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World Vets answers a need

Newport native volunteers with the group, which operates worldwide to assist animals and try to control diseases that can pass to humans.

December 27, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • Dr. Springer Browne and Dr. Helle Hydeskov from World Vets Disaster Response Team make their way through the city of Guiuan, Eastern Samar Philippines, where they were part of a team providing veterinary care and animal welfare assessments.
Dr. Springer Browne and Dr. Helle Hydeskov from World… (World Vets )

As aid workers from around the world descended on the Philippines to help the people hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan last month, Springer Browne headed toward the devastation for a different reason: the animals.

The 31-year-old Newport Beach native made the trip as a volunteer for World Vets, a sort of veterinary equivalent of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, which provides urgent medical care worldwide.

World Vets sends veterinarians to work with animals around the world through various projects based on an area's needs. The nonprofit is one of just a few international aid organizations founded specifically for veterinary health.

"Most people were super-excited" to have medication and food for their pets, he said.

For many, Browne added, the emotion was about more than preserving creature companionship.

"Animals are their livelihood," he said about people in many parts of the world.

Browne spent about a month traveling through storm-ravaged cities and farming villages in the Philippines, dispensing vaccines or patching up animals wounded by flying sheet metal.

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But, he said in a phone interview, "a lot of it was just talking to farmers about animal husbandry."

That kind of long-term impact — achieved through education and outreach — is one of World Vets' major goals, said founder and Chief Executive Cathy King. Overall, she said, projects vary widely.

"Each country identifies what kind of veterinary health needs they have," she said. "It might be education in one country, then vaccinating water buffalo. The next might be a spay-neuter campaign."

Sure, King said, part of the organization's disaster relief work entails "rescuing puppies in crushed buildings," but response teams also make a point of addressing veterinary health issues that could become public health issues — such as controlling diseases that can be passed from animals to humans.

For instance, she said, in Phillipine cities such as Tacloban, rabies was a particular problem.

King said the organization's corps of more than 1,000 vets have responded to project requests in 39 countries since she started World Vets with a donation jar on the counter of her Washington vet clinic in 2006. While the organization receives some grant funding and donations, typically volunteers pay their own travel expenses.

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