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International Women's Day - celebrating the achievements of female veterinarians
Animal welfare has always been a passion for equine dental veterinarian Kirsten Jackson.
Kirsten’s journey as a veterinarian first started in 2002 when as a young 18-year-old she decided that her desire to help animals would best be fulfilled by joining the veterinary profession.
”I was in the middle of a gap year and flicking through a newspaper. Anything I read that was related to animals, and in particular animal welfare, grabbed my attention. I’ve never been able to tolerate animal suffering, to the point that I was no longer invited to fishing trips with my brothers as a kid because the fish they caught would ’mysteriously’ find their way back into the ocean.
”To be able to help animals and prevent suffering is why I became a veterinarian. Although I took time after school to consider my options, I think I was always going to follow a career path that would give me an opportunity to play an active part in animal welfare,” Kirsten said.
Kirsten completed veterinary science at Murdoch University in 2007. She began working in a general equine veterinary practice where she spent 2 years gaining experience in general medicine, surgery, reproduction, and some dentistry. It was a big learning curve and it even tested her resolve to continue as a vet.
”I found those first 2 years extremely challenging. The long hours were very difficult and I often felt overwhelmed. I actually considered leaving the profession,” she said.
Kirsten then discovered an interest in equine dentistry. She pursued this further and in 2010 started her own equine veterinary dentistry practice, Dental Vet, in Perth. In 2012 she completed her Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists membership examinations in equine dentistry.
”I’m really glad I found my niche. Equine dentistry is such a new and emerging field. There is a huge amount of research being done and new and exciting techniques, which is challenging in a good way.”
Kirsten started building her client base and was thriving as a practitioner and business owner. In the back of her mind was the desire to engage in volunteer work and during an EVA meeting the perfect opportunity came up – a program in Indonesia run by Animal Aid Abroad.
”The program involved running a free clinic in Gili Trawangan in 2014, performing dental checks and treating infections in working ponies. I was a bit unsure at first and didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I decided to give it a go.
”I assisted with worming and treating infections, which helped in the short-term, but I didn’t feel like I’d done enough to improve the longer-term welfare of the ponies. Putting Betadine on a wound seemed pointless when they put the same horrible equipment straight back on the pony,” Kirsten said.
Kirsten returned to Perth and started preparing for another visit to the Gili Islands. She sought donations for much needed equipment including bits, boots, bridles, harness pads, medications, wormers, Betadine and wound ointments.
In November last year, Kirsten returned to Gili Trawangan, this time accompanied by her assistant and three veterinary students. They spent 9 days treating more than 200 working ponies, many of which were malnourished, overworked and seriously wounded.
”We took six suitcases filled with donated equipment and the team worked tirelessly performing dental examinations and treatments, worming, wound management and providing multivitamin injections. I treated more of the medical cases including eye and skin infections, heat stress, systemic infections and many cases of diarrhoea caused by a lack of fresh water and poor diet.
”The second trip was a lot more rewarding, as I felt like we were making a real difference. We removed the offending gear of wires, pipes and nails and replaced it with proper equipment while treating longer-term issues such as dental disease,” Kirsten said.
According to Kirsten, the ponies in the worst condition were those used to cart rubbish around the island, up to 22 tonnes daily between 9 ponies. They were skinny, lethargic and suffering from severe lacerations caused by nails that were used to hold their harnesses together.
”We completely replaced the three worst harnesses with donated ones and educated the drivers about not using nails to repair breaks in the leather.
”There was one pony in particular, Oscar, that we all lost sleep over. He was skin and bone, could barely walk and I believe was on the verge of collapse. He also had the worst wounds from the nail-ridden harness. Fortunately, we were able to have him moved to another property. It’s great to hear that he’s put on weight and is doing well.
”I would like to thank Oakford Stockfeeds who were incredibly generous and donated equipment as well as organising fundraising activities on our behalf. I’d also like to thank Blue Water Express for bringing the team over from Bali to Gili Trawangan and our equipment free of charge and Trawangan Dive for covering all of our accommodation. Also The Edge Equine who donated two full sets of dentistry tools for the ponies.”
Kirsten is currently in the process of enrolling in a Masters degree to continue her research into equine peripheral dental caries. She hopes to raise funds and equipment for a third trip to the Gili Islands so she can conduct another free clinic in the near future.
”I love everything about my job. I get to spend my days improving animal welfare, treating often hidden pain and suffering. It’s why I became a vet,” Kirsten said.
This article appeared in the March 2016 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal