A Port Alberni vet will trade domestic pet care for dairy medicine this winter, travelling to Uganda in a volunteer stint for Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB).
Roberta Templeton, who joined clinic staff at Manzini Animal Hospital on Margaret Street last year, will start 2020 at the co-operatively run Inclusive Dairy Enterprise in Mbarara, Uganda. She’s getting set to take a volunteer-service vacation with her husband, Jared Watson, a vet who practises on the Island’s east coast.
“The nutritional issue is going to be a big one,” Templeton said. “And animals that don’t feed a lot don’t milk a lot.”
An animal health equivalent to Doctors Without Borders, VWB Canada is an Ottawa-based non-profit founded 15 years ago and funded by Global Affairs Canada. One of its programs, Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities, focuses on animal care as instrumental to assisting rural communities in Canada’s North and abroad.
While this is her first stint with VWB, Templeton is no stranger to travel abroad or to large-animal vet practice, particularly when it comes to bovines. She grew up on a purebred cattle operation in southwestern Alberta with 180 head of cattle on a 1,000-hectare ranch.
“I was a crazy 4-H kid,” she said. “I had a very rural upbringing.”
She went on to study vet medicine before graduating and expanding her dairy knowledge at New York State’s Summer Dairy Institute. Describing herself as “a bit nomadic,” she has travelled extensively to Southeast Asia and South America and spent 10 months on a veterinary working holiday in New Zealand.
Watson and Templeton will work on a practical demonstration farm funded by a Dutch NGO with the aims of training thousands of farmers and increasing agricultural participation among women and youth. Agriculture remains the dominant industry in Uganda, where millions subsist on less than $1.25 a day. The country is still coping with the devastation caused by years of HIV/AIDS infection and a brutal insurgency.
Templeton describes the assistance as basic vet practice in support of village farmers with as few as two or three cattle — subsistence farming. According to VWB, 90 percent of livestock in the global south are raised by subsistence farmers, mostly women, who often have limited access to animal health services.
The couple spends a month on the farm before travelling on their own in East Africa.
As part of their commitment to VWB, the couple is required to raise $2,000 apiece, which covers pre-trip preparation in Ottawa.
“We’re doing a bit of a fundraising drive right now,” including a donation cup and basket raffle at Manzini Animal Hospital as well as an online web page at www.vetswithoutborders.ca/v4h2-roberta-templeton. Donations have come primarily from clinic clientele while others may feel inclined to lend support as well, she said.
The veterinary couple departs for Africa in January. In the meantime, Templeton is looking forward to “dusting off” her big-animal vet skills.
“I do miss cows sometimes. Cows are noble creatures, cool and calm.”