Dr Leanne volunteers her skills in the Cook Islands

I have just recently returned from volunteering at the Esther Honey Foundation (EHF) Animal Clinic in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. The EHF was founded in 1994 by Cathy Sue Ragan-Anunsen after a Rarotonga holiday and an inspirational meeting with an island dog called ‘Honey’. The Esther Honey Foundation Animal Clinic was established in 1995, named in honour of Ragan?Anunsen’s grandmother Esther, and the golden dog Honey. Working in concert with local officials, businesses and community members during the past 21 years, EHF now treats over 3,000 patients annually.

I spent two days volunteering at the Animal Clinic with some other lovely vets and veterinary nurses from all over the world. I mainly worked in theatre desexing cats and dogs. The whole experience was a real eye opener. The animal clinic consisted of a consulting room, food prep area and theatre. All the hospital cages and dog runs are outside under a verandah. Despite the conditions being very basic – sometimes operating on a wooden desk with no light in front of an open window and broom handles being used as drip stands – they worked.

One female cat I operated on was a stray that had been captured that morning. She was heavily pregnant at the time of her desexing. After a few hours in recovery in her hospital cage she was released back onto the streets to fend for herself. Apart from desexings, the most common surgery performed during the time I was at Esther Honey was limb amputation due to hit?by?car injuries. The majority of the houses in Raratonga don’t have fences and dogs wander the streets at will. Radiographs of the hit-by-car patients were taken at the animal clinic and then processed at the local human hospital. Recovery for hindlimb amputation patients involved placing them on a towel in the sunshine to warm up post anaesthesia and covering their stump with a pair of shorts to try and keep the wound clean. Despite these basic conditions the patients all seemed to recover well.

I also witnessed a poor dog suffering with paraquat toxicity. Unfortunately the product can still be used in the Cook Islands as a weed killer. The clinical signs of paraquat toxicity are respiratory distress, salivation, vomiting and muscle tremors. This patient was placed on IV fluids and given some opioids for pain relief, but unfortunately deteriorated quickly and was euthanised. My favourite treatment involved a cat who was pyrexic with a nasty abscess. She was very dehydrated on presentation to the hospital and required IV fluids. Unfortunately, the veterinary clinic frequently runs out of these. The human hospital kindly donates bags of IV fluids when they can, but even they run out of IV fluids in between deliveries. When I asked the head nurse what we should do, she informed me that she had already phoned for a delivery of young coconuts? When the hospital runs out of bags of saline they use coconut water from young coconuts to hydrate the patients intravenously. Either a needle and syringe is inserted into the coconut or a giving set is inserted directly into the coconut. The cat I treated was on coconut water for two days and did quite well while in hospital.

My experience at Esther Honey Foundation Animal Clinic was an eye-opener and interesting experience. They do some fantastic work and all their veterinary services are provided in exchange for donations only and at no cost to the homeless. I would recommend volunteering there if you are up for a challenge as they are always looking for both vet and vet nurse volunteers. Raratonga is a beautiful island, full of lovely people and a great place to see.

Interested in a volunteer stint? Visit: www.estherhoney.org