Written by Sheridan Lathe Reading time: 7 mins
Can you give us a brief outline of your job?
I founded Vet Tails in 2017, an organization which aims to improve the standards of animal health and welfare around the world. Vet Tails is currently run from aboard my sailboat, SV Chuffed. We provide free veterinary care, work with local animal care organizations to help improve their protocols, provide educational opportunities for veterinarians, and help provide the resources necessary for local veterinarians to better serve their community. All the while, we move our sailboat to new locations and experience new adventures.
A large aspect of my job is creating videos of our experiences to share with a wider audience, not only to help gain donations to continue our work but to inspire the wider community that they to can make a difference.
Where did your interest in working in this sector come from?
I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was old enough to talk, I think it comes from a deep love for animals and the natural world. I also really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of diagnosis and am passionate about improving the world in any way I can.
How did you get into it?
I began my career as a small animal veterinarian, but always had an interest in exotics and wildlife, so I built that aspect of the rural practice I was working in. This led to an opportunity working for an Australian wildlife hospital, and I really loved working away from the ‘business’ of veterinary medicine. Working in the wildlife hospital I was able to treat every animal I saw, regardless of if they could ‘afford’ the veterinary fees. I eventually applied for a job working for Animals Asia, rescuing bears from the bile industry. This inspired me to do more to help improve the health of animals world wide, and further inspired a desire to travel, and so the idea of a sailing veterinary clinic was born!
What sort of different roles did you do to get to where you are today?
Before graduating veterinary school I worked at a local wildlife sanctuary, cleaning enclosures and doing presentations to tourists about native Australian animals. I also did volunteer work in overseas clinics, with wildlife and domestic animals, to help gain more experience in the area I would one day like to work.
Did you have a plan to get to a certain point/level in your career Or did you just keep picking moves that looked interesting to you?
I have no grand plans, I often think about things I would like to do, like one day open my own wildlife hospital or begin to provide volunteer opportunities abroad for students. But for now these are all flexible ideas that help motivate me to explore new opportunities, I think it is so important to be adaptable and not to get to stuck on one idea. I was positive that I wanted to be a exotic animal veterinarian when I graduated, but then found that role wasn’t as fulfilling as I had hoped and working for non-profits to improve animal health is where my true passion lies.
What does a typical day look like for you?
E don’t have many typical days, sometimes we are sailing to new locations, sometimes we are doing spay campaigns, sometimes we are rescuing wildlife… it all depends on where we are and what project we have underway. But, to give you an idea of a somewhat typical day, we typical awaken just before sunrise and enjoy a cup of tea on deck, looking out over the water and at the anchorage we have chosen for that time. We then have breakfast and prepare our supplies to take to shore in our little boat. Getting to shore is always a bit of an adventure, being careful not sacrifice our vet equipment to Neptune! Once we get to shore, we meet up with the local organization we are working with and set up for the day. This might involve a vaccine campaign, a day at a local wildlife clinic, giving a presentation to veterinary students or a spay campaign. We try to finish our veterinary work day by 2pm, we really strive to keep a good work life balance. Back on board we spend our time baking, swimming, surfing, reading… really what ever we feel like doing that day to relax. And then we will often spend an hour or two working on videos or social media to ensure we receive enough donations for the next campaign.
What would you say are the best and worst aspects of the job?
There are so many good parts – work life balance, variety, being my own boss, being able to help others, travel etc. But for me, the very best part, is as a veterinarian I no longer have to make morally compromising decisions. If I want to help an animal, if I think I can help them, then I help. I don’t need to ask the owner about their finances, the hardest part for me about working in a clinic was telling people I could not treat their pet because they could not afford it. I feel extremely passionately about this, health care should not be given or denied based on income.
The hardest part about what I do is that I wear many hats. Not only am I the veterinarian but I also repair the engine, fix the plumbing, paint the boat, video edit, film, write blogs, give presentations etc. It is both a great aspect and a difficult aspect because it can be hard sometimes to switch from diesel mechanic to YouTuber to wildlife vet. Thankfully my amazing partner, Jim, helps with all the work and together we make it happen!
What are the main skills you need to be a...?
I think important skills for veterinarians are problem solving, adaptability, flexibility, and compassion. Our roles are always changing and it can be a very demanding job.
What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?
I think a common misconception is that it is ‘easy’ doing what I do, or at least fun all the time. People imagine sailing off into the sunset with a puppy in each arm, but the reality can be a lot harder. We face storms and regular boat disasters that test us. We work in the global south where animal welfare and health standards can be very poor, which makes the work we do so important, but can be challenging emotionally. But I really love what I do.
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
I am going to answer this from the perspective of a veterinarian doing something other than regular clinic work – the key to getting into something like what I do is believing you can… and then doing it. It was hard at first, I started Vet Tails with my own money, with no donations, no YouTube followers, and I was pretty much broke in the early months. But I just had to believe it was worth it and would amount to something, and I had to take the leap of faith that I could make it work. If you are passionate about doing something, you really do just have to try.