This summer, Alex Ashton, 21, of Marietta, spent two weeks in Thailand helping animals and learning hands-on what it is like to be a veterinarian. Traveling with study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Ashton was selected as part of a small team that volunteered giving care at a dog shelter and spent a week working directly with rescued elephants at an elephant sanctuary.
Alex is a senior at Georgia Southern University, majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry.
The Veterinary Service program brings students to Thailand for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the US and Thailand. For one week, Ashton and her team volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand to work hands-on with the giant animals and learn about animal rescue and conservation on a larger scale. The Elephant Nature Park is home to over 60 elephants who have been rescued from trekking, logging, or forced breeding programs. Many of them had been abused and suffer from chronic injuries or blindness. At the Elephant Nature Park, they are cared for by volunteers from all over the world. Ashton helped to feed, bathe, and care for elephants, as well as learn about their diagnoses alongside an elephant vet. The Elephant Nature Park is also home to over 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, water buffalo, horses and cows, and is sustained in huge part by the work of weekly volunteers like Ashton.
Of her trip, Ashton said, “I am so incredibly grateful to have received this opportunity to serve not only dogs and cats but elephants, horses, sheep, and goats. I immensely enjoyed my time and I feel so fulfilled after learning veterinary skills to help care for the injured rescued animals. This place has given me memories to last a lifetime.”
For the other week, Ashton volunteered at the Animal Rescue Kingdom dog shelter in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The shelter is home to over 100 dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten, or abused. While the dogs can be adopted, any who aren’t will be cared for by the shelter for their whole lives.
While she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Ashton and her team made a difference in the lives of these dogs. By providing check-ups and cleanings, diagnosing and treating ear and eye problems, taking and testing blood, administering vaccines, cleaning and treating wounds, and helping with sterilization surgeries, the students were able to help support the health and well-being of these animals.
By following a study abroad model instead of a “voluntourism” model, Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare organizations so that students contribute to long-term improvement on the ground in the countries they visit. With programs in Thailand, South Africa and Australia, Loop Abroad is able to support animal welfare and conservation around the world because of its students and their dedication to helping animals in need.
Loop Abroad has animal science and veterinary programs for students and young adults age 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Interested participants can inquire or apply at www.LoopAbroad.com.