Vet Tech Professor Takes Sabbatical for International Veterinary Volunteer Activities

December 11, 2019


Tampa, FL

A Wonderful Sabbatical Experience

By Vince Centonze

I recently took a sabbatical from my veterinary technology program director and teaching duties.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with sabbaticals, any tenured instructor who has been teaching at HCC for at least six or more years, may apply to take a one or two term sabbatical to engage in an activity that will enrich them professionally.  The faculty member will complete an application for sabbatical which must be approved by the faculty member's Dean and Campus President before consideration by the College Sabbatical Committee.  If the Committee approves the application, it then goes to the HCC Board of Trustees for final approval.

I applied and was approved for a one-term sabbatical for fall 2019.  The sabbatical consisted of international veterinary volunteer activities, including teaching and surgeries at high volume spay and neuter clinics in India and Nepal.  Other activities included visits to animal shelters, boarding and rescue facilities in those countries and in Egypt.  The focus was on dogs and cats; however, I had the good fortune to be able to include a primate rescue organization and a large animal rescue farm in India.

On the first part of my sabbatical, I volunteered with Worldwide Veterinary Services in Goa, India.  WVS is a UK based organization whose mission is to provide free expert care to animals in need all over the world. They do this by sending vets where they are most needed to provide veterinary services, train other vets, and improve the standard of global animal care.  WVS operates clinics around the world that are heavily involved in spaying and neutering to help decrease the population of homeless animals, also known as "street animals."  WVS refers to these clinics as "Animal Birth Control,” or "ABC Clinics."  As a welcomed addition, I was accompanied on this leg of my sabbatical by Mr. Michael Feduccia.  Michael was one of our vet tech students who had just graduated from the vet tech program in May 2019.  WVS requirements are that veterinarians and vet tech volunteers have a minimum of five years’ experience in their fields in order to volunteer; however, because Mike was one of our top students, and a part time HCC employee as a vet tech lab assistant, we obtained special permission from WVS for him to volunteer.  This was a great opportunity for Michael because he hopes to apply to vet school and is still an HCC student taking his vet school prerequisites.  We can all be very proud of Michael; he did an excellent job, and was an outstanding representative of HCC and our vet tech program.  It was a pleasure to have him accompany me on the first leg of my sabbatical in Goa.

In Goa, WVS operates the Hicks International Training Center, a surgical training facility for veterinarians.  Goa is on the west coast of India approximately 360 miles south of Mumbai.   It's usually a 12 hour train ride, though it took Mike and I more like 17 hours because it was monsoon season and there were frequent delays because of record flooding along the route.

I spent approximately half the time in Goa teaching surgeries to eight European veterinary students from the UK and Denmark.  The other half was spent in the ABC and low cost medical clinic available to the public where I consulted on a wide variety of cases involving street animals and owned pets.  This included a unique opportunity to follow the worsening signs in a rabid animal.  The case involved a pet cat which bit its owner some days after the cat had been bitten by a street dog.  When the cat was brought in, it had a normal appearance and temperament with seemingly normal mentation; however, within only four days its condition deteriorated to the point where it was euthanized.  Post-mortem histopathology showed that it did indeed have rabies.  This was a fascinating up-close look at the progression of this deadly disease. Michael and I also took part in rabies vaccination clinics for the worldwide organization known as "Mission Rabies".  We traveled to remote locations capturing and vaccinating street dogs and went door-to-door encouraging residents to let us vaccinate their dogs.  Although this is a common, safe and simple procedure with health benefits to dogs and people, it is an uphill battle in some areas. Many locals distrust the Mission Rabies teams due to misinformation about the vaccine or ill-conceived notions about the teams' actual intentions toward their pets.  WVS is working tirelessly to educate the public about the deadly nature of rabies and how fatal it can be to unprotected animals and people.  I also visited a primate rescue facility.  This was an eye-opening experience to see the prevalence of abuse and disease in several common species of primates native to the region.

Following the India visit, I travelled to Cairo, Egypt, this time accompanied by my wife, Lisa, who is also a veterinarian. We visited an animal shelter operated by Egypt Veterinary Animal Care (EVAC) a non-government charity.  We also spent time at a boarding facility and an ABC clinic.  In addition, we trapped street cats in a downtown Cairo park so that they could be spayed and neutered at the ABC clinic.  I consulted with EVAC shelter personnel on ways to improve their shelter standards, techniques, and technicians' skills.  It is extraordinary that in India, Nepal, and Egypt there are no veterinary technology programs.  All veterinary assistants are hired without any experience or education in the field and are trained on the job.  Most have been doing the job for a long time and have become quite proficient at the common, oft-repeated skills; however, unlike our program-educated technicians, they cannot extrapolate anything beyond the routine functions they perform nor do they have any concept of the principles behind their tasks.

