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UD sophomore gets hands-on experience as volunteer at animal clinics in Nicaragua

UD sophomore gets hands-on experience as volunteer at animal clinics in NicaraguaWhen University of Delaware student Emma Charlton decided that she wanted to travel abroad during Winter Session, she was looking for an opportunity that would give her a real-world, hands-on learning experience with animals and also help her make a decision about her future career.

Working with Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures (VIDA) in Nicaragua, Charlton not only got the experience working with large and small animals she was looking for, she was also able to figure out what she wants to do when she graduates.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do going into this trip. I kind of wanted to soul search a little bit, and this trip made me realize and help me decide that I want to focus more on the nutrition and medical aspect and not so much the veterinary aspect with regard to animals,” said Charlton.

Nicaraguan experience 

Charlton, who is majoring in animal and food science in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), traveled to Masaya and Diriamba, Nicaragua, from Jan. 3-13 and worked in a small animal clinic for four days and a large animal clinic for two.

“With the small clinics, we set up in local schools and we brought our own supplies. Things like electricity and running water were a problem so we kind of worked with what we had and we did basic consultations and gave dogs de-wormer. We gave the owners pills to take home, so they could give them to the animals themselves, and then we also spayed and neutered,” Charlton said.

With the large animals, Charlton said she worked with cattle, horses, goats, pigs and sheep, and administered vitamins like B-12 and gave them a de-wormer.

The experience started right off the bat, as Charlton said that the first day, she scrubbed in and was told that she was helping.

“I got to administer shots and I got to be an anesthesiologist, I got to practice sutures in surgery — it was very in depth,” said Charlton. “The first day I was very scared; I’m not going to lie. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but the doctor is helping you the whole time, of course, and the second day when I got to assist with surgery, I was ready to go, I felt comfortable, and I was eager to help them.”

As to her favorite part of the trip to Nicaragua, Charlton said it was seeing the owners’ reactions and their gratitude for what she and her group were doing for their animals.

“We also wanted to teach them how to better communicate with their animals and it was nice because we put a collar on their animal and we showed them that they are a part of their family, and they should love and care for them just as much as they do everyone else. Even though there was a language barrier, we all just had a common bond for the animals,” said Charlton.

UD animal science program

That learning experience working with animals is something that Charlton said she also got exposed to while at UD studying animal science.

“Compared to other colleges, we get a lot of hands-on learning right from the start in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences lab the first semester when you’re a freshman. I think that helps a lot of kids to decide right off the bat if they do want to pursue a career with animals or not,” Charlton said.

Charlton said she got interested in animal nutrition in a career development class taught by Mark Parcells, professor in the department.

“That class showed us options outside of vet school of what we can pursue with our major. With animal nutrition, I don’t know if I want to be a generalized but I could either specify in poultry nutrition or equine nutrition, and animal nutrition is an up and coming career,” Charlton said. “It’s getting more and more important. The animals have to eat every day so that’s the basis and the start. If they don’t have good nutrition and diet then their whole performance is going to be affected, so I want to learn more about that.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Emma Charlton

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.