This Saturday, 30 April, World Veterinary Day shines a spotlight on vets and their work. While there is a significant shortage of vets globally, including in South Africa, Makhanda is one of the exceptions as it boasts a substantial number of passionate vets and veterinary clinics. ZIMKITA LINYANA introduces us to some of them.
Makhanda’s vets work at various private practices – iKhala Vet, Makana Vet, Cole Vet, Grahamstown Vet – and we also have a dedicated state vet.
The Grahamstown Vet Clinic has a team of vets and allied health staff, including Dr Annie Mears and Simone Coetzee. Mears graduated as a veterinary surgeon six years ago at Nottingham University in the UK. She then moved to South Africa to pursue a career in wildlife medicine, which kicked off with a two-year internship with an experienced wildlife vet.
Mears says she feels fortunate to be able to do her dream job every day. Until this past Easter weekend, she hadn’t had a day off for some years.
Although her passion is in wildlife and equines, she also does a lot of work on domestic animals. She says contributing to saving a wild species is fulfilling, but there is no more incredible feeling than giving a healed pet back to its owner.
Her greatest challenge as a Makhanda vet is the animals she cannot help. These animals go untreated and pose health risks to other animals. If given a chance they would be healthy and make excellent pets.
“I could work day and night for the rest of my life to solve the donkey problem in Grahamstown, but I do not have the funds.”
She says the best feeling in veterinary medicine is when you get a very sick animal and “you fix it”.
“That is why I like emergency medicine – I like the very big, very sick animals. You can save an animal in just 10 minutes if you know what to do.”
Simone Coetzee added that working with sick animals “is very emotionally taxing”. She says a vet can, in a short space of time, switch from celebrating a joyous reunion between a puppy and its owner to comforting a client who has just lost their animal or pet – all with genuine emotion.
Mears says that all vets face mental health challenges. Incidents of suicide are high worldwide. Yet the subject is still taboo.
“Vets spend all our days trying to save animals. Sometimes you stay awake all night, and an animal dies after putting in all your effort. Sometimes you have to put an animal through suffering – as in the case of surgery – and then it dies. That can be incredibly hurtful to the vet.
“Vets are highly intelligent people who feel deeply and tend to be perfectionists – not being able to control a situation does cause a lot of mental strain.”
She says it is still the best job in the world, and she wouldn’t put anyone off it. “But, it is not without challenges.”
The community can help vets by supporting the outreach work that each vet does – like donating to the donkey fund and directing the vets to needy animals.
“We can do a lot, but we need the community to direct us to where the issues are in town; if vets can work together, they can achieve more.”
A common thread amongst Makhanda vets is that they are all very passionate and devoted to their work.
The iKhala Vet Clinic hosts a team of vets, including:
- Dr Emily Baxter graduated from the University of Bristol in 2013.
- Dr William Fowlds is a member of the Fowlds family who has lived in Makhanda for six generations. He worked in the UK but returned to the Eastern Cape in 2002 to pursue his passion for wildlife and conservation.
- Dr Cameron Christie grew up on a dairy farm in Underberg KZN, his ambition is to bridge the gap between the veterinary and farming industries by working together with farmers to improve herd health, farming efficiency, their land, and the lives of people around them.
- Dr Kim Wiggil Christie has roots in Durban and Johannesburg. She has a great passion for animals living in communities and aims to interact with the community through several different programs directed toward education, conservation, and animal welfare.
Makana Vet Clinic is run by Dr Amy Jackson-Moss, who is incredibly committed to stray and underprivileged animals. She started at Makana Vet Clinic in March 2021 and hasn’t taken a day off between then and 10 April. She says what keeps her going is her passion for animals especially dogs, and knowing that these animals would have not have access to veterinary care if it weren’t for the Makana Vet team.
Cole Vet clinic contributes the expertise of two vets, Dr Brendan Cole and Dr Jesse Blommaert.
Cole is Makhanda-born and has recently returned to town with his family after studying and working abroad since 2011. He completed his veterinary training through the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Canada in 2014 and has since gained valuable experience in emergency medicine and critical care – he holds a BSc (Hons) in animal sciences. Blommaert was born in Edmonton in Canada and completed a degree in environmental sciences and conservation biology before she studied veterinary medicine in Saskatchewan, Canada.