Stories from the Team

A Helping Hand. 

The Veterinary Emergency blog is dedicated to helping WNY pet owners better understand the world of the Pet ER. It’s not an easy world that we live in, dealing with emergency care and being a part of so many traumatic moments, but the reward comes from helping animals through these moments. Not every ending is a happy one, but we are here to try our best to ensure your pet’s story doesn’t end in event of an emergency.

Today we wanted to help demonstrate the passion, care, and commitment to animals that our team takes pride in, by doing a little Q&A with Dr. Capobianco, who recently took a trip to India to help vets and animals overseas. Without further adieu, we will kick it over to the Q & A!

 Firstly- Let’s meet Dr. Capobianco!

How long have you been working in the Veterinary industry? 

I have been a veterinarian since 2017. I have been working in veterinary medicine since 2008. 

What led you to enter the world of Vet medicine?

This may be cliche, but I wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. I never had a Plan B. 

How long have you been with VEC, and How has your experience working with VEC impacted your growth as a professional?

I have been working at VEC as a veterinarian since 2018. I also worked at VEC as a veterinary assistant prior to graduating from veterinary school. 

Who is Animal Rescue Center?

Who is ARC (Animal Rescue Center) and How did you become affiliated with them?

The Animal Rescue Centre is a shelter in Goa, India which provides desperately needed veterinary care to strays, beach dogs, and disadvantaged animals in Goa. They are entirely funded by donations from tourists and locals. ARC was started by a UK ex-pat, Janie, who was motivated to find a solution when she saw how many injured and uncared-for street dogs there were while she was on holiday. She ended up taking a puppy with a broken leg to the closest veterinarian, who was 3 hours away via motorbike, and knew that the area needed better access to care. 16 years later, Janie lives in Goa permanently and pours her entire heart into this project. I heard about ARC when a friend shared a post that they had an urgent need for a veterinarian and (rightly) thought that it would be something I’d enjoy.

What led you to pursue taking a trip to the ARC center in Goa, India?

In general, I enjoy traveling and providing veterinary care to countries in need. I have been to several countries in Asia to provide surgical care, as their general veterinary schooling often does not include surgical training. After my friend shared ARC’s post with me, I reached out to their program coordinator at Vets and Wildlife and after a brief Zoom meeting, we decided it would be a good fit.

Can other vets get involved with ARC? If so, how?

Yes! ARC is constantly booking veterinarians to teach surgical skills and provide care to the animals. A qualified veterinarian could volunteer for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. A longer-term, paid position would also be an option for the right candidate, as the Centre would greatly benefit from having a managing veterinarian. Interested parties could reach out to Vets and Wildlife, which organizes the teaching program, or to the shelter directly.


The Experience

How Long did you work with the organization? Who did you work with? 

I spent 4 weeks at ARC, working closely with Janie and the amazing support staff. Anup is their surgical assistant, who worked diligently with us every day to ensure we had all we needed and that the patients were well cared for. I was singing his praises to our own support staff at VEC when I came back; it’s truly amazing what he was able to do in a single day, every day. They also have Prishka and Rashmi who worked very hard making sure the shelter was clean and the animals had everything they needed, and Shelagh who is a dedicated volunteer, kitten nurse, and always made sure to keep myself and the students topped up on coffee and tea! There are also other volunteers and visitors who donate time, services, and monetary donations or supplies. Over the course of 1 month, I worked with 3 veterinary students, who came from Ireland, Scotland, and Nottingham to obtain surgical experience. I also worked with some pet owners who brought their dogs or cats to ARC due to illness or injury, and who would be unable to afford or access veterinary care in any other capacity. 


What types of things were you tasked with providing/educating on your trip?

I was responsible for teaching surgical skills to the veterinary students, monitoring the health of all of the animals at the shelter, and taking care of any injured or sick animals that were presented to the shelter. Aside from performing spay and neuter procedures to control the local animal population, we were tasked with taking care of trauma cases (hit by a car, leopard attacks) along with infectious diseases (parvo, distemper, even rabies), and sick animals.

Since we do not have the ability to run bloodwork or take x-rays at the shelter, you have to be able to make a lot of inferences based on a physical exam and do the best you can with the supplies and medications that are available. This can be simultaneously both simple and challenging. It also opened up a lot of good discussions with the students about what a gold-standard plan would look like, and what we could do with limited resources.

What surprised you the most about the experience with ARC?

