ideas, appreciation, or cultural understanding and acceptances.”

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