MAGNOLIA — This winter, Ciera Keller, 22, of Magnolia spent two weeks in Thailand helping animals and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian.
Traveling with study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Keller 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.
The veterinary service program brings students to Thailand for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the U.S. and Thailand. For one week, Keller and her team volunteered at an elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, to work with the giant animals and learn about animal rescue and conservation on a larger scale.
The elephants at the sanctuary 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 sanctuary, they are cared for by volunteers from all over the world. Keller helped to feed and care for elephants, as well as learn about their diagnoses alongside an elephant vet. The sanctuary is also home to more than 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, water buffalo, horses and cows, and is sustained in huge part by the work of weekly volunteers like Keller.
For the other week, Keller volunteered at a dog rescue clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The shelter is home to dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten or abused.
While she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Keller 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 dogs.
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, Australia, and the Amazon and Galapagos, 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.
The program’s managing director, Jane Stine, said: “Our students are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They are kind, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have big goals and want to make a big impact. It’s amazing to see how eager they are to learn and challenge themselves. Over the last nine years, we’ve seen them go on to do some wonderful things.”
Loop Abroad has animal science, marine biology and veterinary programs for students and young adults age 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Programs range from two weeks in summer to a full semester abroad, and college credit is available. Interested participants can inquire or apply at www.LoopAbroad.com. Admission to veterinary programs is selective, and Ciera was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay, and professional references.
Of her trip, Keller said: “This was an amazing experience. I learned veterinary procedures on casts and dogs. I also volunteered with elephants and was able to be up close and personal with them. It was amazing being submerged in the culture and learning all about Thailand.”
Keller is a senior at the University of Wisconsin - Platteville, majoring in animal science.