Following the Cairo visit, I soon made a return trip to India.  This time, I volunteered at another WVS facility near Udagamandalam (Ooty), in the mountains of southern India.  This volunteer activity was similar to that at WVS Goa, except that WVS Ooty is much more remote.  It is one of only a very few veterinary facilities within a radius of approximately 60 miles, and many people travel with their sick pets for hours by bus through the winding mountain road to obtain low-cost or free veterinary care.  At Ooty, the surgery class consisted of twelve Indian and Nepalese students, so the language barrier was an occasional problem, though most understood English to varying degrees.  Nevertheless, it was the first time I used improvised sign language to teach something as intricate as surgery; there were lots of laughs as we all had fun learning together. While in Ooty, I visited a farm with dozens of rescued dogs, horses, donkeys, cattle, and Gaur, a wild type of Indian bison.

On the last leg of my sabbatical I volunteered in Kathmandu, Nepal, with World Vets.  World Vets is a U.S. based organization similar to WVS.  World Vets’ mission includes bringing veterinary care to remote regions of the world and providing care for animals that would otherwise have none.

I joined a group of other veterinarians, vet techs, and veterinary students from the U.S., UK, Canada, and Australia to perform medical and surgical procedures on street dogs.  The procedures consisted mostly of spays and neuters to once again help with a severe canine overpopulation problem there.  Of course, we also vaccinated the animals against rabies.  We spayed and neutered over 400 street dogs in Kathmandu.  Unfortunately, this was just a drop in the bucket, but at least it was better than if we had not been there.

To say that this sabbatical was professionally rewarding would be an understatement -- it was a life-changing event.  It was amazing to see first-hand many infectious diseases and other pathologies endemic to the regions I visited but which we hardly see in the U.S.   I also learned many interesting surgical nuances, techniques, procedures, and protocols from veterinarians in places that may not have the supplies or equipment which we take for granted.  This has given me a great appreciation and respect for these extremely talented individuals working in environments with severely limited resources.  In all the places I visited, I valued the many discussions with my colleagues on topics ranging from the state of the profession and veterinary education in our respective countries, to the importance of training for veterinary nurses.  However, no matter which country I visited, discussions invariably gravitated toward the topic of animal welfare, especially with respect to cultural attitudes on veterinary care and euthanasia.  These were some of the most interesting, emotional, and controversial discussions we had.  Religious beliefs in all the places visited make for some very dichotomous attitudes about euthanasia when contrasted with other aspects of the culture.  For instance, in some places around the world among certain demographics, human abortions and even a disturbing amount of infanticide occurs because the fetuses or babies are female.   Male children are preferred for a host of familial and economic reasons.  These actions are not sanctioned by the governments; however, the irony is that the attitude of that same demographic is overwhelmingly negative toward euthanasia of animals even for health considerations.  In other places, much of the population is against euthanasia in animal shelters and veterinary clinics on religious grounds regardless of the health of the animals, yet at the same time, the public tolerates steps by the authorities to eradicate street animals by means as extreme as poisoning!   One bright spot was that it was refreshing to meet dedicated veterinarians who are working to change these societal attitudes, often at personal risk, and educate the public for the betterment of the animals.

During the sabbatical I met many professional colleagues and made a tremendous number of new friends and contacts.  One of the most important things I've realized is that veterinarians all over the world struggle so hard, sometimes against enormous odds, to do what they believe is the right thing for the animals. It was an honor to have had the opportunity to join these individuals and perform a service to our world community by improving the lives of animals, and helping foster the human-animal bond.  I should add that the sabbatical wasn't all work; during my travels I crossed several items off my bucket list including the Taj Mahal, Sphinx and Pyramids, and a flight to Mt. Everest.  Of course, I didn't climb Everest; nevertheless, it was a high point, no pun intended, and a fitting end to a collection of remarkable experiences.

As you can imagine, my sabbatical was the experience of a lifetime which has enriched me both personally and professionally and changed the way I look at veterinary medicine around the world.  I am extremely grateful for having had this unforgettable opportunity and I hope that my colleagues here at HCC will plan sabbaticals that will prove just as rewarding to them in their own respective fields.

Media Contacts

Ashley Carl, Executive Director of Marketing & Public Relations, 813.253.7158

Angela Walters, Strategic Communications Officer, 813.259.6589

Debbi Ordaz, Public Relations Specialist, 813.253.7066   

Business Wire NewsHQsm