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Eugenie's charitable work with animals

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1 September 2020

Harper students are incredibly passionate about helping others. From our successful RAG team who raise and support wonderful charities to those helping out in the wider community by giving their time and expertise, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown, our students go above and beyond.

This attitude continues from campus through life with our alumni, who go onto incredible work supporting communities across the globe. One such student is Eugenie Wilcocks, who graduated from the BSc (Hons) Veterinary Physiotherapy programme in 2019. Here she shares how her passion for her subject has gone on to see her helping animals with the charity African Blessings.

Discovering a love for veterinary physiotherapy

From an early age, animals have been an absolute passion in my life and since the age of six I have wanted to care and help for those in need. When I was 17, I had the opportunity to shadow at the University of Pretoria's veterinary hospital. I was shocked by the reality of how different the experience was working with painful and stressed animals, especially in emergency situations. I discovered that particular career path was not for me. However, I also realized that surgery was only part of the animal’s journey to full recovery. Knowing I would find a veterinary based career that suited me in my future, possibly along the lines of creating a center focused on helping animals return to full health and function, I decided to first study a business degree. Entrepreneurial skills were essential to equip me for this prospective endeavor. 

After graduation, I pursued another passion of mine, skiing and travelling. I worked abroad skiing and took part in dressage competitions. Particularly working as a Kids Ski Instructor in Squaw Valley was an incredible experience; working with children outdoors in stunning scenery and seeing real progress was immensely rewarding. I thoroughly enjoyed working in a relationship-based environment, where hours were spent helping clients improve and fine tune certain skills. I started investigating careers with a similar dynamic. I became particularly interested in physiotherapy and the opportunities this career path had in treating animals. 

The recovery possibilities of physiotherapy were already apparent from my own experience with struggling with Scheuermann's disease and Scoliosis as a child and teenager. Physiotherapy was paramount to my recovery. This personal journey accompanied by newfound interests inspired me to find an academic route into physiotherapy that specialised in animals. I felt my passion and background in animals, teaching and education, with the inclusion of a veterinary physiotherapy degree, would be the quintessential combination to enable me to start my own practice to help animals. After a bit of research, I found Harper Adams University and made an appointment to visit campus while on a trip to the UK. Immediately after, I began the application process to study the Veterinary Physiotherapy program offered.

Veterinary physiotherapy is perfect for animal lovers who want to work with animals but not as a veterinarian or nurse; this career is a wonderful and rewarding way to positively improve the quality of life for horses, small animals and livestock. Whether this is by reducing acute or chronic pain, helping manage lifelong conditions, accelerating healing and recovery after surgery, educating owners and improving owner-pet relationships or enhancing athletic performance and success. This career also provides opportunity for a successful entrepreneurial future with a flexible schedule; workable around competitive equine or canine careers, family life and travel. 

How Eugenie’s degree and love of travel inspired a charitable connection

While studying in the UK, I spent several holidays visiting family in South Africa. During these trips, I loved visiting and volunteering at the African Blessings farm, a Non-Profit Company and a Public Benefit Organisation based near Bronkhorstspruit. This farm incorporates dozens of wonderful charitable projects all focused on helping and caring for their community, children, animals and the environment.

What I love most is their objective to help local people and children in a sustainable way. The charity they provide helps their recipients improve not only their own lives but the lives of many around them on a long-term basis. African Blessings strive to impart essential knowledge and the ability to gain new skills, ranging from schooling, agriculture, animal care to environmental conservation. 

African Blessings have an incredible passion for animals, striving to advocate for the 'voiceless'. This was the area I was involved in during my visits. An Animal Sanctuary was built several years ago to take in abused and abandoned, hurt and hungry animals; providing a safe-haven and place of love and respect where they receive the care they need and deserve.

Over the years, they have taken in and nurtured many horses, donkeys, dogs and cats. These animals received permanent homes and rehabilitation to help them trust humans and no longer live in fear. At the Animal Sanctuary, I practiced physiotherapeutic soft tissue and manual handling techniques on a couple of orthopaedically challenged dogs, horses and goats who had been brought in. I assisted rehabilitating one goat in particular who only walked on his front legs, re-educating his gait patterns to incorporate all four limbs. 

Additionally, I shared knowledge gained from my animal welfare and behaviour module in helping socialise and emotionally rehabilitate horses, donkeys and dogs who had been rescued from abusive homes. Likewise, I shared husbandry knowledge learnt in equine sciences with the team who managed the rescued horses. This entailed helping customise aspects including bedding, feeding and exercise regimes to horses with different medical needs. I also helped design the rotational paddock system and additional stable block, to best suit the wide variety of needs amongst the resident horses.

The team also set up the Community Critter Care outreach programme. This outreach supports the treatment and care of animals in the community, as well as teaching and supporting owners to love and care for their pets. They go a step further by rewarding faithful owners, inviting them to their outreaches where their pets receive regular check-ups, basic healthcare, access to sterilisation programmes and food.

Their actions include initiatives designed to acknowledge and encourage owners that take pride in the wellbeing of their pets. These include having regular 'dog shows' where owners bring their pets to the farm to showcase their pet’s wellbeing. I took part as an assistant, one year at the dog show. This event invited children from neighbouring communities to partake in the show with their dogs, while educating and encouraging children and adults on the importance of correct canine care by celebrating and awarding those whose dogs had recovered well from illness, who were benefiting from regular grooming and exercise, and who had learnt new positive behaviours.

Within the sanctuary and the critter care projects, I shared knowledge gained from principles of animal health, and large and companion animal management concerning anthelmintic and management strategies to best utilise resources available in treating ecto- and endo-parasites. These health management strategies were targeted at livestock and the dogs and cats living at African Blessings as well as in the surrounding socio-economic challenged communities.

The effects of Covid-19

This farm is a uniquely special home and place of care to so many individuals. Covid-19 restrictions have had devastating effects on most people and businesses in South Africa, particularly with no 'formal' furlough schemes available.

This has massively impacted charities across the country - African Blessings being one of them. I want to raise funds to help the African Blessings team continue to maintain the farm that helps and feeds so many people and animals in need. You can support my initiative directly here or you can find out more information here on ways to get involved.

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