News & Press: NZVA news

Spaycation, anyone?

Tuesday, 4 December 2018  
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VetScript Editor's pick: December 2018

 Every year, New Zealand volunteers spend time in the South Pacific providing valuable veterinary expertise. Victoria Chapman, Vet Ops Manager, Livestock, Zoetis, reports on her recent ‘spaycation’ in Tonga.

Spaycation? That would be spaying animals while on vacation – doing good, while feeling good, preferably somewhere warm and exotic such as Tonga, during whale-watching season!

That’s exactly what nine intrepid volunteers did recently, spending a week in post-cyclone Nuku’alofa on behalf of South Pacific Animal Welfare (SPAW), a New Zealand-based charity. SPAW has been working in South Pacific communities for eight years, and has helped more than 5,000 animals. The charity and its volunteers have provided parvovirus vaccines and parasite and other treatments, as well as performed neutering and many other surgical procedures.

This latest trip was no different – in fact, it was the busiest week ever recorded by SPAW, with 190 surgeries performed by three veterinarians and six veterinary nurses and assistants. It was also an international workforce, with volunteers coming from as far away as the UK and the US.

While the focus of these trips is on much-needed population control surgeries in dogs and cats, other patients include horses, cattle, chickens, pigs and goats. Working in challenging conditions with limited resources proved trying, but highly rewarding. Several volunteers were reduced to tears by the plight of some of the animals seen and the love owners clearly had for their pets. Being physically exhausted, hungry due to late or missed lunches, and hot certainly exacerbated the emotional response, but the entire team committed to returning for another trip in 2019.

SPAW receives a large annual product endorsement from Zoetis, a relationship that started eight years ago and has seen several Zoetis employees volunteer in clinics, with eight weeks of man-hours donated by Zoetis staff to date. As team leader this year, I was joined by Zoetis Infovet Manager Nicola Wilson and an amazing and hard-working group of people, including Julia Fisher (SVS), Nikita Woodhead (University of Otago), Wendy Richardson (Remarkable Vets of Arrowtown), the multi-tasking Akiko Shimoda (Anexa FVC Thames) and the legendary Kim Telford (Vetcare Grey Lynn). The last two are veterans of several SPAW trips. Additional sponsorship was provided by SVS, which looked after the volunteers by covering the cost of the final dinner, and by Bayer, which donated much-needed product for parasite control.

There wasn’t much time for playing, although there were a few visits to the beach and to the ‘Three-headed Coconut Tree’, the most famous tree outside Wanaka. Swimming with the whales was rich reward for all the sweat and tears shed, as were the camaraderie and feel-good factor within the team.

SPAW will be making several trips to the South Pacific next year, so if you think a spaycation in your South Pacific community sounds like a great way to spend a week of annual leave, please contact SPAW at You can also visit the web page or follow SPAW on Facebook.

All the money in the world can’t make a difference in the Pacific without hard work. So, take a vacation with a difference – it’s an investment you won’t regret or forget!