Adventures in Providing Volunteer Veterinary Care in Costa Rica

I spent 11 days in Costa Rica traveling with an organization called VIDA. The majority of our time spent in Costa Rica was providing spay and neuter clinics for dogs and cats in needy communities. In addition, we were able to tour various Costa Rican cities along the way. We had two clinic locations, one in a school, and one in a large room for rent. Neither had air conditioning or standard lighting, so we had to get creative. Our team was composed of four Costa Rican veterinarians, 15 OSU veterinary students, and 15 OSU pre-veterinary students. We all bonded during the trip!

I learned about the culture of Costa Rica, problems facing low-income pet owners in rural towns of Central America, how to complete a physical examination on an animal, basic surgery preparation, monitoring anesthesia, to write prescription instructions in Spanish, and to discharge patients in Spanish. Going into the trip, I had misguided assumptions about pet owners of Costa Rica. I assumed that they would not have the same level of care and love for their animals as owners commonly do in the United States. I was completely proven wrong during this experience. I learned that if anything, pet owners in Costa Rica care even more about their pets than owners in the U.S. because they appreciate veterinary services so much more. I feel like owners in the U.S. take reliable veterinary care and the availability of pet stores and pet ownership education for granted.

I was intensely personally impacted by this trip because I had no idea the struggles that pet owners with minimal resources face. Pet ownership is very common in Costa Rica, yet education on pet care could be drastically improved. I was so touched by the love the pet owners had for their pets, especially since they had to wait up to 5 hours outside in 100 degree heat in order for us to perform examinations and surgery on their pets.

Throughout the trip, I worked with amazing bilingual veterinarians. Dr. Pamela pushed me to practice my Spanish by discharging a patient to his owner, a very worried woman. After reassuring her that her dog did fantastic in surgery and explaining post-operative instructions, she gave me the biggest hug and kiss on the cheek and thanked me for coming all the way to Costa Rica to help her dog and to ease her nerves. I was so incredibly touched by her kindness.

I also learned about the rough conditions that veterinarians must deal with in Costa Rica. For example, our clinics had no air conditioning, while in the U.S. every clinic I have worked in had a special ventilation system for the surgery suite to keep the room cool and sterile. These amenities just aren’t possible with the budget of veterinarians and owners in Costa Rica. I have seen owners at clinics in the U.S.A. spend upwards of $2000 per year on their pet, while owners in Costa Rica feed pets table scraps and might not ever seek out veterinary care, though they have the same amount of love for their animals as American owners.

My future plans were also impacted by my experience. I have known that I want to pursue veterinary medicine, but through this trip I have learned about the importance of bilingual medical care. I have decided that I want to practice veterinary medicine in an area of the United States with a large Spanish-speaking population.IMG_4275