September 4, 2014

Stray Cat Project Skiathos

How was your summer? Did you enjoy your holiday or did you do something else? For me this was my last summer as a veterinary student, since I have completed all my courses and internships. On September 5th I will receive my diploma and from that day I will be an official vet. Because I had a lot of free time left during July and August, I decided to use this time for gaining extra experience. I wanted to do a volunteer internship in another country, so that I could help (stray) animals and at the same time enjoy another view and culture. Via a website for animal internships I found the volunteer project Skiathos Cat Welfare Association, which is located on the island Skiathos, Greece. I spoke about my plans with my boyfriend and since he is a big cat lover, he liked to come with me. We booked our flights and boat trips (a tip for you guys if you want to fly cheap; departure from Brussels, Belgium with Ryanair is way cheaper than departure from Amsterdam; I paid under 200 euro for a return ticket) and I collected some medical supplies and study books. After this we were ready to go on this adventure. 

Skiathos is a beautiful island with more than sixty different looking beaches. During summertime there are many activities to do for tourists, like boattrips, walks, horseriding, quatriding and shopping. There are many nice restaurants and bars to be found, so you can enjoy good Greek food almost everywhere (which might not be a good thing if you want to maintain your weight, but we never think of that during holidays;)). Around most restaurants a lot of stray cats can be found. The local people do not care much about animals, but the cat population keeps on growing as the animals remain to be able to find food and reproduce. 

On the left middle picture you can see a cute cross-eyes cat who looked a little bit "derpy" and also acted weird by jumping up high and bumping his head against your arm very hard. Therefore we named him 'Weirdo'. He had a retarded brother (we found) that had a very sad looking face which you can see on the bottom left. He was a bit of a softy, and we called him 'Droopy'. Cats that are big, gentle and silly, I love the most.

A lady from England that decided to live on Skiathos takes care of many stray cats at her house and she places food at feeding stations on different locations on the island. There are up to 200 cats in and around her house and many of them need medical attention. Also, in order to reduce the population count stray cats have to be neutered. During my internship in Turkey last summer and during internships at home I have learnt to do surgery on male and female cats under supervision; this was the first time that I would perform the surgeries by myself. At some points I was sweating my pants of, maybe also due to the high temperature and the temperament of the wild cats. I had little space and equipment available so that was a bit frustrating sometimes, but in fact it was also a challenge. Eventually it went very well and secretly I was very proud of myself:)

Every morning we started our work by treating cats and kittens. The main problems were caused by cat flu which was highly present in the population, causing eye infections, mouth ulcers and sneezing. Together with a nice vet nurse from England we were able to treat many of them and as a results of this we have seen improvement in some cats. In town there were two very friendly young vets who could advise us when necessary. Together with them I could perform surgery on a cat with an ear polyp and surgically remove an eye in a cat that had a very bad abscess within the eyeball. At times, the project would feel quite frustrating to me, because I had to take orders from someone with less of a medical background than me, and who often made decisions that I wouldn't have made myself. But overall, I was very motivated - it was very exciting for me, and I am happy that I gained this experience. My boyfriend also learned new things and enjoyed his time with the tiny kittens that needed to be fed, bathed and treated with eye ointment. 

In our free time we visited the local dog shelter where we could take dogs for a walk. We also visited several beautiful beaches, drove around the island and strolled along the cozy shopping streets. We went on a boat trip, visited a donkey center (where we bought soap made of donkey milk!), went horseriding (my boyfriend had never rode a horse, so I was very proud) and went out to bars with the vets. We also enjoyed traditional Greek food in different restaurants. Our favourites are mousaka (an oven dish made with aubergine, potatoes, meat, bechamel and cheese), pita with gyros and of course tzatziki. After tasting different mousakas we were confident to try to make it at home sometime..

The trip to Skiathos was very instructive and the view was lovely. Working with the cats is really a great thing to spend your time with and I am happy that we had some influence on the population on this island. It was a great opportunity. 

I am very curious about your summer activities! Let us know what you did and where you went in the comments! :)


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