I was really surprised at the quality of the surgical area and preparation. We definitely didn’t have all of the toys and monitoring equipment that we have at VEC, but I have performed surgery in other countries with far less. I am also always surprised at the resilience of dogs in other countries. There is generally a strong selection pressure for the fittest and friendliest dogs, but it’s always amazing to me to watch them pull through severe illness or a difficult surgery with so much less than what we would provide in a Western country, and they will be up and eating the next morning with wagging tails! I think a combination of toughness and good surgical care is what led to our very low complication rate for surgeries.

What was your favorite moment (or moments) of the trip?

My favorite moments were watching the students help and teach each other. The students arrived with varying levels of experience, but by the end of their time with us, they were proficient in spay, neuter, and had even taken on difficult reproductive surgeries (pregnancies, pyometras). SODOTO (See One, Do One, Teach One) is a method of teaching surgical skills. It was really rewarding to see the students put what they had learned into practice, not just for themselves, but for the benefit of their colleagues too, and to see them teaching each other with confidence.

What was your favorite experience non-work-related while spending time in India?

My favorite non-work-related experience was traveling to Agra, India. I packed some things in a backpack and took a train from Delhi to Agra to stay in a homestay. I met a local guide named Lucky, who spent 2 days showing me around Agra, and saw many local artisans. I saw the wondrous Taj Mahal and many other historical landmarks, but what really stuck with me was the people. Even though I was traveling alone, I felt so welcomed and cared for. Indian hospitality is an important part of the culture, and guests are held in such high regard. It was a great experience to have as a single female traveler. 


In Reflection

What did you take away personally from the experience? How did the experience impact you as a professional?

It was a personal goal of mine to take a solo trip, and now I think everyone should travel alone at least once. I didn’t intend for my first solo trip to be over a month-long, 8,000 miles away from home, but the opportunity just presented itself.  It took a lot for me to get on that plane, but a lot of personal growth came out of it. Coming home from a country that is so much different than the US is always a bit of a reverse culture shock as well. 

What do you feel you can bring back to VEC from your experience in another country?

Perspective. In some ways, ARC was similar to VEC in that it’s a constant flurry of activity. We had lots of animals at the shelter to care for, scheduled appointments for surgeries, along with locals bringing in their own pets that are sick or injured, and strays being brought in (and sadly in some cases, dumped). You never know what’s going to show up and when, and you can always use more people to help, just like here. What’s different though, is that in Goa we had a language barrier, no testing abilities (no bloodwork, no x-rays), limited supplies and medications, all with monsoon season (torrential downpours in a mostly open-air set-up, power outages) and scorching heat and humidity. In general, I consider myself to be a fairly resilient human being, but anyone would be tested in these conditions. Upon returning home, I noticed a difference in my reactions to things that would normally bother me – they no longer seemed so significant. After being able to experience so much and help so many people and animals with so little, it’s a great realization that you don’t actually need that much to be happy and fulfilled. 

Are you planning on doing any other trips to ARC? Any other areas of the world? What’s next for Dr. Capobianco? 

YES! I miss ARC and definitely plan on returning. I also plan on doing other veterinary volunteer trips. I have been to Nicaragua and Laos with World Vets, which is another great organization, and I would like to visit the Galapagos Islands and Peru with them. I have a long list of other places I would like to visit, either in a professional or just-for-fun capacity.

Following your trip to ARC in India, what advice do you have for others who may be in the industry, or considering entering the field of veterinary medicine?

I think for anyone who is considering veterinary medicine as a career, my advice would be to start talking to veterinary technicians and veterinarians about their experiences, and shadow as many aspects of veterinary medicine as you can. The advice that was always given to me was “make sure to get good grades” and while this is definitely important (you can’t get into vet school without good grades), you don’t want to be blindsided by the difficult aspects of the field after working so hard to get here.

There are a lot of people that wouldn’t have chosen this as a career had they known what it would really be like day in and day out. For those people that are working in vet med and currently feeling unfulfilled or unhappy, my advice would be to try to find a part of veterinary medicine that you are passionate about. There are so many different facets to this field, both within and outside of the scope of clinical practice. Take a trip (maybe to India?) to get some perspective. I know that in most cases, this is far easier said than done, and I could write an entire essay about the problems and solutions here.

There’s so much about mental health in veterinary medicine in the last several years, I can’t even begin to scrape the surface, but Not One More Vet is an amazing starting resource to get more information or for anyone that is struggling in vet med.



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